Written by: Inga Fricke, Director of Community Initiatives, Humane Pennsylvania

Like most of you, I am trying to navigate our new reality, trying to stay vigilant but still maintain as much normalcy as possible.  And like you, I’ll bet, I’m grateful for the reassuring presence of my pets as my interactions with other humans become fewer and fewer thanks to social distancing.  Watching the news this morning, I happened to hear an interview with Rabbi Jeffrey Myer from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh (the site of a horrific mass shooting in October of 2018) and what he said resonated with me – he said we shouldn’t actually be practicing social distancing, we should be practicing PHYSICAL distancing with social CONNECTION.  To me, this sums up the best of what I’m seeing in our communities right now, and it is especially relevant to us as pet lovers.

I’m seeing messages all over social media encouraging people to foster pets while they’re stuck at home, and it’s working!  Shelters are hosting drive-through foster events, scheduling adoptions by appointment, and coming up with other creative ways to help clear out their kennels and cages.  Wisconsin Humane Society, for example, announced on Friday that 159 animals were adopted and another 160 went into foster care just 5 days after they put out the call for help – that’s amazing!  It’s a wonderful example of what can happen when animal lovers come together through social connection to help pets in need. If you’ve ever been curious about fostering before, now’s the time to try it!

Not all pets have been lucky enough to find temporary or permanent placement, of course, so shelter workers, just like doctors, nurses, truck drivers and grocery store clerks, aren’t getting time off while the world is shutting down around them.  They perform a critical lifesaving function each and every day, and they serve the animals in their care regardless of what type of disaster is happening around them. If you are able, consider dropping off some snacks or cookies (or toilet paper!) at their front door as a thank you, or maybe give them a shout-out on social media for staying in the trenches so others can stay safely at home – they deserve it!

Pet food pantries, like Humane Pennsylvania’s Spike’s Pet Pantry are continuing to serve pet owners in need.  Our methods of operation have changed to keep everyone at a safe distance, to be sure.  At Spike’s, we used to welcome people into the lobby of our Community Resource Center to pick up their food, now we’re talking to them through our Ring doorbell and leaving their food outside the door.  Other groups, like Baltimore’s Charm City Companions, are packing pet food into care packages and leaving them right on clients’ doorsteps.  But while the physical distance between us and those we help has changed, our social commitment to serving their needs remains intact.

Each and every one of us can do good for pets while we’re stuck indoors. Newly minted home-school parents can start your own “Rescue Readers” program by having your children read a favorite story to their cat or dog (many shelters, like Humane League of Lancaster, have had to suspend their formal reading programs for shelter animals temporarily, but will be eager to restart them when they can).  Or perhaps add some shelter-friendly crafts and projects to your child’s routine.  Shelter pets always need a stash of Kong toys stuffed with frozen peanut butter and biscuits inside, you can store them in your freezer and eventually drop them off at the shelter.  Empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls (you know you’ve got ‘em!) can be converted into wonderful treat dispensers just by putting kibble or small treats inside, cutting a small hole in the middle, and squishing the ends together.  You might also crochet soft, warm blankets for shelter pets to warm up on – or if you’re like me, and aren’t especially crafty, there are easy no-sew blanket options with instructions available online.  Just Google “crafts to help shelter pets” and you’ll find pages full of fun ideas (like this one from GreaterGood.org).

You can also look for ways to connect directly with other pet lovers in your community who might need some extra support right now. I’m sure you’ve seen the heartwarming stories of people offering to make food deliveries, pick up medicines, or provide other necessary services to neighbors in need. To be sure, people self-islolating because they are in a high risk category are likely to be in need of food for their pets, which can be dropped off right at their front door, or might be grateful for a helping hand to take their dog to the park for them to get some exercise. And just knowing they have a neighbor they can call on to take more extensive care of their pets should they become ill will be a huge relief (all indications right now are that dogs and cats are not sources of virus transmission, but of course everyone should wash their hands thoroughly after handling a pet that may have been exposed and ideally wash dogs to eliminate any chance of virus lingering on the fur).  Using Nexdoor, Facebook neighborhood groups and other social media outlets you can connect with pet owners around you and look for opportunities to provide social support while maintaining appropriate physical distance.

