People and pets help each other through coronavirus pandemic

(NEW YORK) — Walking the dog has been a popular diversion for many enduring coronavirus quarantine, with pets playing an important role in helping humans get through this difficult time. Shelter-in-place orders around the country have even created a surge in demand for pets to provide both companionship and comfort.

“There is now a huge interest in fostering dogs and cats,” said Tracy Elliott, president of the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society. “We have hundreds and hundreds of people waiting.”

Elliott said the society also experienced a run on adoptions before it had to close its buildings.

Elliott points to the numbers. Normally the society might have around 100 dogs in foster care on any given day, but now 214 are being fostered. And their kennel no longer has nearly enough animals to meet demand.

The same story can be found across the U.S.

“We saw a nearly 70 percent increase in animals going into foster care through our NYC and Los Angeles foster programs, compared to the same time period in 2019,” the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said in a statement provided to ABC News. “In addition, since March 15, more than 600 people completed online foster applications for our New York City and Los Angeles foster programs, representing a 200 percent increase when compared to traditional application numbers during this period.”

Jim Tedford, the CEO of the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, a professional organization for public and private animal shelters, said he’s heard about shelters being “relatively emptied out,” because so many people have volunteered to foster or adopt pets.

“I’ve heard from a number of shelters who actually say they’ve got a backlog of up to a thousand volunteer foster homes on a list, waiting for animals to take care of,” Tedford said.

The “need” element works both ways: More and more animals need caretakers as shelter workers are forced to stay home, so shelters reached out to their respective communities for volunteers to foster and adopt those pets.

But the animals are giving back just as much, fulfilling human needs amplified by social distancing.

Elliott cites “companionship and unconditional love” as “absolutely” among the most valuable benefits offered by pets at this time. Tedford adds another: “Animals force us into a routine,” particularly for those not accustomed to working from, or being stuck at, home.

“You don’t get to just lay in bed until 11 or 12 o’clock,” he said. “You’ve got to get up to feed that dog or cat. If it’s a dog you’re more than likely going to have to take him for a walk right away.”

These benefits may pale in comparison to another that dogs might provide. A British charity, Medical Detection Dogs, is exploring whether dogs could be enlisted in the fight against COVID-19 using their acute senses of smell.

According to its website, “Dogs searching for COVID-19 would be trained in the same way as those dogs the charity has already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections — by sniffing samples in the charity’s training room and indicating when they have found it.”

As to the question of whether pets may be a risk at this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.”

It seems the biggest “risk” for those taking in animals during the pandemic is that the situation will be more than temporary.

“If history is a guide,” Tedford noted, “there is a great chance that a lot of those [pets] will become permanent fixtures in those households.”

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