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Animal shelters empty while folks at home adopt

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My life during the stay-at-home order took a sudden turn when I adopted a 6-month-old puppy last week. What better way to fill unexpected downtime? In fact, I’m writing this article between bursts of puppy energy, lots of pets, and periodic exchanges of things that shouldn’t be chewed for things that should. 

I’m not the only one adapting to a new, furrier flavor of busy. Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) based in Glenwood Springs usually houses 20-40 cats and up to 20 dogs in its shelter at any one time. Jacquelyn Tinsman, Adoptions and Intake Coordinator at CARE, said those numbers have decreased to the low single digits since the start of the state’s stay-at-home order.

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The suddenly empty halls at the shelter are due to higher foster and adoption rates at a time when people are stuck at home. Whereas CARE typically sees about four applications for pets per week, that count rose to about 100 in mid-March. These numbers reflect a trend happening across the country. Tinsman said some adopters have been inspired by celebrities including young music superstars Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, who have spearheaded the movement on Instagram. 

The adoption and fostering process has looked a bit different in the age of social distancing. CARE has been admitting visitors into the shelter by appointment only and it’s increased its social media interactions. More information has been exchanged over the phone — like animal medical and behavioral conversations — before candidates even meet the animal in question. Though this could perhaps be a hindrance to normal adoption practices, Tinsman said “people have been understanding and are willing to work with us.” 

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An additional complication is that spay and neuter operations are considered non-essential by state definitions and have been suspended during the stay-at-home order, though Governor Jared Polis may be adjusting that suspension as early as next week. This non-essential definition has nothing to do with animal operations but rather with personal protective equipment (PPE). 

After donating some of its materials, CARE reported its PPE inventory to the state so it can be retrieved for medical workers if necessary. Tinsman said that one of CARE’s goals is to ensure that animals who go through the facility receive one of these operations. For now, people adopting pets must sign a contract promising to get the procedure done when it becomes available. 

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Current conversations between shelters and adopters must also include the unique and potentially fleeting nature of present living conditions. What is now  a schedule wide-open for pet training and attention could shift back to one filled with work, outings, and other activities at any time. This is one of CARE’s biggest concerns with the COVID-onset adoptions. “Most people have been receptive,” Tinsman said about these discussions. “Some people have said ‘great point’ and reconsidered adopting.”

Despite these complications, CARE has had no problem finding good matches for fostering and adoption. Community members reached out to CARE to offer help right at the onset of COVID-19 and Tinsman said “we appreciate everything the community has done for us during this time.”

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This is not the first time that CARE’s animal populations have had a correlation with current events. The Lake Christine Fire in 2018 brought in extra pets as people were forced to evacuate their homes. During COVID-19, Tinsman said CARE hopes to keep populations low in an effort to save space for emergency animal housing. “Unfortunately, when people are losing their jobs, income, or housing,” Tinsman said, “pets are one of the first things to go.”

Pet populations will also stay down at CARE as the movement of adoptable pets across or between states has been mostly suspended. It is common practice for shelters to partner up and exchange pets with partner organizations. CARE has partners in southern Colorado and Utah, but pets are mostly staying put for now.

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Though CARE does receive some funding from Garfield County, it relies heavily on donations from the public to stay in operation. CARE typically hosts several annual events to raise money, but its team members are working with alternative ideas this year. They are currently running a Paint Your Pet contest through Sunday to raise funds and interact with animal lovers stuck at home. 

Indeed, there are many animal lovers in Carbondale and multiple shelters throughout the valley that help match pets with their “forever homes.” I adopted my new pup through Aspen-based Lucky Day Animal Rescue which, in turn, took her in from an organization in Arkansas, where there are simply fewer adopters. When all the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted, Lucky Day sent out an email to all the individuals involved in my dog’s adoption: a dozen people. For every rescued cutie you see in the park or on social media, there are many individuals that have worked behind the scenes to get her there.

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