Animal fostering increases during pandemic

Animal fostering increases during pandemic
AWLA conducts animal introductions via Zoom to limit the number of people who enter the shelter each day. (Photo/Gina Hardter)

Margo Wagner | 

Social distancing has left many Alexandrians with more time at home and a desire for companionship. As a result, many local animal rescue organizations have received an influx of applications for animal fostering.

The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria received so many applications for fostering in March and early April that it had to suspend new foster requests, according to Gina Hardter, director of marketing and communications for AWLA.

AWLA conducts animal introductions via Zoom to limit the number of people who enter the shelter each day. (Photo/Gina Hardter)

“At a certain point, we had to suspend bringing in new people to foster because we actually didn’t have enough animals,” Hardter said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, AWLA staff expected the shelter to fill up as people became sick and could not care for their pets. Instead, the shelter started to empty out as people directed their time and energy into adopting and fostering.

AWLA recently reopened its foster application process, and the shelter is continuing to attract more interest than usual. Typically, AWLA works with 60 to 150 foster homes at a time. During the pandemic, there have been around four times as many people interested in fostering with AWLA.

AWLA is not the only animal rescue organization that has had an increase in fostering requests. Rescue organizations that are entirely foster based, including The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northern Virginia and Lu’s Labs have also been able to house more animals because of increased foster requests.

AWLA exchanges animals outside and requires masks to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Photo/Gina Hardter)

According to Kathleen MacKinnon, cat coordinator and board member of the SPCA of Northern Virginia, the increase in fostering was a welcome surprise. Usually, the organization has more homeless cats than available foster homes. But because of the pandemic, the SPCA directed applicants to other organizations after winding up with more fosters than cats in need.

MacKinnon said the increase in requests to foster was likely the result of people having more free time and a desire to do good.

“It’s such a trying, emotional time for people and for families to be isolated, and they just want to give back to their community,”MacKinnon said.

Jason Waxberg, who began fostering with Lu’s Labs in March, agreed that fostering is a great way to giveback to the community and spend time with an animal. He said he’s enjoyed staying home with a dog full-time.

“It’s just a great time to see how the dog lifestyle goes and test drive it,” Waxberg said.

Gumbo is a Lu’s Labs dog who was transported from Louisiana along with nine siblings in March. (Photo/Luisa Paucchi)

For Lu’s Labs, which transports dogs from the South and coordinates adoptions farther north, there are always dogs in need. Its capacity depends on how many available fosters there are, and it relies on foster families in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to help coordinate adoptions.

Requests to foster through Lu’s Labs have increased from about two applications a month to four a week, and at the beginning of the pandemic, there were about 20 a week. Lu’s Labs founder and Del Ray resident Luisa Paucchi has embraced the new fosters and is working to build a relationship with them.

“We’re just trying to build that foster network that is longer term and not short term,” Paucchi said.

Paucchi is already gearing up for the possibility that shelters will fill back up once people return to work and cannot care for their newly adopted pets. She hopes her wide network of foster families will help her rescue more dogs when that time comes.

AWLA staff are also hoping to retain fosters, Hardter said. Because of the large quantity of people looking to adopt animals in Alexandria, fostering allows AWLA to rescue animals from other areas.

“If we have more people fostering, we have the potential to bring in even more animals, with the goal of just helping more animals not just here in Alexandria but across the state and throughout the region,” Hardter said.

Bella is a Lu’s Labs dog who was rescued in March and adopted in April after receiving cancer treatment. (Photo/Luisa Paucchi)

Temporarily placing a dog in a foster home is often preferable to keeping a dog at the shelter, especially for animals who do better in a home environment or need one-on-one attention. Foster homes are also used for animals that are not old enough for adoption or are recovering from medical care.

“Every foster is truly saving a life and it’s so invaluable to sheltering animals across the community,” Hardter said.

She advised people looking to foster to stick with the process because typically, rescue organizations are always in need of fosters.

“Now is an odd time, but if numbers drop off, there will be so many places looking for fosters,” Hardter said.

In addition to changes in foster capacity, the pandemic has also driven animal rescue organizations to implement innovative procedures for coordinating adoptions, ad- ministering veterinary care and transferring animals.

AWLA conducts animal introductions via Zoom, and the SPCA and Lu’s Labs use video conferencing technology for home checks. In addition, AWLA has switched to contactless pickup for shelter animals.