Sara Halvorsen, Harry Halvorsen, Beth Kanter and Walter Halvorsen (left to right) recently adopted Tigger, a senior terrier, from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco after California residents were ordered to shelter in place order. (Courtesy of Beth Kanter)
Updated on March 30 at 11:45 a.m.
Earlier this month, as Bay Area public health officials encouraged social distancing and a statewide shelter-in-place order loomed, animal shelters in the Bay Area knew they had to act fast.
Muttville Senior Dog Rescue — a San Francisco-based rescue organization for, you guessed it, senior pups — had more than 80 dogs that needed to be relocated as soon as possible. With the help of its volunteer network, the organization was able to move all of the dogs to foster families and, since then, 20 have been adopted.
“Through many, many conference calls and a lot of back and forth, we decided that we would continue adopting our dogs and start working on some stringent safety protocols to make that happen,” said Sherri Franklin, founder and CEO of Muttville.
Considered an “essential” business under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide shelter-in-place order, animal shelters are allowed to stay open. Shelters across the state have had to make the decision whether to continue offering adoptions, and then find creative ways to do so while limiting human contact.
Many shelters are focusing on transferring animals into foster homes — where they stay temporarily until someone adopts them — and have suspended adoptions altogether. Here is a list of shelters still offering adoptions, and other ways you can help support rescue organizations:
Beth Kanter and her husband, who were just getting used to being empty nesters, found themselves living in a full house again when their two kids suddenly came home from college two weeks ago because of the coronavirus. Kanter hadn’t owned a dog in 20 years, and her kids had always wanted one, so it felt like the perfect time to adopt, she said.
Kanter knew a senior dog that didn’t require training would be the best fit.
“If you're going to get a dog, it's a great idea. But also, think about the type of dog and what your capacity is to train one and care for it,” she said.
Her family spotted Tigger on Muttville’s website. The 14-pound tan terrier had only ever lived outside, but was described by his foster owner as a “loving boy with lots of kisses.”
What followed was pretty far from the regular adoption process: Kanter's family first met Tigger through a virtual meet-and-greet. But she said they knew at first sight that they wanted to take him home.
Muttville has implemented no-contact drop-offs when delivering dogs to their new homes, a process that requires all humans involved to stay six feet apart throughout the entire exchange. Muttville also gives every adopter a disinfected leash in a Ziploc bag.
Muttville's Franklin met Kanter and her family at a park somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose. With everyone (except the dog) clad in masks and gloves, and standing six feet apart from each other, Tigger was released and ran to greet his new family.
“My kids fell in love immediately. He spent the night in my daughter's bed,” Kanter said. “And he’s just a sweet, wonderful little dog.”
For anyone able and interested in adopting an animal, now could be the perfect time, Franklin said.
“It's a good time to have a dog in your life. I mean, we're all stressed out,” she said. “You know, animals are proven to lower our blood pressure ... Clearly, animals just bring so much life to our world.”
Here's a list of Bay Area shelters where you can still adopt by appointment. Make sure to call ahead:
Many shelters have suspended their volunteer programs and are operating with a skeleton staff to reduce foot traffic in their facilities.
“If our staff gets sick, then we’re in a pickle because they’re specialized workers caring for animals, so to preserve the integrity of our operations and what were doing here, we needed to do that,” said Deb Campbell, a spokesperson for San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC).
Both ACC and the San Francisco SPCA were able to transfer most of their animals into foster care, except for those that had to stay in shelter facilities for health or other reasons. Both shelters are accepting foster applications to keep on file in case more foster volunteers are needed in the coming weeks.
“We had so many people step forward from our volunteer pool, we were able to get the animals all out on foster care through our volunteer program, but that could change. So we're taking applications now to get ready for that," said Campbell.
Plenty of shelters still have animals that need a temporary place to stay. Check the websites of local shelters to see if they need fosters.
If You Have Pets: Make a Plan
On average, 14,000 animals enter California shelters every week, according to Jennifer Scarlett, president of the San Francisco SPCA. Since many shelters aren’t doing adoptions right now, she said, it’s important for pet owners to make contingency plans to ensure their pets are kept out of the shelter system.
Pets and the Coronavirus
“Not having any animals that don't absolutely have to come into a shelter is the highest priority, because once they come into a shelter right now, we can't get them out, really,” Scarlett said.
Now is the time, she said, to call friends and family to figure out where your pet will go in case you get sick and need to immediately go to the hospital.
This not only takes the burden off animal shelters, it also allows pet owners to seek care when they need it. Scarlett said past disasters have shown people sometimes delay making decisions for themselves because they don’t know what will happen to their pets.
“Think about that now. Have it in place, so that if you need to make the decision to go into the hospital, you know your pets are going to be cared for,” she said.
Donate to Local Shelters
Many shelters that have had to temporarily close, or are open by appointment only, have posted donation wish lists online.
“We need plenty of things that will keep us going long into this crisis,” Scarlett said. “We don't know how long it's going to last. We just want to make sure we're prepared to continue doing the work that we do for our community.”
Here is a list of animal shelter accepting donations: