Local animal shelters adapt to pandemic guidelines to ensure safety for all animals, staff and the public

click to enlarge Some of the many pets adopted from Spokane Humane Society since the shelter reopened its public walk-in hours in mid July. - SPOKANE HUMANE SOCIETY PHOTOS
Spokane Humane Society photos
Some of the many pets adopted from Spokane Humane Society since the shelter reopened its public walk-in hours in mid July.

With the unusual year we've experienced so far, many have felt the urge to splurge on something we've long been yearning for in the backs of our minds. For some, this craving was quieted by cutting our own bangs or learning to bake sourdough bread, but for many Inland Northwest residents, the answer was bringing home a new pet.

What better time to train a new puppy than when you're already quarantined at home?

A recent, sudden increase in adoptions means forever homes for hundreds of furry friends, and while this is good, local shelters and adoption centers have still encountered many uncertainties and challenges brought by the pandemic. Shelters across the region were initially forced to close their doors to the public, causing an overall decrease in 2020 adoption numbers despite recent spikes, and a change in the way adoptions were allowed to happen.

Edward Boks, executive director at the Spokane Humane Society, says the shelter's dog adoption numbers are down 12 percent so far compared to last year, while cat adoptions are down 6 percent.

On top of this, Boks says, "the biggest change to normal operations was closing the shelter to the public and scheduling adoptions by appointment only. We were getting hundreds of calls every week. It was challenging to return all those calls, and frustrating to our patrons anxious to adopt a pet."

In addition to frequently sanitizing surfaces, the Spokane Humane Society moved its adoption surveys, which all potential adopters must fill out, online to make parts of the adoption process contactless and as efficient as possible due to that initial call influx. The shelter resumed its normal, walk-in hours to the public on July 15, allowing five visitors (wearing masks) inside at a time.

Volunteer involvement at the Spokane Humane Society looks different now, too. Boks says while regularly scheduled volunteer hours and duties have been hindered by pandemic regulations, the shelter has since reinstated on-site volunteer opportunities, including the new "Dogs Play for Life" program to help dogs get accustomed to interacting with other canines.

"We also recently expanded the skill set that we're recruiting volunteers to help us with. We're asking for volunteers to help us with upcoming events, improve our website, fundraise and facility and grounds maintenance," says Boks.

Despite these pandemic setbacks, Boks says the nonprofit has seen an overwhelming amount of interest in choosing adoption and saving pet lives.

"It's been gratifying to see the community response when we reopened our doors," he says. "Spokane is a tremendously pet-friendly community and restricting compassion is counterintuitive to most of us."

In North Idaho, the Kootenai Humane Society has also experienced a tumultuous first half of the year, having been forced to close its doors to the public back on March 15. The shelter remains closed to walk-ins; all visitors must make an appointment to meet animals and adopt, or for vaccine and spay/neuter services. Face masks are required on the premises.

Kootenai Humane Director of Development Victoria Nelson says the pandemic has, however, brought some surprising benefits.

In the first part of the year, the shelter usually sees a large number of sick cats needing medical care, but Nelson says there was a drastic reduction in feline illness this season, a change partly credited to appointment-only visits.

Cleanliness is always a priority for Nelson and her team, but the temporary appointment-only rule has allowed staff to more thoroughly clean and sanitize the facility. Nelson says it's also "alleviated the packed, shoulder-to-shoulder lobby area," while giving potential adopters a quieter, more personal interaction with the animals.

One of the biggest worries amongst animal care experts during the pandemic's onset was the possibility of pet owners surrendering animals for fear of catching the coronavirus from, or spreading it to, their pets, an outcome that's since been proven highly unlikely. However, neither the Spokane Humane Society or Kootenai Humane Society saw any noticeable increase in pet surrenders as opposed to normal years.

The main issue moving forward is how so many new pets will respond when we're not all sitting at home anymore, and how our local shelters will balance the urgency of getting animals adopted while still keeping everyone safe. ♦

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