The coronavirus pandemic is creating conflicting trends regarding the status of homeless pets: There are a lot of people on social media looking to ditch their pets, at a time when fostering shelter animals is way up, according to the Los Angeles Times — both in Los Angeles and nationwide — as people seek out companions to ease the isolation inflicted by the outbreak.
At the same time, Los Angeles city officials are bracing for an influx of pets being dropped off at city animal shelters, predicting that people facing financial hardship after losing jobs or homes will have to surrender their animals, The Times reported Monday morning.
That influx hasn’t happened yet, but Los Angeles Department of Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette is warning that she expects to see more pets given up in the coming year than during the Great Recession.
Although many people are fostering and adopting shelter animals, Los Angeles officials fear that many more people who have lost a job or home will have to surrender their pets.
“If you want to know what keeps me up at night, it’s wondering how we’re going to accommodate all those animals who have been family members, as people start to have to surrender them,” Barnette told The Times.
The pandemic threatens to roll back progress at the Los Angeles Animal Services Department, which has brought down the euthanasia rates of its shelter animals over the last decade. In 2012, about 18,000 cats and dogs were euthanized, but by 2016, the number had dropped to 3,236, an 82% reduction. Last year, 4,886 cats and dogs were euthanized at city shelters, according to city data cited by The Times.
Concerned about a surge at shelters, the department is now asking people who call in to report a loose dog, for instance, to try to find the owner themselves or to foster the animal, if appropriate.
“We do not want to go back to the days that the shelter is so crowded that we’re having to kill animals because of lack of space,” Barnette said. “And so there’s a lot of ways to do that. One is to have aggressive adoption programs; one is to have big foster programs.”
The city of L.A. has temporarily closed two of its six animal shelters to help protect the health of its staff, while four remaining shelters are operating on an appointment-only basis. None of the Animal Services employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, Barnette told The Times, but about 80 workers are out because of issues related to the virus or other reasons.
The shelter closures and appointment-only hours at the facilities alarm Lisa Lange, senior vice president at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The city’s shelters “need to be seen as the essential service that they are,” Lange said.
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