The State of Rescues Amid COVID-19

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Listen in as Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder, and Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation, discuss what is happening in the world of pet rescues and shelters with coronavirus everywhere now.

This video is part of the Pet Voices LIVE series. CLICK HERE to see the full schedule of videos.

 

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON ANIMAL RESCUES

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:03

So, Kim, what I would love to hear starting off is, what was it that you started to see and what grew the escalation to the point that made you go, “Okay, we need to do something. We need to do something quick.” And what was that thing? Because I know there was a thing.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 0:21

Yeah, thank you. Well, one of the things that the foundation has really always been committed to is disaster relief. And, you know, disaster doesn’t just come in the forms of fire, flooding, and hurricanes. Certainly, COVID is just a different type of disaster. And we responded the way that we typically do, which is immediate outreach to shelter partners and nonprofits that we work with to understand what we can do to best support them. And again, every disaster being different, we knew that this one wasn’t just shelters in Texas or in Florida. It is a national issue. I mean, it’s a world issue, but where we can impact it’s a national issue.

And so we quickly worked to survey our shelter partners, because we wanted to know, not what we thought that they could use, but what they actually could use given the situation. And we gave our shelter partners a really long 48 hours to respond. And most of them did so very enthusiastically. So we had 232 shelter partners respond and let us know things that we already assumed but just validated.

78% of them said, “We’ve lost a significant amount of our funding.” Some as much as 50% of their ongoing funding and donations, which is really tragic when you think about how nonprofits are designed.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 1:39

So when you say that, does that mean the people who maybe were, I want to call it a subscription, but it’s not a subscription… like a monthly donation.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 1:47

Yeah, a sustainer. Sustainers we call them.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 1:48

It’s that right? A lot of people were like, “Hey, wait, I have to pull that back.”

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 1:53

It’s not just that… I mean, absolutely. So week one, people were turning off or stopping their monthly donations. Sustaining donors as we call them. It was everything from they would get a lot of pet food or supplies that would be dropped off. So in kind donations immediately dried up.

They also think about we’re in spring season right now… spring into summer. And so for a lot of locations, they’re doing their walks, their galas, and their charity events. And all of those have more than six people attending or 10 people attending, so we have to cancel those. And those are huge revenue streams for shelters.

But things people don’t always realize, adoptions. Knowing that a lot of shelters have moved to fostering right now to get pets out of the shelter into loving homes for the coming weeks. Adoptions are a big revenue source for shelters and not to mention veterinary services.

So when you think about that, the non-essential services like spay/neuter and preventive care. Those have all had to stop. And so they’re really only there right now for trauma or other emergent care and that again is a huge revenue stream for shelter partners. Yeah, so has been a huge pain point, as you can imagine.

 

BANFIELD FOUNDATION COVID-19 RESPOND & REBUILD GRANT

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 3:03

Mm hmm. And so when you saw that, when you heard all that, I know that Banfield one of the responses you had was creating a grant that a lot of people have already taken advantage of. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 3:12

Absolutely. So what’s hard when you’re a nonprofit is to what we call “pay for operational expenses,” right? That’s like to keep your lights on, pay yourself and your staff. It’s hard to find other nonprofits that want to fund that piece of your business and understandably right because you want to know how your dollars are directly impacting pets. So we said you know why we might not be able to help with the keep the lights on expenses necessarily, what we can do is help offset costs related to directly caring for pets. So we set up our COVID-19 Respond & Rebuild grant that right now has a minimum of $500,000 committed to helping shelters, primarily those that have veterinary teams on staff.

We know pet owners have also taken a huge hit financially. I think it was 6.6 million Unemployment Claims this week alone, which is just heartbreaking. And there are pet owners on a great day that are still struggling to put food on the table and in the bowls of their pets and provide basic care. And we know now there’s a whole lot more pet owners that are going to struggle and when it comes to deciding how to keep their family together, we would hate for the pet to be the one that needs to be separated, not just for the pet sake but for the family sake. And so we are providing grants that help with things like veterinary care, especially urgent and critical when they can’t afford it.

And then in our second half of our grant program, it will also help shelters rebuild the capacity to care for pets and serve those owners by providing things like medical supplies, equipment, medications, and even helping for the cost of some medical teams to make sure they can keep their teams employed and the pets in the community cared for.

