How Pittsburgh Animal Shelters Withstood The Pandemic | animal question | Pittsburgh

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Photo of the CP: Kaycee Orwig

Humane Animal Rescue Customer Service Associate Michaela Yonto with Rescue Dog Cinderella

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world so much and, in many places, has crippled things. But not animal shelters, where things have happened. Thanks to strong demand for adoptions and foster families, animal shelters in cities across America – including Pittsburgh – have experienced very busy times while meeting meeting restrictions and social distancing standards.

With animal shelters in Pennsylvania deemed essential by Governor Tom Wolf, there was a need to maintain all of the same services but make some adjustments to the way things were run. Dan Rossi, CEO of Humane Animal Rescue, said it means major changes in operations, while ensuring animals come first.

“Over a year ago we went into a really quick shutdown and we didn’t know how to adapt to things. We had to change the way we served people, ”says Rossi. “They were always picking up stray animals on the streets, so we kept all of these key services operational.”

Resisting the pandemic meant that large Pittsburgh-area animal shelters like Humane Animal Rescue and Animal Friends had to work very hard to keep workers safe and ensure animals find suitable homes. But it also led to silver liners. Animal Friends says animals in shelters were visibly less stressed, with buildings quieter and quieter during the pandemic. And Humane Animal Rescue has seen an increase in dog adoptions throughout the pandemic. Pittsburgh’s two large shelters also say surrenders, when people return adopted pets, have not occurred on a large scale in Pittsburgh.

Click to enlarge Humane Animal Rescue volunteer Pohla Smith sits with one of the rescue cats.  -CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG

Photo of the CP: Kaycee Orwig

Humane Animal Rescue volunteer Pohla Smith sits with one of the rescue cats.

Now Rossi says Humane Animal Rescue, which has shelters on the North Side and Homewood, has resumed normal operations and the shelter has a surplus of kittens. He hopes the post-pandemic adoption trend in Pittsburgh will be to adopt a cat or a kitten.

Rossi says Humane Animal Rescue sees a lot of cats every summer, but this summer’s exit from the pandemic has been particularly dramatic. “We see a lot of pregnant moms coming in with kittens, which is typical for most summers, but it seems to be heavier this year,” says Rossi.

He adds that cat adoptions aren’t limited to house cats, noting how Humane Animal Rescue socializes and associates cats with barns and warehouses, where they can help with rodent control.

“Adopt a cat,” says Rossi. “Now is the perfect time to adopt a cat, especially kittens. ”

Compared to now, the peak of the pandemic last year brought different challenges than a surplus of kittens.

Rossi says Humane Animal Rescue saw a 31% increase in the number of animals brought into the shelter in 2020 compared to 2019. He also says that the shelter’s Ellie’s pantry program – which provides animal food of companionship to people who are struggling to afford it – has had a huge increase in use during the pandemic. In 2019, the pantry handed out around 14,000 pounds of pet food, but by 2020 that amount has more than tripled to almost 50,000 pounds.

Humane Animal Rescue staff also had to switch to a curbside model, which included veterinary technicians and other staff adjusting the way they work.

“Our veterinary technicians were all on the side of the car and took the animal from the car to the shelter,” says Rossi. “It was a pretty tedious setup. They must have done it in hail and 85 degrees. Our staff has really stepped up.

Click to enlarge Animal Friends volunteer Jeff Gleeson walks one of the rescue dogs.  -CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG

Photo of the CP: Kaycee Orwig

Animal Friends volunteer Jeff Gleeson walks one of the rescue dogs.

Animal Friends, which runs a shelter in Ohio Township, also changed the way they welcomed and adopted animals. Animal Friends spokesperson Cody Hoellerman said the Animal Friends team faced many challenges, from staffing and maintaining programs to fundraising.

But like Humane Animal Rescue, having fewer people in the physical shelter had a calming effect on the animals.

“While a shelter can be an incredibly stressful environment for an animal, the closure has actually been good for them as the building was much quieter and quieter, which visibly reduced stress for many of our animal residents. Explains Hoellerman.

Hoellerman says the pandemic has also sparked renewed interest in people who take in pets as a way to bring in temporary companions during closures. Eventually, many of these pet adoptive parents decided to adopt their new furry friend.

“As people were working from home and canceling vacations, it was a great opportunity to give our residents a chance to get out of their kennels and spend time at home with a family,” says Hoellerman. “And we weren’t surprised when many of these foster families turned into adopters and gave their pets permanent homes. ”

Both shelters are eagerly awaiting a return to something akin to pre-pandemic. Humane Animal Rescue is having its annual gala this year on location at Homewood, and is hoping for a large turnout to offset the lower fundraising totals they saw in 2020. Rossi says they usually host the gala at a convention center or a hotel, but having it in Homewood means people can tour the facility and enjoy the outdoors in a tent. People can also attend virtually.

Click to enlarge The adoptable rabbits sit in their habitat at Animal Friends.  -CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG

Photo of the CP: Kaycee Orwig

The adoptable rabbits sit in their habitat at Animal Friends.

“We are really excited to have a hybrid gala,” said Rossi. “We will have tours of the facility and a large tent for people to feel comfortable attending in person.”

Hoellerman reminds potential adopters that 2021 is very different from 2020 and that routines have likely changed, and to keep that in mind when introducing a new pet to the family.

“The most important thing for a family considering adopting a pet during the pandemic was to keep their ‘normal’ routine in mind,” says Hoellerman. “Although most people were spending more time at home during the pandemic, it was essential to remember what their usual routine would be once the pandemic was over. “


Humane Rescue of Animals. 1101 Western Ave., North Side / 6926 Hamilton Ave., Homewood. humaneanimalrescue.org

Animal friends. 562 Camp Horne Road, Ohio Township. thinkhorsdelacage.org

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