New owner adopts a dog at the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County. (Photo Credit Director of Development and Marketing Ashley Taulbee)

Local animal shelters adapt to pandemic challenges to stay open

The pandemic has posed several challenges for local animal shelters, including a reduction in volunteers and decreased animal capacity, but the teams at various shelters have adapted and continue to serve animals and the community.

To regulate the number of people in local shelters, only necessary services remain open. Staff members and visitors are required to wear masks, have their temperature checked, answer COVID-19 safety questions and use the provided hand sanitizing stations.

“(The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County) is open for essential services only, including adoptions for those who are serious about adopting a pet, stray walkthroughs for those who are looking for their lost pet, stray intake for those who have found a lost pet and end of life services,” said Ashley Taulbee, director of development and marketing at the shelter.

Tacoma Humane society staff member holds a shelter kitten. (Photo Credit Ashley Taulbee)

Metro Animal Services, being a government facility, is only able to serve people by appointment, leading to many angry individuals. 

“One of the hardest aspects about the pandemic is that now our staff routinely have been responding to angry phone calls and even people pounding on the doors demanding to be able to drop in,” said Carmen Palmer, communications director for the shelter. 

Data trends indicate that there are fewer animals in shelters compared to last year. According to Taulbee, the number of animals cared for at their shelter has decreased this year by 17% compared to 2019.

“This decrease may be partly due to fewer stray animals being brought to the shelter as many people have been home more regularly, and because our pet counseling services and community outreach programs have aimed to help pets stay with their people during difficult times,” said Taulbee.

Local shelter leaders have noted a significant reduction in volunteers. The Auburn Valley Humane Society volunteer hours have gone from 3,600 hours a month to just 1,000. The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County is currently operating with 60% of the volunteers compared to a year ago.

A volunteer at the Tacoma Humane Society bathes a shelter dog. (Photo Credit Ashley Taulbee)

“If we don’t have volunteers, we could only do half of what we do, and we’re running pretty close to that number,” said Phil Morgan, CEO of Auburn Valley Humane Society.

At the Auburn Humane Society, the number of animals that can be housed has decreased as fewer people can volunteer. This has led them, and many other shelters, to organize several programs to provide food, medicine and other pet needs to those who can’t afford it. 

“We launched a number of human services programs that would mitigate the need for people to get rid of their pets,” said Morgan.

The Auburn Humane Society offers a home-to-home service that allows owners to relocate their pet directly to a new owner, without having the animal step one paw in the shelter. They also provide medical financial assistance to low-income residents of Auburn for dog and cat owners who need non-routine medical care for their animals. The pet food pantry program at the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County provides dog and cat food for owners that currently can’t afford it. 

These shelters reported being financially stable during this time of widespread economic instability. There’ve been no pay reductions and only a few staff members at Auburn Humane Society were laid off, though that staff did return to work a month later.

“I don’t want to say we’re doing great, nothing is great, but we’re able to keep our heads above water,” said Morgan.

The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County is looking for emergency fosters who can take care of a pet if the shelter reaches critical capacity. Learn more about eligibility and how to sign up at their website.

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Jayden Fenske

Local animal shelters adapt to pandemic challenges to stay open

by Jayden Fenske time to read: 3 min