By Sahar Chmais
Animal lovers could possibly find some joy in COVID-19; what once was a day of free animal adoptions at the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter, has turned into a month.
“We’re having to readjust how we do the event,” said Jeanne Saadi, animal services manager at the San Marcos shelter. “We’re doing adoptions by appointment only because we couldn’t encourage a lot of people to come on the same day and we didn’t want to just pass over the event this year. So we figured, if we spread adoptions over a month, we could still keep that momentum going.”
The coronavirus has created problems for animal shelters, but Saadi has seen many pleasant outcomes. The first is the extension of fee-free adoptions. But it has also opened up the door to a more organized adoption system and a higher lost-pet return rate. Saadi also noticed the kindness of her community expressed through their time and donations. The San Marcos animal shelter has even received a grant to help pet-parents facing hardships who cannot afford certain procedures.
During the pandemic, the shelter has not seen a difference in the number of adoptions, which Saadi said is great considering that they had to close their doors to the public. At first, it seemed like the pandemic would put a stick in their wheels for the fee-free adoptions, but the team got creative and extended this opportunity.
In order to avoid a crowded environment during regular adoption hours and free adoptions, the shelter began taking appointments online and by phone – a practice they hope to continue after the pandemic.
“I think even after we open up, we will continue,” Saadi said. “It’s not only beneficial for us to know what people are looking for, we can make sure we have someone dedicated to helping them. If we have 30 people coming at a time and only three members, we think many people leave because they don’t have anyone to talk to.”
Saadi said she believes the appointment method yields a higher adoption rate and smoother customer service.
Although adoptions have remained relatively consistent, animal fosters have increased. The pandemic has given people more time at home which some have directed to fostering an animal, relieving the shelter.
Those who could not help through fostering have helped by donating.
“The community has been fantastic,” Saadi said. “They’re dropping off blankets, towels, pet food and cat litter. We can send that to fosters and people who need it for their animals.”
The shelter wants to facilitate aids to pet-parents because they are afraid COVID-19 job loss or evictions could create higher owner surrender. Saadi said it is best to contact the shelter if someone thinks they have to give up their pet because the shelter might have some solutions or options to go over.
For example, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals granted this shelter $20,000 to help find solutions before having to give up a pet. The program is being finalized and the San Marcos shelter, so far, has found one veterinary and a boarding facility who will participate.
“If you know you will face hardships, let’s talk about it first so you can keep your pet,” Saadi told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “I can’t imagine losing my home and job and then my pet; that might be the only thing keeping someone sane right now.”
Of course, because funds are limited, the program has guidelines such as a person should be on government assistance to qualify.
There are other ways the community has helped the shelter and animals. After the pandemic was declared, the shelter asked people who find lost pets to keep them to reduce the shelter’s population. Based off of Saadi’s “own non-scientific research,” she said when animals stay with their finder three days, 55% to 60% made their way back home.
According to Saadi, this makes sense because cats do not wander too far from home and dogs generally stay in the neighborhood. If these animals stay in close proximity to where they were lost, they have a better chance of being found. But if a dog is lost in Dripping Springs and gets taken to San Marcos, their owner will not come to San Marcos looking, especially that not everyone knows this shelter exists.
The San Marcos shelter should be the last resort because municipal shelters were built to manage stray pet populations and manage rabies in communities. They definitely welcome animals, but if there are better options and solutions, they hope people will try them.
Saadi wants the shelter’s message to be loud and clear, “we don’t want to take your pet, we want to help you keep it.”