By Kaitlyn Mullen
Nearly all aspects of living in Maine have fundamentally changed since the beginning of COVID-19, and Maine residents and businesses have adapted quickly to this new reality. While there are many common challenges, there are several challenges specific to operating animal shelters.
Like so many nonprofits, animal shelters are primarily volunteer-driven organizations. Volunteers make up the heart and soul of the SPCA of Hancock County, and traditionally serve a variety of roles including critical to maintaining shelter operations. As a result, when stay–at–home orders were put in place in March, the SPCAHC lost nearly 40 percent of our regular workforce effort as volunteers complied with those orders.
Additional impacts specific to animal shelters include an unprecedented increase in foster homes and parents, decreased access to low cost spay/neuter clinics, increased demand for long-term care for state “evidence” animals due to canceled court hearings, increased use of the SPCAHC’s surrender services, increased use of the Pet Food Pantry, increased use of Prevent A Litter Certificates to offset the cost of spaying and neutering existing pets and increased demand for emergency veterinary care assistance for low income households.
Finally, in early April the SPCAHC noticed a substantial new trend in reasons listed for surrendering an existing pet. Our top four reasons for surrendering a pet today include loss of housing, new multigenerational living situations, long–term owner hospitalization and unexpected emergency veterinary care expenses.
Animal shelters, including the SPCAHC, have actively adapted to these new challenges. We have increased our overall animal capacity by increasing our foster program substantially so that foster homes now account for one-third of the total animals the SPCA is responsible for. We have increased staff hours to compensate for reduced volunteer assistance. We have developed new relationships with other regional shelters to help better manage regional animal shelter space for incoming surrenders, ensuring as many animals as possible find shelter between homes. We have fostered nearly all of our state “evidence” animals so that these animals can continue being appropriately socialized during their extended stay in the animal shelter system. Finally, the SPCAHC has redesigned its community outreach program to bring SPCA services like microchipping, nail trimming and even local “matchmaking” events into communities in a COVID-friendly manner.
While reinventing what it means to be an animal shelter, and how that shelter will interface with the public is likely to remain a challenge for some time, the SPCAHC extends our sincere thanks to all those who have volunteered time, donated items and funds to support animal welfare and adopted pets. The outpouring of generosity from this community in a time of such challenge and need is simply amazing to observe and humbling to benefit from. It is because of your support that we look forward to continuing to meet these new and ever–changing COVID-19 challenges.
Kaitlyn Mullen is the Director of Operations of the SPCA of Hancock County