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The Coronavirus pandemic is proving that man is turning to his best friend in a time of loneliness.
But the crisis is also presenting a challenge to animal shelters bracing for a rise in the number of pets whose owners are too sick or poor to provide care.
"It has been a whirlwind of wonder," says Camille Bates of Midwest Animal Rescue. "We put out a national call for foster families and the response has been incredible. If you are going to be at home, fostering or adopting a pet is a great time for you to bond with a buddy."
In New York City and Los Angeles, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says applications to foster dogs and cats is up 200 percent. PetPoint, a software program shared by some 1,200 shelters nationwide, reports fostering and adoptions are up 700 percent over last year.
"We are seeing people all over the country stepping up to foster and adopt animals from their local shelters and rescues," says Human Society CEO Kitty Block. "It has truly been a game-changer in the sheltering world."
The coronavirus has shut down county facilities in most California cities, with social distancing regulations also shuttering most weekend adoption fairs. Faced with a surplus of animals, many shelters reached out on Facebook and social media for assistance. Jeanette White, of Los Angeles, was among those who wanted to help.
"I kept thinking how, you know, this is something that I do that's tangible," said White, who was joined by her new dog Box. "This particular dog is kind of at risk because he has a health issue. His adoption fell through. It's something small, but it's something I can do. Plus, I love the companionship. With this sheltering in place, you need somebody around."
In San Antonio, animal care services adopted out 600 pets in March, but still has 900 animals outstanding with local rescue partners.
"If you are going to be home, maybe you could foster a dog," said Bates, whose group focuses on states from Minnesota to Mississippi. "What we found was an imbalance. We had a surplus of families wanting to adopt in one state and no dogs, and shelters were full in others - like Ohio, which has a high euthanasia rate."
One person who saw her post worked at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, which is now offering a three-month supply of beer for every pet fostered or adopted. If the family still has the pet after 30 days, Busch sends them a $100 voucher.
The ASPCA has also started a "Keep Families Together" donation drive to support mobile pet food banks. The Humane Society is working in Oregon, Indiana and Texas to identify food banks are in need of pet food and is attempting to secure donations.
In Los Angeles, officials partnered with 150 other counties and private rescue services to try to expand the adoption base and match supply with demand.
Shelters are also adopting inventive ways to increase exposure. Each day at 2 p.m., the Wake County SPCA in North Carolina In North Carolina conducts a Facebook Live event to showcase adoptable pets. The Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Mississippi throws its own brand of “slumber parties” - overnight trials for potential adopters. The Animal Protective Association in Missouri has implemented “curbside adoptions”.
"The problem is, adoptions are lower, and that's the reason for our new foster program," says Sheri Koenig, director of a Los Angeles County shelter. "Folks are driving in here with their masks on and want to foster. That's the biggest thing I see right now."