As ‘COVID fatigue’ sets in for many, it is increasingly important to continue the proactive planning and preventative measures that the animal welfare industry has taken over the past months. With eviction protections beginning to expire across the country, your organization may be bracing itself for a surge in displacement of pets. Below are some ways animal shelters and rescue organizations are preparing for the potential surge. These ideas and programs were shared on the weekly COVID calls for animal shelter workers, volunteers and animal welfare leaders – which we encourage you to join if you have not already!
Get ahead of the curve. One way that organizations are preparing for the rippling effects of the housing crisis is by identifying needs. Sarah Javier, President and Executive Director of the APA Adoption Center in St. Louis, MO, shared that they are developing a needs-assessment survey to send out to their community. This survey will help her organization understand how to best serve people, as opposed to assuming the needs of their community.
Similarly, Mark Sloat at Austin Animal Center in Austin, TX, says that they are identifying the needs of people who may be evicted. Identifying needs before the crisis occurs will allow you to not only understand the community’s needs, but in turn, then distribute relevant information ahead of time. It acts as a preventative measure so that families do not need to surrender their pets.
Other organizations are working with Human Services agencies to provide information for eviction support to caseworkers so that they know ahead of time how to inform their clients.
Learning from past crises. Many are turning to the past for some guidance. One organization is preparing to apply what they did in response to Hurricane Sandy to the current housing crisis. Heather Cammisa, Past President and CEO of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in NJ, shares that they created a peer-to-peer foster program in just six days to help people keep their pets. They offered a contract for people to use, but did not mandate that everyone use it. If they did use the contract, it triggered a suite of services provided by St. Hubert’s such as food, veterinary care, crates, etc. She shared that they stocked some partners along the New Jersey Shore, and even a maritime museum offered to provide supplies. The community wanted to engage to help. She says, “The program absolutely kept pets from being surrendered.”
Using past experiences to relate to the current crisis serves as a useful and relevant tool. While we may not think that Hurricane Sandy is initially relatable to a housing crisis, it was. The hurricane destroyed homes, causing families to be displaced. Don’t be afraid to think back to a crisis that your community experienced and what you did to respond in the past. Chances are, you can use similar tactics.
Forming partnerships. Collaboration and partnerships have been instrumental in animal welfare in order to continue thriving. Many organizations have partnered with a boarding facility to offer support to board animals of those who have been evicted. Josh Fisher at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control says that they have been using their own kennels for boarding. They require owners to contact them at least once every seven days to check-in so that they know the owner is working toward a solution.
Some organizations have even partnered with kennels in the community to create a short-term boarding program. Anna Stout, the Executive Director at Roice-Hurst Humane Society in Grand Junction, CO, says that by creating this partnership, it has been mutually beneficial, as it helps keep kennels in business. She shares, “Our program pays half of their regular fee, and they subsidize the other half. Typically it is about $5-$10 per animal per night.” The partnership facilitates the relationship between the boarding facility and the pet owners. To offer them peace of mind they provide vaccinations for free, post dated surrender contracts and boarding for up to 30 days. She says that most of the time arrangements work well and that owners come back.
Kristen Hassen-Auerbach at Pima Animal Care in Tucson, AZ, believes that a combination of foster care and boarding support are going to be what’s needed. “People can get back on their feet, but the time that it can take to do that can be really cost prohibited if we’re trying to pay for boarding.” She continues, “Foster is a great solution for longer term support to allow animals to be housed from anywhere between one to three or more months if needed so that people do have the time that they need to get a new place to live.”
Consider implementing a rehoming program as another avenue for pet owners to consider if surrendering is their final resort. Rehoming programs like Adopt-a-Pet’s Rehome and Home to Home allow pet owners to rehome their pet with the support of your organization (You can learn more about the benefits of a rehoming program here).
Unsure about how the eviction crisis is affecting your community? The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has provided the first nationwide database of evictions. You can find out and track how many evictions are happening in your community to best prepare your organization to meet the needs of your community.
Interested in joining the weekly COVID call? You can check out our blog post to learn more and be sure to tune in every Monday morning at 7am PT/10am ET. In case you can’t make it, the calls are recorded and can be accessed in the Facebook group where you can connect with other committed volunteers and shelter workers as well.