Now more than ever, we have to come together as a community of pet lovers – even as we are heeding warnings to stay physically apart. Physical distancing with social connection – that is precisely what we all need to stay strong and get through this together.

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Written by: Leann Quire, Director of Shelter Operations, Humane Pennsylvania

When you think of an animal shelter do you envision cuddly kittens rolling on their backs while playing with toy mice? How about dogs pleading with their eyes through their kennel doors for you to adopt them? Of course that is what comes to mind! But what about a curious ferret who reaches out of the cage to grab your sleeve or an active hamster running on their wheel? Most people go to a pet store when they want to add something other than a cat or a dog to their family. In addition to dogs and cats, many shelters also help “pocket pets” which are smaller pet mammals like guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, mice, chinchillas, gerbils, ferrets, as well as other animals like birds and even reptiles! There are even rescue groups who specialize in these smaller furry and scaly animals. In honor of National Adopt a Guinea Pig Month we would like to talk about the wonderful animals looking for homes in animals shelters who sometimes don’t receive the spotlight.

Let’s start by talking about different types of small animal pets:

Hamsters are fun and active, but they are nocturnal so they might be best if you work longer days or are home at night time. Being independent creatures they enjoy running on wheels and climbing in tubes. Each hamster is unique, so you may have a hamster who enjoys being held or you may have one that rather be on its own. Hamsters typically can live up 2 or 3 years.

Rabbits are fun animals, but require more care than most people think. They should not live their lives in a small enclosed area. They can spend their time sleeping and resting in smaller pens, but they need room to run and play. Rabbits are intelligent and emotional creatures, so regular interactions or companionship is important. Rabbits also need to stay occupied or they can get into trouble by chewing on things they shouldn’t. Be prepared to provide appropriate items for them to chew on. On average, a domestic rabbit can life 8-12 years!

Mice and rats are very active and love to play, investigate, and move around their surroundings. Rats love social interactions and make great pets. Mice can be more difficult to hold, so they may not be a good choice if you are looking for a pet you want to cuddle and hold regularly. Mice and rats typically live a similar lifespan to hamsters at 2-3 years, but some rats in good health can live even longer.

There are many different kinds of birds and some can live as long as humans. They need appropriate space and can have very particular diets. Make sure you do ample research before taking on a pet bird if you have never had one before.

Ferrets are curious, mischievous, and smart! They can be litter boxed trained and act similar to a dog or cat with their training and interactions. They generally live 5-10 years.

Reptiles require special temperatures, diets, and enclosure needs. Be sure to research and talk with professionals before taking on a reptile.

Guinea pigs are very active and have big personalities! They prefer big cages they can run around freely, but also enjoy being able to hide in a small igloo or space that makes them feel safe when they are scared. Guinea pigs are also social animals and prefer to be with others of their own species, so it is best to get more than one guinea pig so they don’t become depressed. Guinea pigs are known to live approximately 4-8 years.

Education and Care

Research, research, research! There are so many different types of small mammals, birds, and reptiles you can adopt and each kind has specialized needs from their enclosures, diet, and enrichment.

Considering your lifestyle and sleep schedule is important before taking on any new pet. Some pocket pets are nocturnal and are most active at night. Other pocket pets are prey animals and by instinct are more prone to stress. Because of this you may need to make extra considerations on where the critter is housed and if any other animals in your home may cause extra stress for the critter. Changes in diet, loud noises, moving, and bringing in new animals can all cause stress.

Veterinary Care

Just like with cats and dogs, critters require veterinary care. It is always important to establish a relationship with a veterinarian if you have an animal as they require routine care and may need emergency medical assistance. If you are adopting a critter it is especially important to take the time to find a veterinarian in your area who specializes in caring for critters because not all veterinarians will see rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles, birds, etc.

Environment

Enclosure and environment are extremely important for critters as they help them to stay safe. It is important to keep your animals enclosure cleaned regularly. Many people fail to clean critter enclosures as often as they should and this can cause serious and life-threatening medical issues. The size of the enclosure, temperature, lighting, and access to enrichment and toys are all important things to consider. There are many different critters, so if you are unsure of what type of enclosure you should get talk to an animal care professional and they will be happy to assist you.

