Downeast Dog News
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Animal Lovers Strengthen Their Drive During Crisis

By Susan Spisak | Jun 02, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing many firsts; most are heartbreaking and difficult. Yet animal lovers are shining during restrictive times with great nonprofit’s caring for and finding forever homes for pets in shelters and rescues. Terrific people are continuing to aid pet food pantries. And the animals are paying it back - their therapeutic friendships prove all-important as they’ve become 4-legged co-workers, exercise partners, and comforting snugglers.

Shelters & Rescues

Jeana Roth, Director of Community Engagement at Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP) shared that while they closed their doors to the public on March 16th, they were able to place 51 dogs in the first 6 weeks. For those home more, adopting during the crisis had an advantage. “You have the ability to dedicate time and energy to welcoming an animal and helping it settle in.”

Creativity plays a role in adoptions, and the staff and community has adapted. Zoom, FaceTime, and the old-fashioned phone are used for adoption counseling. When there’s a solid match, the adopter/family come in to meet the dog practicing distancing – they have large community rooms and a play yard.

Kitten adopters utilize online and phone counseling and drive up to pick-up the pet without entering the building. And foster applicants have surged. “Our community has been so generous and supportive.”

But the stay-at-home order halted many programs, including their “safety net” transportation of dogs from in-state and national partner shelters and rescues. “We are eager to resume these programs when it is safe to do so,” said Jeana.

Kate Griffith, Community Programs Manager at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick indicated they’ve been closed but have adopted out pets with utmost caution. A staff member contacts the potential adopter to schedule a visit after they receive their application. They’re asked to call when they arrive, and a masked and gloved staffer brings the dog out for the initial meet with 6 ft. distancing. Then they move to a fenced-in yard so the off-leash dog can interact with them. If they mutually blend, an adoption happens. Payment is via the phone and online forms are completed to minimize germ spreading.

Adoption numbers are down from last year – but they did place 34 dogs from March 16 to May 1. Compared to the same period last year, the number of stray animals they’ve received is down 42%, while owner surrenders were down a whopping 79%. “As more people are staying home, there is greater opportunity to spend time bonding with pets and working on training as necessary,” said Kate.

Pittie Posse Rescue and Sanctuary was co-founded by Britt Bolnick and husband Todd Sullivan. Because of the pandemic, they needed more volunteers to handle the “off the hook” number of applications. While they’ve professionally transported some dogs from out of state partners, they’re quarantined with fosters per state guidelines.

They’re focusing on Maine owner surrenders – but they usually have behavior issues. “They’re not the kind of dogs flying off the shelves. They’re project dogs,” said Britt. But with guidance and a calm, stable environment, her trainers are turning these into highly adoptable pets.

Pet Food Pantries

Pittie Posse Pet Pantry (formerly Pittie Posse Rescue's No Bowl Empty Pet Food Pantry) is a division of Pittie Posse Rescue and Sanctuary. Britt took it over from No Bowl’s founder, Nadine Molloy. Nadine reached out to Britt, and she jumped at the opportunity. “Her mission has always been aligned with ours, in keeping pets in loving homes.” Central to that mission is to plug the hole of dogs ending up in shelters and rescues. Providing the needy with pet food and supplies is necessary.

Britt and her crew have doubled monthly distribution dates - they offer food and supplies twice in Saco and Waterboro using distancing. (For more on times, visit facebook.com/pittiepossespetpantry/They’ve relaxed the rule (for now) of requiring a client to have its dog licensed and registered.

They distribute several hundred pounds of food monthly. “People are so grateful; it makes me so sad.” Following in Nadine’s footsteps, if a client needs groceries, she’ll drop in with meal makings. Britt wants to add spay/neuter and vetting vouchers so the needy can keep their companions healthy. “For a lot of these people, their animals are everything.”

About three years ago, Standish resident Journey Ramsey began volunteering for the 501(c) 3 Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance (MVHA). It was founded in 2015 to support vets living on the streets in southern Maine. Journey often joined board member Kevin Nicholson to hand out hygiene bags, meals, and necessities.

She realized that not only homeless vets, but homeless folks had pets, so two years back she began stuffing pet items into backpacks for them - warm coats, booties, and food. Kevin noticed her efforts and suggested she umbrella under MVHA’s nonprofit status. The Board voted positively and Backpacks for Homeless Dogs as a MVHA project was officially founded in 2019. Journey is on MHVA’s board as their Community Pet Outreach member.

“Once COVID hit, I started getting a lot of phone calls. “People were worried about buying prescriptions or dog food,” Journey said. As her program grew, she has become multifaceted: she shares supplies with anyone who needs pet food/supplies, donates to human food pantries, and extends assistance to one-time homeless people while they’re transitioning into housing.

Her living room is her overflowing supply station, but she doesn’t complain. “People that are donating are just as grateful. They want to help people during COVID but don’t know how.”

Effect on Pets

Think pets are confused as to why their owners are around more? No worries said Sara Sokol, trainer and owner of Mr. Dog Training in West Bath. “Dogs are exceptional at living in the moment. Comparing today with their humans around more and engaging with them more to yesterday when they weren't isn’t how their brains work.”

During the stay-at-home order, people have been able to spend time providing exercise and mental stimulation for their pets. “They are seeing, firsthand, how important it is to get out for daily walks and to keep their dog’s mind active.” And they can use home time to build communication and engage with their dogs during the day, whether it’s a lunch time walk or a quick game of “find the kibble.” Every activity builds the bond.

Social distancing is having an interesting effect. “So many dog guardians struggle with dogs who are obsessed with greeting every dog and human they see when they are out and about.” They’re learning their human is the most “exciting person.” Because of distancing, fear reactive dogs are learning that people walking their dogs don’t always invade their space. Distancing is “planting a seed” for improvement in both types of dogs.

Before returning to work full-time, plan. Spend time apart from them every day. Work in a different room for a few hours, go for a drive, or hit the yard by yourself. To make the separation positive, treat them to enrichment toys – think stuffed Kongs. (For more tips, see Words, Woofs & Meows column)

As Maine slowly re-opens, know that many of these nonprofits’ safety practices may/will still be in place. Please continue to support shelters, rescues, and pet food pantries by donating food, supplies, and monies. Be well and stay safe.

Writer’s Note: Maine’s IDEXX Laboratories increased the availability of human COVID-19 tests for residents. They also made available the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR™ Test for pets due to customer demand. From their website at idexx.com/en/about-idexx/news/idexx-makes-pet-test-covid-19-virus-available-veterinarians/. “IDEXX’s guidance, aligned with that of medical experts, is that veterinarians order the IDEXX SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RealPCR™ Test after consultation with a public health authority (for example, a state public health veterinarian in the United States) and three specific criteria are met: Pet is living in a household with a human who has COVID-19 or has tested positive for the virus. Pet has already been tested for more common infections that a veterinarian has ruled out. Pet (especially cats and ferrets) is showing clinical signs consistent with COVID-19. IDEXX does not expect this veterinary test to have an impact on human COVID-19 testing or availability.”