Humane Society all-hands-on-deck emergency actions save 375 pets
Editor’s note: The following is the response PetGazette got from Asheville Humane Society Executive Director Jody Evans when we asked how her staff and the community had responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
As the Corona Virus made its way from China to the United States the leadership team at Asheville Humane knew we needed to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario. At the time, no one knew a lot about how Covid-19 was transmitted and if animals could be carriers of the virus. We knew we had to be prepared for almost anything to happen.
In early March, we did an extensive emergency-scenario planning session that helped us write a Covid-19 Emergency Preparedness plan in less than a week. A key part of that plan was to reduce the population of animals at our Animal Care Campus in anticipation of a closure and also to prepare the facility for a possible influx of animals that may or may not be coming from COVID-infected situations. We wanted to ensure we would have the space to accommodate animals that might continue to come in through Animal Control. Additionally, we wanted to protect staff and ensure consistent care for the animals that remained on campus by moving to a two-team staffing schedule, cutting our caretakers in half.
Over the years, a committed group of volunteer families have provided invaluable care and love for animals from Asheville Humane while we searched to place them with their forever families. We hoped we could maybe bring in a few new volunteers to move more animals off site. Little did we know when we posted our emergency foster plea on March 18th that 645 new people would respond!
As a result, we placed 244 cats and kittens, 112 dogs and puppies, 17 rabbits and 2 chickens into foster care. Fifty-two of those foster parents chose to adopt their foster pets! And an additional 26 foster families decided to become Adoption Ambassadors, which means their foster pet will stay in their home until they are adopted! Many of our emergency foster parents had never fostered a pet before, and we were thrilled to have them be part of our team! We had so many applicants that we were able to refer many people to other local shelters that also needed foster help.
We focused on animals who were easy to place, as they would be the ones most likely to blend into a foster home quickly, and would require the least amount of follow-up from our behavior and foster teams. This resulted in allowing the behavior staff and caretakers to give those animals who remained on campus one-on-one attention and enrichment.
The silver lining of reducing our on-campus population was the time our staff was able to spend with the dogs who remained on campus. Our behavior team resolved many behavior issues and increased the quality of life for those animals, but also increased their chances of being adopted more quickly than they would have before receiving the extra training, attention and loving care.
Our foster department is normally staffed by two people, but with the amount of applications and animals we placed in such a short period of time, we needed all hands on deck. The applications had to be processed and the animals and foster parents needed to be matched. Appointments for animal pick-ups had to be made and then managed and all animals had to get the medical and preventative care needed before leaving. We also needed to make sure the foster families who were taking animals with medical conditions received the support they needed to properly take care of the animal. When someone fosters an animal, Asheville Humane provides everything the animal may need from food and bedding to crates and litter. Every single department pitched in to help from our Behavior and Adoptions teams to our intake and administrative staff. We also had a group of volunteers who worked at home to help us manage the process.
While a global pandemic isn’t something we would ever want to happen again, we did learn a lot about ourselves. We had to think on our feet, make quick and decisive decisions, and make sure the entire AHS team – staff and board – knew exactly what was happening at all times. Information was changing quickly and we needed to maintain our operations and provide the best possible care for the animals, but we also had to make sure our team stayed healthy and strong both physically and mentally. We’ve already discussed what worked, what didn’t and how we would approach the situation again applying what we learned.
We were so fortunate that everyone at AHS really stepped up when we found out that COVID was going to impact AHS and Western NC! Our staff is always ready to act during emergencies, and are fantastic at figuring things out and making things work at a moment’s notice.
I am so incredibly proud of how this group of individuals pulled together and handled this emergency with grace. They were flexible, creative and really pushed themselves to think outside the box. They worked hard and cared for each other, as well as the animals, and were even able to have a sense of humor through the whole ordeal.
Optional pull quote:
“We placed 244 cats and kittens, 112 dogs and puppies, 17 rabbits and 2 chickens into foster care.”
Optional pull quote: “Our emergency foster plea brought 645 new responses.”