HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y. - In this time of uncertainty, most medical professionals can agree on at least thing: your pets probably cannot contract the coronavirus. In fact, many experts say pets can be therapeutic and have been shown to reduce stress.
“It is a good time to adopt with people having to stay home,” said Michele Dugan, president of the Putnam Humane Society in Carmel. “Time to do some basic training and housebreaking if necessary.”
Shelters in both Putnam and Westchester counties are open for business but have restricted public access to their properties.
“We are doing it by appointment only,” said Lisa Bonanno-Spence, director of events and communications for SPCA of Westchester. “It really has to be someone who is very serious and has an approved application, whereas before you could come by during our hours. We’re only allowing one person or family in at a time.”
Misinformation has run rampant during the COVID-19 pandemic, including rumors of pets being able to either contract the coronavirus or being carriers of it. Viral social media posts then claimed that fearful pet owners were dropping their pets off at shelters. No evidence exists to support either claim.
“It’s very unlikely that a dog can get the virus,” said Dr. Andrew Frishman of Progressive Animal Hospital in Somers.
The chances of the virus surviving on your pet’s fur are also small.
“Their fur is porous and it’s not easy for something with an oil base to stick to it,” Frishman said. “Pets are not likely carriers of the virus.”
Local shelters have not seen a rise in surrendered pets. In fact, at least in Westchester, the opposite has been true.
“We were able to get a lot of animals into fostering,” Bonanno-Spence said. “People were coming forward about adopting that maybe had been on the fence about adopting.”
Pets might be immune from the effects of the coronavirus, but pet shelters and animal hospitals have been forced to slightly alter their operations. The Putnam Humane Society, for example, has told its volunteers to stay away. But staff members continue to walk and play with the pets.
“Usually, we’re packed with volunteers, the public, and people dropping off donations,” Dugan said. “It gets crazy busy. Now it’s quiet. But the animals are getting everything they got before.”
The SPCA of Westchester was actually in the process of renovating its Briarcliff location before social distancing restrictions were implemented. The organization had rented a property in Cortlandt where the animals were to be kept during construction, which has now been postponed.
“We kind of just had to put a hold on everything,” Bonanno-Spence said. “It’s not considered ‘essential,’ the construction, so now we’re kind of in limbo.”
Operationally, the Westchester SPCA is also running without volunteers, which has disrupted routines for many of the animals. Bonanno-Spence described the quiet scene at the usually bustling shelter as “eerie.”
“Our volunteers are such a great resource,” Bonanno-Spence said. “It’s really sad because you have certain animals that have been there for a few years. They have routines, certain volunteers [they’re used to]. It’s kind of like things are upside down because our volunteers aren’t here.”
Similarly, many area animal hospitals have restricted public access and limited visits to emergencies and medication refills. Some have even launched telemedicine operations, offering consultations by video chat. But digital diagnoses are imperfect, said Debbie Frishman, of Progressive Animal Hospital, which is why her practice remains open, even for “non-emergencies.”
“We’re still running business as usual, really,” Debbie Frishman said. “We are taking the animals inside but not letting the clients inside. We remove collars/harnesses and use our own. We’re having people pay over the phone, so we don’t have to touch credit cards. The only exception that we’re making for people to come inside is if there’s a euthanasia.”
Pet owners, she said, should still make veterinary appointments, even if their pet’s ailment doesn’t seem like an emergency. Something seemingly as insignificant as overgrown nails can be harmful if left unchecked.
“Anything can be considered urgent, really,” Debbie Frishman said.
The economy has ground to a halt, putting many Americans in perilous financial situations. This has resulted in donation shortages for many non-profit organizations, like the SPCA of Westchester.
“Our biggest need right now is financially,” Bonanno-Spence said. “Just in two weeks, we’ve already felt that with our donations. Our costs haven’t really gone down.”
The Putnam Human Society, on the other hand, is encouraging people to donate their money elsewhere.
“We won’t take any donations,” Dugan said. “We’re loaded with donations. We’re in really good shape.”
However, the shelter has many pets in need of forever homes or long-term fostering, including Boots. The cat has a heart condition and is on two oral medications per day. Boots came to Putnam Humane Society as a stray in November in bad condition but, with some TLC, is now improving.
Last week, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) launched a $2 million emergency relief fund for shelters and pet owners. Grants will help shelters fund basic operations, adoptions and foster programs, and veterinary services.
The ASPCA’s response also includes the creation of regional pet food distribution centers, starting first in New York City. The centers, provided in partnership with the Petco Foundation, will give dog and cat owners free access to food supplies.
“In addition to the unprecedented challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for people, it is also putting animals at-risk by straining essential owner and shelter resources,” Matt Bershadker, CEO and president of ASCPA, said in a press release. “Considering the vital role pets play in our lives—especially in times of crisis and stress—it’s extremely important to safeguard their health and welfare as much as we possibly can.”
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