Animal adoption, foster numbers up as Austin community comes together to support shelters

(Graphic by Mel Stefka/Community Impact Newspaper)
(Graphic by Mel Stefka/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Graphic by Mel Stefka/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
(Graphic by Mel Stefka/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
(Graphic by Mel Stefka/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
(Graphic by Mel Stefka/Community Impact Newspaper)
Once Austin’s stay-at-home order was put into place in mid-March, the Austin Animal Center closed its doors to the public and stopped intake of new animals.

The center reached out to the community, looking for individuals interested in fostering animals during the facility's limited operations. The initial goal, according to Austin Animal Center spokesperson Jennifer Olohan, was to place 200 of its current pets into foster homes. People quickly responded.

“When the shelter closed, Austin Animal Center reached out to the community with a goal of getting 200 animals into foster homes, and within a week and a half, we’ve been able to place more than 300 animals,” Olohan told Community Impact Newspaper on April 2.

As Travis County residents were urged to begin staying indoors and working from home for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, thousands reached out to local animal shelters—including Austin Animal Center, Austin Pets Alive and the Austin Humane Society—to either adopt a pet or sign up as a future foster owner.

"Last weekend Austin Pets Alive realized that our Town Lake Animal Center was the emptiest it has been in over 70 years because of the amount of foster homes we have secured and adoptions,” Austin Pets Alive spokesperson Katera Berent told Community Impact Newspaper on April 7. “We have managed to move the majority of our pets into foster homes so that there is less of a burden on our reduced staff and volunteers at our shelters.”


Community comes to foster

From March 29-April 5, 132 dogs and 115 cats were adopted from Austin Pets Alive. Compared to the same period in 2019, the numbers represent 200% and 109% increases, respectively, in adoptions year-over-year.

Similarly, Austin Pets Alive has seen thousands of new applications from families interested in becoming pet fosters. As of April 6, the shelter had 1,263 pets in local foster homes.

“We have just seen thousands of applications roll in to foster,” Berent said. “It has been an absolutely incredible showing, and it's a testament to this community’s dedication to shelter pets in need.”

Olohan said that due to the large number of applications to foster pets, Austin Animal Center has temporarily stopped accepting new applications.

“Our team still has hundreds of foster applications to process, so we’re currently not even accepting new applications,” she said. “What a great problem to have!”

Staying open

Animal shelters have continued to operate during the ongoing stay-at-home order in Austin and Travis County because they classify as essential businesses and non-profit organizations.

Austin Pets Alive is currently closed to the public, but volunteers and employees continue taking care of the animals still housed at shelters. Berent said the shelter has figured out a system in which teams of employees and volunteers work in shifts, limiting the number of employees at a facility at any given time. Employees also work with the same team each shift, which could help limit the potential spread of COVID-19 if an employee were to get sick.

Local residents who are interested in adopting a pet from Austin Pets Alive can still adopt, but much of the process has transitioned to online. Virtual pet meet-and-greets are being scheduled by foster families who stream live video of a pet to a potential future owner. Once a virtual meet up takes place, appointments to finish paperwork are scheduled online and completed over the phone. A meeting time and location to officially pick up a new pet is also coordinated virtually.

“If anyone is looking to adopt right now we ask that they look at our website,” Berent said. “If they are looking to foster a pet, we have all of that laid out on our website to make it as easy as possible.”

The Austin Humane Society is also offering animals for adoption and fostering. Since March 18, the shelter has been fulfilling inquiries by appointment only and not allowing walk-ins. Those interested can call 512-685-0115 or can email adoption@austinhumanesociety.org.

The Austin Humane Society has also suspended volunteer activities to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

Receiving additional support

After the cancellation of local spring events, the Austin Humane Society has reported the many fundraisers it hosts annually will not be able to provide needed funding in 2020, and the organization is asking the community for donations.

While monetary donations can help local shelters, online wishlists of supplies that can be donated provide another avenue of support. A wishlist for Austin Pets Alive can be found online here, while Austin Animal Center’s wishlist is located here.

“We are trying to do all we can with less funding during this crisis, but anyone who is in the position to give, every donor goes back to the pets that we have,” Berent said. “We can always use supplies.”

Central Texas-based pet supply store Tomlinson’s Feed on April 6 began a “Pound4Pound” campaign, through which the business is distributing more than 54,500 pounds of pet food to 39 Austin-area animal rescues and shelters, according to the company’s Marketing Manager Kimberly Kenney.

“Now, more than ever, our animal rescues and shelters are in need,” Tomlinson’s Feed Owner Scott Click said in a statement. “Whether it’s providing fosters with food or sending food to shelters so that financial resources can be spent on medical cases, the Pound4Pound program gives our rescues and shelters that chance of relief."

Service Dogs Inc. donated 18,000 pounds of dog food to the Austin Pet Feed Bank and Austin Humane Society on April 1. The group originally planned to use the food during the its annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk, which was postponed in March and will not be held in Austin until October.

Growing shelter needs

While the number of overall pet adoptions and fosters has increased over the past month, the number of pets Austin Pets Alive has taken in at its shelters has also increased. From March 28-April 5, dog intake was up by 98% year over year, while cat intake was up 36%.

Berent said the increase is likely because a number of shelters and rural pet rescues in the Greater Austin Area have closed their shelters to new pets during the coronavirus outbreak due to a lack of resources, staffing or kennel space. She added as people get sick or lose wages, they might not be able to care for a pet any longer and may turn to the shelter for help.

Austin Animal Center has temporarily suspended new applications to foster animals because of the influx of interest the group received after closing initially. Austin Pets Alive is, however, accepting foster applications for those interested in taking in a pet until a permanent owner is found.

The most pressing need for Austin Pets Alive is fosters who are interested in working with dogs that need more management. The shelter is looking for homes without kids or other pets, and that have a yard or first-floor access to the outdoors. With kitten season approaching, there is also a need for fosters able to help with cats that need to be bottle-fed.

“A really great part of people being home is that it's a good time to adopt, because you're able to transition that pet into your home and be there for all of its first moments,” Berent said. “We are really glad people are taking advantage of this time at home to add a new family member because it's allowing us to save more lives.”
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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