One of the many benefits to adopting small animals is that the wonderful staff will educate you on what enclosure to purchase if one doesn’t come with the animal and how to properly care for them.

Pocket pets and other smaller critters can be fantastic pets, but they are different from cats and dogs. Take your time to research the specific needs of the animal you are considering adopting and remember that animal shelters and rescue staff are knowledgeable and happy to assist you if you are looking for information or resources. Just because these pets are typically smaller than cats and dogs doesn’t mean they require less care or can’t be loving and fun pets.  Rats are very intelligent and can learn lots of tricks, ferrets can make your sides hurt from laughing at their mischievous antics, and guinea pigs can melt your heart with their cooing and excited squeals. Open your big heart to the small animals who are in shelters or rescues looking for homes.

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I’m sure you all needed another “How we are responding to COVID-19” piece to read like a hole in the head, but here is ours.
 
In order to protect our staff and clients and to support the intent of the universal recommendations of health professionals at a national, state, and local level, Humane Pennsylvania and Humane Veterinary Hospitals will be dramatically scaling back operations until Monday, March 30, 2020.
 
  • What does this mean for animals? All animals in our care will be safe and sound, cared for by dedicated staff, as usual. However, we will be operating with a stripped down number of staff who will be providing food, care, cleaning, and medical treatment for our sheltered animals. Adoptions services will be halted until March 30. Animal intake appointments will be rescheduled until March 30 or after.
 
  • What does this mean for clients? We acknowledge that this will be inconvenient for clients and we ask that everyone appreciate the intent of the service reductions. Non-essential transactions and appointments will be rescheduled. This includes wellness veterinary appointments and elective veterinary services. Critical services and medications will be provided to clients but we will have limited staffing at both of our hospitals. We are implementing contact procedures for veterinary clients to allow them access to information and veterinary supports, including limited “televet” services. Please refer to hvhospitals.org for updates and information.
 
  • What does this mean for our services? Until March 30, some services will be curtailed completely, such as adoptions and community clinics. Others will be limited, such as veterinary services. Others are being worked out right now, such as food pantry and other Healthy Pets Initiative services. We will be maintaining staff at the phones to answer questions, and we will be posting and responding on Facebook, social media, and HumanePA.org as promptly as possible, as well as responding to emails.
 
  • What does this mean for staff and volunteers? Since we cannot operate without people, the safety of our staff and volunteers are foremost in our minds (tied with our animals!). Volunteers will be asked to stay home through March 30. Staff will be assigned as needed but there will be no furloughs. Staff not scheduled will be “on call” as needed and will be furthering their skills by completely required and supplemental continuing education opportunities. Humane Pennsylvania is proud to offer our staff a safe workplace, medical benefits, and a family friendly environment. Keeping those employees and their families healthy is important to us.
 
  • What does this mean for events? Most events conducted by Humane Pennsylvania staff will be canceled until March 30. Events after that are still on, but we will update and make changes as circumstances dictate. The Auction, Pints for Pups, etc. are still a go! And boy will we need the donations! Speaking of which….
 
  • What does this mean for donations and support for Humane Pennsylvania? We hope nothing, but we know major crisis almost always result in a short term decline in donations as everyone focuses on the problems at hand. We understand and we want everyone to focus on their own safety and the safety of their family, human and not. However, if you wish to help us when we will need it most, we would welcome it. Consider setting up monthly giving, then you won’t even need to think about it!
 
Humane Pennsylvania is well suited to handle this situation. We deal with illness and disease routinely, from kennel cough to parvo to ringworm. We know that thoughtful, consistent, decisive action is the key to saving lives and keeping a bad situation from getting worse. In this case, we are ensuring we do this for our human friends and family.
 
This situation is literally unprecedented. Some folks are freaking out, some folks are thinking it’s an over-reaction. Like most of what we do, we rely on science and the advice of experts in their fields. Health experts are telling us that social distance is what we should be practicing and non-essential activities should be curtailed. We can hope that in a couple of weeks this will have seemed like overkill. But we can’t count on that and my job as CEO and the job of our board is to protect our animals, staff, volunteers, and the public. This is the approach experts are suggesting in order to do that and we are following that advice.
 
Thank you for your support, understanding, and service to our mission. We can’t do our work without you and we truly wish you and your family safety and good health.
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