New Brunswick

Animal shelters entering busy season amid COVID-19 restrictions

While Fido and Mittens might be enjoying the extra quality time with their house-bound humans, not all pets are so lucky. Animals waiting in shelters for their forever homes will likely have to wait a while longer, says Dan Fryer, executive director of the Greater Moncton SPCA. 

With shelters closed to the public, adoptions are less likely

This cat named Temple gave birth to three kittens at the Greater Moncton SPCA on Monday night. (Submitted by Greater Moncton SPCA)

While Fido and Mittens might be enjoying the extra quality time with their house-bound humans, not all pets are so lucky. 

Animals waiting in shelters for their forever homes will likely have to wait a while longer, says Dan Fryer, executive director of the Greater Moncton SPCA. 

The shelter has closed its doors to the public. 

"I can't emphasize enough how hard this is for the animal care team, who not only see perfectly adoptable animals now facing a much longer stay in our care, they're also juggling the fear of impending layoffs," said Fryer. 

He said they don't want to keep pets at the shelter for any longer than necessary, so adoptions are still possible — they're just a little more complicated in a pandemic. 

Pets have to be chosen online from a list that includes a picture and a brief description. Interested adopters then have to apply online. If the application is approved, the person makes an appointment to meet their prospective pet in person, said Fryer. 

But only one person can meet the animal, not the entire family, he said. 

Brody is one of about 60 cats waiting for adoption at the Saint John SPCA Animal Rescue. (Submitted by Saint John SPCA Animal Rescue)

Fryer knows that a lot of pets are adopted because of an "instant connection" between human and animal as the person wanders from enclosure to enclosure. That will be missing from the initial adoption process, he said, but it really wasn't possible to continue it with all of the restrictions on social contact.

"You build a bond with an animal from in-person contact," said Fryer. "Myself, I picked one of the dogs that I took home because she spoke to me while I stood in front of her.

He knows that "instant connection" is an important part of how people pick pets, "but we just physically don't have the space … for social distancing. And so the reality is I'm sure we will end up with animals that are going to be on site a lot longer than they maybe would have."

Fryer is hoping that anyone interested in adopting can identify a potential match online "and then come in and confirm it."

Since spaying and neutering is now on hold, anyone adopting a pet has to agree to have the surgery done when things get back to normal, he said. 

Veterinary services

While veterinarians have not been required by the province to shut down, they are limited to providing essential care only, and things like spaying and neutering are not considered essential. 

Veterinary clinics are also expected to comply with all of the social distancing and hygiene recommendations of the chief medical officer of health.

For most clinics, that has affected the way they do business, says Dr. Michael Blaney, of the Atlantic Veterinary Hospital in Rothesay. 

For his clinic, it means far fewer appointments, and scheduling them with enough time in between that clients don't overlap. It's all part of the emphasis on social distancing, said Blaney. 

Pet owners are told to call the clinic once they arrive in the parking lot, he said. A staff member dressed in protective gear will meet the pet in the parking lot and bring them inside while the owner waits in the parking lot. The veterinarian examines the pet while communicating with the owner by phone. 

Once the appointment is complete, a staff member returns the pet to the owner in the parking lot. 

All routine shots will be postponed, said Blaney, although if a pet is overdue for rabies, it is considered an "essential" service because of the potential impact of the disease on humans. 

"People have been excellent," said Blaney of his clients. "I think everyone really understands the importance of creating social distance." 

Although vet clinics in New Brunswick haven't been required to shut down, the province didn't go as far as Quebec and Ontario, which specifically declared them an essential service, said Dr. Ian Sandler, who sits on the National Issues Group of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, which represents 12,000 veterinarians across the country. 

But even where they've been called an essential service,"it's not business as usual," said Sandler. Clinics across the country are postponing elective procedures as a way to maintain social distancing of clients. 

But more serious procedures, like chemotherapy and dialysis, are still being offered. Pet owners can also arrange to pick up medications and special food as well. 

Spring is kitten season

Fryer said it's a really tough time for shelters as they head into a normally busy time. Spring, after all, is kitten season.

In fact, the shelter's population jumped by five overnight on Monday with the birth of kittens. 

He said the shelter has seen a 51 per cent increase in their intake numbers over the last week, while adoptions are down 20 per cent because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

"It's definitely having an impact in terms of animals that are leaving the shelter," he said. 

The Saint John SPCA Animal Rescue is also being impacted by the province's state of emergency, says shelter manager Joan Richardson. 

She said the shelter has closed its doors and all adoptions have stopped. 

The hope is that adoptions can resume in some way, with pets selected online, but the facility is still trying to work out the details. 

Richardson said some animals have gotten lucky and been found online. Malcolm, a nine-year-old black cat whose owner recently died, was spotted through an online video by his new owners, who managed to visit before the shelter closed its doors. 

Richardson said staff is currently "brainstorming" how to continue adoptions, but with spaying and neutering on hold, the most difficult ones will involve intact animals.

"Animals will continue to come in," she said, "and we don't want things to backup." 

Fryer anticipates that shelters will continue to see more animals coming in because of COVID-19. He said his shelter is already seeing pets with health issues — including a cat with eye problems and a dog with tumours — dropped off because of the financial fallout of the virus. 

He said the shelter also hopes to help care for animals that may be displaced if their owners are quarantined or hospitalized because of the virus. 

"So we have cages and kennels set aside, should they need short-term housing. We're also going to reach out to the public with supplies and food and things like that for those people who are financially impacted as a result of this. So we're trying to cover as many of the bases as we can, recognizing that our own internal operations have been significantly impacted."

And if things do get worse, Fryer said the shelter might have to rely more heavily on foster programs — "not just as a support program, but as our main mechanism for providing care." 

So with more animals coming in — and longer stays expected — Fryer said the shelter is relying on the public's support. 

 

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