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Animal rescues adapt to pandemic challenges

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

Everyone has seen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic play out over the last six months: students and teachers converting to remote learning, parents juggling working from home and childcare, and beloved local businesses struggling to make ends meet.

Several of the animal rescues often seen on Hometown Weekly’s pet page have also undergone changes to the way they normally work as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 has forced the staff and volunteers at these shelters to not only adapt, but also to pause some of the key aspects of their operations.

The Medfield Animal Shelter has been the temporary home for many pets - several have even come to the shelter as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Since the start of the shutdown in March, the shelter has had procedures altered to ensure the safety of potential adopters, staff, and volunteers. Many of the animals in the shelter’s care have spent their time in foster homes rather than at the shelter, preparing for their future in a home - and providing their caretakers with necessary fuzzy friends during this trying time. A few volunteers come into the shelter daily to help with the pets still residing there, all while maintaining social distance, wearing masks, and keeping up with proper sanitation. “We have amazing volunteers!" explains Marlene Simmons, the shelter’s manager. "They adhere to all of the new protocols without complaint and are unfailingly supportive and enthusiastic to be back helping our homeless pets.”

Other facets of the shelter's normal operation, like its annual rabies clinic and open adoption hours, have been put on pause during the course of the pandemic to help minimize the chance of spreading the virus. The shelter has resumed its monthly low-cost spay and neuter clinic for cats, meanwhile, by limiting the number of animals they handle for each one.

Off the Rocks Animal Rescue (OTR) has suffered two-fold as a result of the pandemic. This animal rescue brings future pets from the Virgin Islands to Boston, where they can be fostered and adopted. COVID-19 halted many aspects of their operation, particularly those taking place on the islands. Off the Rocks depends on tourists to help transport animals from the Virgin Islands to Boston. At the end of their trips, tourists will meet up with one of the shelter volunteers in St. Thomas or nearby to pick up one of their adoptable cats or dogs. These tourists will then take their charges onto the plane with them, where they will be met by Off the Rock’s Boston contingent to transfer the animal. “The Virgin Islands shut down for tourism. That made it really difficult," explains Dawn Balcazar, co-founder of Off the Rocks. Due to the poor economy, and the total decline of tourism, many of the workers have left the island, and their pets. "As a result, the shelters there are running two, three, even four times over capacity," says Balcazar. Off the Rocks' base in St. Thomas usually has 25 cats, but at the moment they have around 35. 

As of June, the U.S. Virgin Islands have reopened for tourists. While some aspects of the shelter have returned to normal, others have not. Off the Rocks is currently using a system of contactless adoption as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "Now what we do is I describe the kittens and send pictures of the kittens who are adoptable to suitable adopters, and then they have a video chat with the fosters and they see the cats in action," explains Balcazar. "Then, they just have to take it on blind faith." So far, most adopters are very happy with their new canine or feline family member.

In Hopkinton, Baypath Humane Society has continued to ensure that their adoptable animals receive the best care while ensuring everyone stays safe. Since in-person meetings between adopters and the animals have been suspended for now, Baypath has developed a new online application to help pair adopters with the right pets. This new application has not only minimized the number of people coming into the shelter, but also helped pair up people with different animals. "We ask adopters general questions, like 'what are you looking for' and 'what are you not looking for,' so that way if they apply for Skippy and they don't get Skippy, we have their application from prior, [and] we know what they're looking for," says Executive Director Liz Jefferis of Baypath. The next time a suitable dog comes in, Baypath staff can look at prior applications and match the animal with the perfect adopter. In some cases, the animal is adopted before it is even posted on the humane society's website. While staff and volunteers didn’t know what to expect with this new application, they’ve seen overall positive results. Since March 24, Baypath Humane Society has taken in over 350 cats and dogs, most of which have since been adopted.

COVID-19 has brought on some unprecedented challenges to local animal rescues. But the Baypath Humane Society of Hopkinton, the Medfield Animal Shelter, and Off the Rocks Rescue have all adapted to ensure that the animals they care for have the best chance of a new life and a comfortable stay while they wait for their new homes. For further information about these local shelters, pet adoption, and how to donate, visit www.medfieldshelter.com, www.offtherocksrescue.org, and www.baypathhumane.org.

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