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Animal Rescue Organizations Say Pandemic Has Changed Their Industry For The Better

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The pandemic has impacted how animal rescue organizations operate. Many in the industry think the changes are here to stay, and it's for the best.

"Our entire movement thought the worst, which is, 'Here's this uncertain time. People are going to surrender their pets. Shelters are going to be flooded with animals,'" said Julie Castle, CEO of the Best Friends Animal Society.

The Best Friends Animal Society operates seven regional programs around the country and have more than 3,200 rescue partners. When the pandemic hit, Castle said, they were forced to think outside of the physical shelter space.

"Virtual adoption, that foster-based programming and really involving the community more in life-saving rather than thinking about our work as a standalone thing," Castle said.

Animal welfare groups knew that they would no longer be able to safely have their armies of volunteers come into their shelters every day. The organizations began the uncertain ask of pushing to get animals into foster homes and holding virtual adoptions.

As luck would have it, with people now working-from-home, activities being canceled and kids moving to virtual classrooms, the opportunity to dedicate time to a homeless animal as well as the desire for companionship soared.

"Within one week, we had over 1,100 animals in foster homes or adopted out, which was just amazing," said Karen Hirsch, the public relations director for the LifeLine Animal Project.

The LifeLine Animal Project, which runs two county shelters, a private shelter and several low cost clinics in Atlanta, saw a 59% increase in animals going into foster homes in 2020. With that community support, they launched a group called Human Animal Support Services.

"We believe people shouldn't have to give up pets that they love just because they've fallen on hard times," said Hirsch.

While interest in animals has increased, fundraising to keep these rescues running has become a challenge.

Ashley Kurtz who runs the non-profit Coco's Heart Dog Rescue in Wisconsin said they've had to cancel all their big fundraising events due to COVID.

"We lost over $100,000 in revenue. Our adoption fees only cover so much. And especially we're known for taking in dogs in pretty bad condition," said Kurtz.

So those events have also gone virtual.

"We just launched our virtual silent auction and that's not something we had done prior to the pandemic," Kurtz said. "We're really banking on that."

While no one knows when things will truly go back to normal, these rescuers say their industry is forever changed, and for the better.

"If we saw a silver lining to the pandemic, it was an increased interest in people opening up their hearts and their homes to dogs that needed help," Kurtz said.

When it comes to the number of adoptions, those are actually down from the previous year. 24PetWatch, which tracks data from 1,190 shelters across the country, reports that's mainly due to the fact that fewer people surrendered their animals in 2020, so there were fewer animals that needed to be adopted. However, the rate of adoptions from the animals in the shelters was higher.

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