As the coronavirus outbreak retains many Americans at home, some are reaching out for companionship and seeking new ways to give a hand. That has led many animal shelters to find a surge of public interest in pet boosting and permanent adoption — including the Oregon Humane Society, which operates one of the largest shelters around the West Coast from Portland. Sharon Harmon is the president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Humane Society. Courtesy of the Oregon Humane Society/ Sharon Harmon, Oregon Humane Society president and CEO, told OPB’s”All Things Considered” that they’ve seen a tremendous increase in public attention in both temporary foster structures and adoptions. So much so that after a flood of more than 1,000 applications for emergency pet foster homes, OHS temporarily closed its program window. The outpouring of community members’ interest in bringing pets into their homes is not surprising to Harmon. “If you think about it, it is really the perfect moment. Folks are dwelling, they can establish a connection,” she said. “In times such as these, animals bring us something that you just can not get off the shelf… items which we all want: that love, that simple joy, just a smile and a warm kiss.” Oregon Humane Society along with other shelters across the nation face new challenges involving the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, OHS has made an attempt to move countless animals from the shelter to foster homes, to make room for what it anticipates will soon be a surge in animals coming into the shelter. “Where we are right now could be only the calm before the storm,” Harmon said, noting that pet care may be harder for men and women that become sick or lose their jobs.
Harmon reported the Oregon Humane Society could be uniquely well prepared to face this tragedy, as a first-responder firm that has provided emergency aid to pets in natural disaster zones, including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. OHS has kennels available it generally uses to home animals surrendered in criminal and animal cruelty cases. And, the organization learned lessons from the 2008 recession — that the key reason individuals surrender pets is being unable to keep up with the cost of care, Harmon said. Meanwhile, the shelter is adjusting to social-distancing measures to impede the spread of the coronavirus. It used to function as a destination, together with hundreds of people passing through every day. That is done for now. OHS is facilitating adoptions by appointment only.
Harmon said that means much fewer people come through per day, and there’s a greater likelihood that the people who do show up will adopt. OHS has also reduced its on-site workforce. “We are having [many] of our employees work at home,” Harmon said. Nadine and Nelson await their fur-ever home. Nadine and Nelson await their fur-ever house. “You need to have your employees be ready to fight the next battle,” Harmon said.
For the Humane Society, there is a clear challenge ahead: the widespread discontinuation of publicly available spay and neuter programs, including OHS’s own program, which assists low-income cat owners access solutions. “We are in the beginning of the summit of cat breeding season, so we’re not just going to see that the progeny of these cats we could’ve spayed now, but the cats and kittens that those will have,” Harmon said. She stated much of the Humane Society’s job on cat overpopulation — at the past decade, the program reduced cat intake to its shelters by 94 percent — could be reversed.