Tools & Information

Black and white dog with mouth open

COVID-19 Resource Page Gives a Glimpse into the Future of Sheltering 

As the coronavirus threat evolved from affecting a handful of nations to a full-blown pandemic impacting more than 160 countries, we all nervously took stock of our pantries and made plans to cooperate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to practice social distancing.

But even before the hoarding of toilet paper could begin, our thoughts turned to the animals and the people caring for them at our sanctuary, our regional adoption centers, and amongst our nearly 2,500 network partners. Knowing that the questions would start pouring in about how to navigate these unchartered waters, we compiled as many resources as we could, all in one place.

Ranging from tips on implementing managed intake to creative ways to engage homebound staff and volunteers in the work of saving lives, we gathered numerous Best Friends resources and supplemented them with others from national leaders like the National Animal Care and Control Association (NACA), Maddie’s Fund and American Pets Alive!, as well as shelters and rescues of all sizes around the country.  

What we’ve compiled on the COVID-19 Resource Page goes beyond advice for how to keep operating and taking care of your animals while also reducing risk to the public, staff and volunteers. We quickly realized that even or maybe especially in the face of fear and chaos, this is a time of creativity and opportunity.

Using Crisis to Help Overcome Resistance to Change

So many shelters, rescues and individuals are looking for opportunities to continue their lifesaving work despite hardships like having to shut their doors to the public or being unable to come to the shelter to volunteer. And in searching for ways to keep saving lives, we are opening new doors to lifesaving programs where there once was resistance. The urgency of the current situation is helping to dispel the fear that keeps some organizations from trying to become no kill: the fear of open adoptions or adoptions without home checks, the refusal to ask the public to take stray animals back home and foster them, and the hesitancy to allow people with free-roaming cats to be seen as “good” pet owners.

Animal sheltering based on proven lifesaving principles looks at ways to recast animal control officers. No longer should they be old-fashioned “dog wardens” enforcing responsible pet ownership with citations and rules. Instead, they should be animal protection officers who also support the community’s pet needs.

As you’ll see under the Managed Intake section, the virus outbreak led NACA to issue recommendations that animal control agencies “take active measures to reduce nonessential shelter intake” by focusing on such activities as returning pets in the field whenever possible. That is the future of animal control — and it’s taking place today in a time of emergency.

Communities Clamoring to Foster Pets for Shelters, Rescues

No-kill shelters strive to build a strong and mutually supportive relationship with the entire community and there has never been a better time to ask them to foster or adopt. Our partners have stepped up to the challenge of calling on their communities in a big way and they’ve seen immediate results.

Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center in Virginia, for example, had no foster program when they received word that all city businesses would have to close in three days. With nothing to lose, they took to social and local media to ask for emergency fosters and within eight hours 70 people had signed up. Gateway Pet Guardians had similar success when they asked the St. Louis public to temporarily host shelter dogs in their homes through its “Slumber Pawty” program. Within four days of putting out a press release the organization received 100 new foster inquiries.

Multiple agencies are offering curbside pickup and online processing of adoptions, and Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento launched Waggin’ Wheels to provide home delivery service for fosters and adopters.

In the spirit of “if you build it, they will come,” shelters have found that they need only let the community know what they need and ask for help to receive assistance. Together, people in every state are working alongside nonprofits and municipal shelters to care for their community’s animals.

Sharing Tips for Sustaining Fundraising Efforts

There are so many strategies and tools working for various organizations that our resources page has become a constant work in progress, updated with examples freely shared by partners like you. With many organizations having to cut spring fundraisers, a topic that has come up frequently on our Network Facebook page and in conversation internally at Best Friends, this week we added the recorded webinar “COVID: Fundraising During a Crisis” to the page.

The thought of having an event when entire states are being mandated to shelter in place seems impossible, but the loss of a substantial portion of your annual budget is terrifying. We convened a panel to talk about how they are working around such challenges and still generating dollars for their organizations, and the topic was so popular that we had 130 partners in attendance.

In addition to the webinar, the fundraising resource section has examples of emergency e-appeals and a toolkit on fundraising during this crisis.

Providing an Ever-Evolving Library of Resources

We hope you will find the COVID-19 resources to be helpful and welcome you to email us any suggestions for missing content at bfnetwork@bestfriends.org. The resource page is as fluid as our day-to-day situation with the coronavirus outbreak so check back often to see what we’ve added.

We are committed to ongoing support to help you maintain your lifesaving work and spotlighting your innovative solutions which will usher in a new normal for animal shelters. We are all wading through uncharted waters, but with collaboration and shared mutual knowledge about what is working and what isn't we will all be stronger — both now, and in the future. 

Brent Toellner
Senior Director, National Programs
Best Friends Animal Society