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Coronavirus outbreak leads to uptick in foster pet applications

Program gives old and ill shelter dogs a home

It seems people around the country aren't just stocking up on toilet paper and frozen food amid the coronavirus pandemic, many are also taking home a new foster pet. Animal rescue organizations are reporting a large uptick in interested foster parents over the past month, especially in hard-hit areas like New York City.

Best Friends Animal Society, a nationwide nonprofit that operates adoption centers across the country, has experienced a "surge" of foster applications for the pets in its care, according to CEO Julie Castle.

"I think people are gravitating towards pets during this time of uncertainty because they can serve as a source of comfort," Castle told CBS News. "The companionship of pets has been shown to reduce stress and lower anxiety, helping people to feel calmer and more secure when the news from the outside world is distressing."

The non-profit's adoption center in Salt Lake City received 350 new applications in just one week. In Los Angeles, the organization is "getting hundreds of requests" and workers are now referring people to local shelters. The organization's New York City shelter is closed. All 23 of the pets have found foster homes. 

Castle said website traffic increased by 240% with new visitors during the week of March 16-22, adding that the foster page received more hits than the homepage.

"Fostering has taken off at our centers and across the country, but we need to look into permanent solutions for these pets," Castle said. "If you're home and looking for something to do, maybe put off writing that novel for another few years and introduce a new pet to your family."

North Shore Animal League America is also experiencing a spike in applications. Joanne Yohannan, the organization's senior vice president of operations, said dozens of animals were placed in foster homes in the past week, a "significant increase" compared to their average numbers.

"It is wonderful to see communities coming together to give voice to the voiceless," said Yohannan. "We think this is happening because people want to do something meaningful and the want to give back, particularly at a time like this."

Animal rescue agencies in New York City have also seen a jump in foster applications. Allison Seelig, the vice president of marketing for Hearts & Bones Rescue, told CBS News that applications came pouring in when the virus began spreading throughout the city. 

Hearts & Bones primarily rescues dogs from shelters in Dallas and transports them to New York City to find forever homes. Seelig said the organization received more than 200 new applications in a single week. She said she hopes the surge isn't a temporary uptick as more people are home following social distancing guidelines during the outbreak.

"We really hope that this interest in fostering continues beyond the crisis, even when people go back to work because it's one of the single most important things anyone can do to decrease the number of dogs in shelters across the country," Selig said. "So many of our regular fosters work full-time office jobs and it's totally manageable!"

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Hearts & Bones Rescue was able to transport 54 dogs from Dallas to New York City due to the spike in foster applications. Hearts & Bones Rescue

While more pets are being placed in foster homes, Yohannan said America is certainly not "running out" of pets in need and many animals are still in shelters. "Sadly, we do not see the United States running out of animals to foster," she said. "The more people who open up their homes to fostering, the more animals we can rescue and put in their place."

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