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Texas Animal Shelters Adapt To Ensure Pets Find Homes During Coronavirus Pandemic

Dallas Animal Services has been working to ensure their pets can find homes during the pandemic. In this photo are dogs who've been placed in homes.
Photo courtesy Dallas Animal Services
Dallas Animal Services has been working to ensure their pets can find homes during the pandemic. In this photo are dogs who've been placed in homes.

Animal shelters, like so many other places across Texas, have had to close their doors to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned the little critters. Shelters are coming up with clever ways to care for animals during the pandemic.

Long hours and busy workdays at a Dallas-based software company is one reason marketer Kelly Hamilton has been hesitant about adopting a pet. So, when she found out her bosses wanted people to start working from home, she decided to foster a dog. Now, she’s sharing her apartment with a Black Mouth Curnamed Amris from Dallas Animal Services.

Amris is a Black Mouth Cur. She was a stray before being taken in by Dallas Animal Services. And now she's being fostered by a local. She's still looking for a "forever home."
Credit Kelly Hamilton
Amris is a Black Mouth Cur. She was a stray before being taken in by Dallas Animal Services. And now she's being fostered by a local. She's still looking for a "forever home."

"I had never fostered an animal before Amris," says Hamilton. "My mom fosters a lot with various rescues though. And so, when I heard that people were surrendering their pets because they were worried dogs could get coronavirus I thought it was time to step up." 

Hamilton says she knew that dogs getting the coronavirus was just misinformation.

In fact, she had read that the World Health Organization said that there is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats can transmit COVID-19. So, she drove down to the shelter, picked out a pup, played with it, and took it home. 

"She's definitely helped with stress," Hamilton says. "You know, I sit here and I work all day. But she needs to be walked in the morning, during the middle of the day and at night. So, it's definitely nice to take a break from things." 

She says the extra responsibilities that come with caring for Amris — like providing food, exercise and companionship — are a nice distraction during these hectic times. 

"Just having her to play with and to walk has really helped managing the stress from work and the outside world," she says.

It’s also been a big help to the shelter.

"We have been overwhelmed by the amount of community support we've received," says the shelter’s public information coordinator Leah Backo. "My colleagues and I have been talking about how touched we are just about every day."

Exterior photo of the Dallas Animal Shelter
Credit Dallas Animal Services / Facebook
Exterior photo of the Dallas Animal Shelter

Dallas Animal Services (DAS) has the third-largest intake numbers in the country. They take in more than 40,000 pets each year. So when the folks in charge started seeing how rapidly the coronavirus was moving through communities outside of Texas, they started hatching a plan.

“And at that time, we were actually a little bit concerned because we were getting close to capacity," Backo says.  "[That] is kind of when we start really pushing adoptions and fosters and, you know, we’re running out of space at that point.”

After that first push, DAS adopted out or found foster homes for more than 160 dogs.

But during that same period, Backo says they took in more than 200 new dogs. That’s why, pandemic or not, DAS can’t afford to pause adoptions and fostering. To keep up while practicing social distancing, DAS launched drive-thru adoptions.

“We will have you pull up to our front door," she explains. "And we'll load the dog up in your car and send you on your way."

Other shelters have taken this approach too, including the San Antonio Humane Society, Austin Pets Alive and the Fort Worth Animal Care and Control Shelter. Those places are still housing dozens of dogs and are looking to place pets with other people who suddenly find themselves stuck at home.

Video content creation is another strategy being used by shelters. The Houston SPCA has used it to showcase pets that are up for adoption and to give updates about their services. But in the past few days, they've also used video to speak with their followers about their needs. 

Julie Kuenstle handles communications for Houston SPCA, and she says it's all part of a plan that was put together long before cities across the state started being shuttered. She also says coronavirus is just another obstacle that the shelter will have to overcome.

“We’ve been here for almost 100 years. We’re well-versed in responding – especially to hurricanes – but we’ve had some unprecedented emergencies in just the past couple of years," she says. 

Because of those past experiences, Kuenstle says the organization has learned to think strategically and to be adaptable during stressful times. 

"We had a mega-adoption event. And we had 176 adoptions," she says. "It was a curbside adoption based on the CDC’s safety guidelines. We had it outdoors. It was a good event."

Since then, they’ve placed all their adoptable pets in “forever homes” or foster homes.

"It gives you something to look forward to in the morning," says Darlene Anyzeski. She started fostering dogs two years ago, and she says she loves it. "It gives you a mission." 

The retired product marketing engineer took in a one-year-old pup named Apache just before Dallas County’s shelter-in-place order went into effect. She doesn’t mind that she’ll probably have to hold on to Apache longer than she expected.

“You know, the thing about a dog is – I mean, they’re going to love you probably more than you love yourself" she says while laughing. 

Anyzeski says some folks may be scared about fostering or adopting an animal right now, given all the uncertainty.

But, she says, we’re gonna make it out of this. And pets are gonna help us, so why not help them?

Hady Mawajdeh has been a reporter, producer, and digital editor at KERA since 2016. He is the creator and the co-host of KERA's first narrative podcast, Gun Play. And prior to his work in engagement, he also reported on arts and culture, social justice, and gun rights for the newsroom.