ESCONDIDO — The COVID-19 pandemic has closed businesses and suspended services across San Diego County, but animal shelters remain open and committed to finding homes for their animals. And it seems a growing number of San Diegans are on the same page.
Though shelters have had to restrict some of their services and change the way they conduct business, many of them are continuing to help residents foster and adopt pets.
The San Diego Humane Society, which has a campus in Escondido, is among the local shelters that are still offering many of their services to the animals and people who need them.
These services include fostering, adoptions, stray animal intake and helping owners find their lost pets. All services, including adoptions, are now done by appointment only.
“We have far fewer animals in our shelters than we normally would this time of year, which is great,” said Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. “This community has really come together. In fact, 72 percent of our animals are being fostered right now, usually it’s about 15 to 20 percent.”
Many of these fosters will eventually lead to adoptions, according to Weitzman, which means avoiding overcrowded shelters and honoring their promise to keep healthy and treatable animals from being euthanized.
The Humane Society’s Project Wildlife division, which is a program dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation, has also seen a spike in activity as emptier streets have resulted in wild animals venturing closer to cities.
“As people are walking outside more, we are trying to inform the public to avoid picking up wild animals and bringing them to us unless they are injured. Most of the animals that you find outside, if they aren’t hurt, they will be fine,” Weitzman said.
As for household pets, shelters across the county are encouraging residents to keep getting involved.
“This is the best time to foster a pet, they are walking, breathing comfort creatures,” Weitzman said. “San Diego really cares about the environment and about animals. We put out a call for fosters, and people really stepped up to it.”
The Humane Society is also distributing pet food to residents at all three of their campuses, seven days a week. They’ve also partnered with Feeding San Diego, San Diego Unified School District and Escondido school districts to have pet food distributed with human meals at some of their distribution sites.
“My wish is that people don’t stop doing this when this is over; we are on the cusp of truly changing the way animal shelters work. For decades, people have been using this broken model, when really it’s a community responsibility,” Weitzman said. “Animals truly become themselves in a home, not in a shelter.”
The Humane Society will hold its annual Walk for Animals event virtually on May 2 to help raise money for safe shelter, medical care, rescue and rehabilitation and protection from cruelty and neglect for pets and wildlife in San Diego.