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How the Animal Foundation, a nonprofit animal shelter in Las Vegas, is responding to the global crisis By: HAnae furugaki

Since the coronavirus lockdown, there has been an increase in people adopting new pets. In response to the influx, the Animal Foundation underwent numerous adjustments to ensure visitors, volunteers, and staff's safety and health.

"We didn't let the pandemic slow down our life-saving effort," Kelsey Pizzi, a communication coordinator of the shelter, said. "We were able to get creative and use technology so that we could stay open this entire time."

Adjustments to the adoption process include wearing a mask, social distancing, and making adoptees fill out forms and applications to schedule appointments before arriving on campus. That way, fewer people are roaming inside the shelter.

"[The challenge] was just that adjustment period of figuring out a new way to do things that work best," Pizzi said. "A little bit of trial and error and retraining staff members to show them how things are doing now."

In addition to the revamping of the entire shelter operation to limit physical contact, Pizzi admits it has gotten harder to reach out and engage with the community.

"Some people still don't know we're just by appointment only, so they'll show up on campus," Pizzi said. "The doors are locked, so we try to get the word out on social media to explain how the process works because we don't know how long it will be this way."

Community engagement plays a significant role in saving the lives of many animals at the shelter.

"One of the biggest things that stands out to me, in terms of community, is when this all started back in March, we put out a call for foster homes to make sure there was plenty of space in the shelter, " Pizzi said. "We did not know what to expect, but the turnout was insanely incredible."

We had twelve hundred people fill out foster applications, and that was just in two weeks. That was how many people filled out foster applications for all of 2019.

For the animals, this figure meant they could stay in a home instead of sitting in a kennel while the shelter was deciding and figuring out how they would change their operations.

Companionship is the main reason people are looking for pets to adopt. They provide them with the physical touch they need during quarantine when meeting your friends and family in person is difficult.

"Maybe our routines are thrown out the window, but when you have a dog, they still need to be walked, fed, and loved, so their schedule gets you out of bed and pajamas," Pizzi said. "You can get out onto the streets for some fresh air, so they want to hang out with you. It makes you feel good."

You're not able to hug your family, but you can hug your dog when you get home from school, or you get home from work, and it's the best feeling.

Despite the shelter's successful handling of the situation, Pizzi still considers in-person interactions on campus as something special that cannot be substituted by virtual alternatives. Therefore, everything is still done in person at the shelter with social distancing regulations and only a few appointments at a time.

"We love it when people come on campus. They may have a specific pet in mind but end up adopting a completely different pet after falling in love with another one," Pizzi said. "We want people to get to know the pet and not adopt based on like a breed, but whatever fits best for their family. It is nice when you can walk around the shelter and see what animals are available."

Though the unforeseeable future awaits, Pizzi hopes people will continue to adopt and foster animals during these times.

"Pandemic or not, we know that we need people to continue adopting and fostering, especially our neonates, who are our newborn puppies and kittens. They require that around the clock care every couple of hours they're eating," Pizzi said. "We want people to know that it's a commitment for the lifetime of the pet. Even if we go back to school or go back to work, pets will still need love, attention, training, and care."

All of the materials for this story were provided by the Animal Foundation.

Credits:

Created with an image by Eric Ward - "The Happy Doggo"