Before the COVID-19 outbreak broke out in Florida in March, Jacksonville Animal Care and Protection Services was already dealing with an outbreak of its own.
The town facility had a pneumovirus outbreak that was affecting dogs, so they had to stop accepting strays.
“We were already, here at the Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS), kind of feeling that impact as being the only shelter available for hosting streaming dogs,” said Lindsay Leyendecker, assistant director of development for JHS.
When the coronavirus hit northeast Florida, other counties began closing their shelter doors, leaving JHS as one of the only open humanitarian societies in the region.
During the spring months, cats give birth at a higher rate, leaving JHS with an increased number of kittens to care for just as the impact of COVID-19 was beginning to hit hard.
“It is truly impossible for the Jacksonville Humane Society to carry the weight of what would normally be carried by multiple animal control agencies in northeast Florida,” Leyendecker said.
To accommodate social distancing practices, JHS has changed its adoption policies to appointment-only. Those interested in adopting can browse the animals available on the JHS website.
The shelter has stopped taking new volunteers and has split current volunteers into two groups, so if one team is potentially exposed, the other can still cover the job.
Since dogs and cats at the shelter were experiencing less social interaction due to COVID-19, the shelter began to accommodate as many animals as possible. Leyendecker said they placed 70% of their animals in foster homes.
“A lot of people won’t adopt because they’re afraid they’ll fall in love and end up keeping the animal,” Leyendecker said. “But once they know it’s a temporary situation… I think it shows a lot of people that foster care is possible.”
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Financially, JHS has received grants and fundraising support, including an annual fundraiser made virtual. The event raised over $100,000.
But other animal care services in Jacksonville have more financial worries.
The Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida operates a facility on the Westside of Jacksonville. They host opossums, raccoons, deer, rabbits, turtles and other wildlife that are injured and need to be rehabilitated.
Barbara Tidwell, the founder and chair of the coalition, said she receives around 2,000 animals for rehabilitation a year.
The coalition operates solely through donations. Tidwell said that typically when someone drops off an animal, they leave a donation ranging from $5 to $50 towards the animal’s needs.
“We’re getting less funding right now because, number one, people aren’t coming to the center,” Tidwell said. “We’re trying to bring in these animals and people have run out of money to give because they’ve lost their jobs.”
The coalition also planned to build an education center at Lions Club Park in Arlington with money from donations and fundraisers. This idea is changing now too.
“I don’t know when we’ll be able to do fundraisers again,” Tidwell said. “Going out and asking the public for money at a time when there are so many other worthy causes like coronavirus victims and people who have lost their jobs and have no money to give to anyone. either or who are afraid of being not going to have a job.
And since the coronavirus outbreak caused more people to stay home to work, Tidwell said the coalition has received more calls for injured animals found on properties.
“There are more animals coming in, but there are a few people to transport because so many people are self-isolating, working from home, not going out,” Tidwell said. “So getting the animals to the Wildlife Center for us was quite a challenge.”
Tidwell said the coalition will still never say no, but it’s getting harder and harder to meet the demand for animal transport and rehabilitation with expensive supplies.
Sylvie Schiller with Froggy’s Cat Rescue lives in equally difficult circumstances.
“We don’t get free vet care,” Schiller said. “We pay for everything. We get medicine, office visits, x-rays. We make a few dollars if we’re lucky and have a vet working with us, but we have to pay for everything.
A $4,000 donation in February helped Froggy’s stock up, but Schiller said the fight for funding will continue once that money runs out.
Froggy’s does not keep cats in a specific establishment. Instead, he uses a network of foster homes to temporarily house the felines.
But because of the virus, they’ve lost the ability to do home visits, where people can interact with the cats and potentially adopt them. They also lost many of their foster families.
“Coronavirus pretty much brought everything to a screeching halt,” Schiller said. “Adoptions as well as foster families, as well as just about everything except medical care.”
And like the Wildlife Coalition, Froggy’s has seen an overall increase in appeals.
“We get emails every day and phone calls every day about pregnant cats,” Schiller said. “I’ve had shelters reach out to me via Facebook…without foster homes that doesn’t happen. I have to say no and I hate it.
the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that it has received reports that domestic cats and dogs can test positive for coronavirus. The development concerns Schiller. She thinks it could change people’s decision to care for or adopt a cat.
“You’re not going to catch anything from your cat,” Schiller said. “If anything, your cat will catch it from us.”
Eight lions and tigers from a Bronx zoo have also tested positive for COVID-19.
The CDC recommends keeping pets from interacting with people outside the home and keeping cats out.