By Lee E. Heller, Ph.D.. J.D.
As we scramble to comply with shelter in place orders and to stay virus-free, there are a lot of questions about the role of pets in our lives – along with some misconceptions. As a long-time animal advocate, let me share what I’ve learned, to help those who have a pet, are worried about being able to continue its care, or are thinking of bringing one into their home.
First and most important, for those frightened of getting COVID 19 from their pets or giving it to them: dogs, cats (and rabbits!) are not vectors for this coronavirus! Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) affirm that there is no evidence of any link between domestic animals and COVID 19. (For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/animals.html; https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/covid-19-faq-pet-owners_031520.pdf
). A leading testing company, IDEXX, has not been able to identify a single case in pets.
The evidence is a bit less clear regarding contact with the virus on a surface like fur. The AVMA has concluded that the coronavirus persists longer on smooth, non-porous surfaces than on porous ones like fur, thus reducing the likelihood that surface contamination of fur would last very long. That said, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t let anyone else (other than family members in the same household) touch your pet at this time, and don’t pet another person’s companion animal. If you bring a new animal into your home, it’s probably a good idea to give it a bath right away. (Less fun with cats, but still doable!)
Consider this: In times of high anxiety, pets are a reliable source of comfort. When we are forced into social distancing and self-isolation, they are ever-present companions that reduce stress levels. Dogs are an excuse to get out and walk (keeping six feet distant from others, of course). Stress reduction and exercise are both good for a strong immune system – something we all need now more than ever!
Economic hardship complicates the situation, of course. With so many people losing income, possibly permanently, it’s understandable to think about giving up your pet because you can no longer afford to feed it or pay veterinary bills. But don’t! CARE4Paws, a local non-profit, has programs in place to help with pet food and veterinary care. Their mission is to keep companion animals in their homes and out of animal shelters. So before you panic and think you need to give up your dog, cat, rabbit (or other), reach out and ask for assistance. They’ve also got a dedicated page that covers their services, links to shelters for fostering and adoption, and very important: advice about how to prepare in case you get sick, so your pet will be taken care of.
Finally: with so many of us sheltering at home, now is a great time to foster, or adopt, an animal! Animal shelters are closed for casual visits, but the staff at several local organizations are available to do foster and adoption placements by appointment. ASAP, the Goleta-based cat group, is overseeing over 100 cats in foster care. Executive Director Angela Walters Yates will ‘match’ prospective homes with suitable cats, which can then be picked up on a drive-through basis. Foster cats have all their needs paid for by ASAP (initial food, veterinary care if needed, etc.)
Santa Barbara County Animal Services has 70+ animals in foster care now, with many adoptions thanks to supportive community members. You can search dogs, cats, and rabbits online, then call the relevant shelter to request a ‘meet’ (phone numbers are at the bottom of the search webpage). The Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society/DAWG, which has dogs and cats is also placing animals by appointment; visit https://www.syvhumane.org/adoptions. The Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Valley Humane Society has indicated that it is doing adoptions by appointment as well. At a time of uncertainty, where some people may abandon their pets and where shelters are closed to volunteers, it is essential that we get these animals into foster or adoptive homes. Otherwise they will sit in cages day after day, with no enrichment, waiting for us humans to get well again!
As we face a period of uncertainty for ourselves and our community, we can do what we can to make our own lives, and those of animals, better.
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