 

COVID-19 & FOSTERING

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 4:58

That’s so amazing because I think that one of the things that we don’t think about or I should say one of the things that most of us find heartwarming is those articles we see that are like, “Fostering is up and shelters are clear.” And I know that that is the case for a few, but I feel like it’s the exception because, just before we went live, you were sharing some stories with me that I think would be great for people to hear right now. But the reality of what a lot of places are dealing with…

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 5:21

Yeah, I know, I think no less than like three times a day in the last week have I heard someone say, “Oh, it’s so good. Bloomberg came out with this article that says that like New York doesn’t have pets anymore. And, and so fostering done, Boom, done.” And that’s not the case.

I had a call this week with the CEO of Greater Good. They just came out with a really great initiative called “Stay Home and Foster”. And it’s really a database that like no matter where you’re at in the country, you can put your information in and a shelter can put their information in and they’re like a match system. And they reach out and they had noted that they’ve had thousands of fosters apply to be part of the process, but similarly hundreds of shelters are still in need of really good foster homes.

And I think the thing people don’t realize is yeah, there’s definitely pockets where it’s not a problem like I live in Portland, Oregon, and we’re very pet progressive here. And our Humane Society, Oregon Humane here has a great support system. And so they aren’t one of those shelters that necessarily needs fosters right now, but they are advocating for the shelters and other pockets like in the south in particular. There’s a lot of foster needs happening. And if folks can just apply to be part of that solution for I think the ideal is four to six weeks that would be tremendous and making sure that shelters aren’t overtaxed, overworked and that pets aren’t left there when they could, during this “Stay Home” moment, be in a home with a pet owner. And hopefully… ultimately we all want there to be a Foster Fail and we say that in the nicest possible way, which means, you know, “Hey, I fell in love with this pet and now it’s part of my family.” That’s the ideal outcome, but if nothing else… just get a pet into a home, into a family dynamic, and give them a break from a shelter. That would be ideal.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:05

It breaks my heart to think about all of these dogs and cats and even we forget sometimes there’s also bunnies, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, snakes, reptiles and all these different things that exist in shelters and to think about them being so alone right now because it’s just probably a few staff, if that. I heard a really scary story about one small shelter that went from 12 people always onsite to one. That’s hard for that one person and the pets are just so lonely. So it’s breaking my heart.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 7:43

I mean, it’s so true. And part of that is for the social distancing. We want to keep all the people in the shelter that are deemed essential, safe, so that they can continue to do their jobs. But you’re right like when a shelter pet maybe, sure they have noises around them other pets that are there, but when they’re used to seeing all these volunteers, like hundreds of volunteers, that funnel through weekly and monthly, it can be lonely. And so I do think that for the well being, not just pets, but for people right now. I think it’s really like the foster… It’s like a movement now. It’s not even like this moment, but it’s like an official movement.

And what’s interesting is the number of shelter folks that I’ve spoken with in the last week or so… for me, I approached it like, “Oh, you must be so sad and so frustrated by all these barriers and the lack of volunteers and your operation has changed.” And really, yeah, that’s true. They’re good at dealing with crisis and ambiguity when you think about the nature of shelters, but they’re actually very full of hope for what and how the shelter community can evolve out of this. Meaning foster could be actually the new wave of how shelters operate, and I think their goal is like, Look to your point, a perfect world would be where shelters don’t have to exist. But because they do, let’s keep them there to help people when they need help with their pets, not to house pets as a long term mechanism and strategy.

There’s no reason that pets can’t live even for weeks at a time with one person at a home in a family. And even if that family doesn’t adopt them, that family becomes a natural advocate for friends and neighbors and co-workers who might be looking for a pet. And they can help find placement. And then I like that because they can probably have like visitation rights later and that bond somehow still exists.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 9:40

One of the questions that I heard was around somebody who is fostering and is nervous about having to meet a potential adopter. So even people who want to adopt right now, and they find a foster pet they want there is this whole like, “Well, how do we manage with the protocols?” Has anybody talked about that or has any advice?

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 10:00

It’s like virtual. It’s like everything right now. Like it’s a lot of online. It’s like maybe the online dating version for people in pets, I don’t know. But it’s interesting because it’s all virtual right now. It’s all online. It’s a lot of like drive through, pick up. Here’s your new pet like, “Yay.” I think it’s better than I hope it works. They’re doing a lot to make sure that fosters are successful. Doing everything from giving them tips and resources. And then a lot of shelters are providing telemedicine conversations with veterinary teams, because if you’ve never had a pet before, and all of a sudden you’re like, “Are they supposed to eat this much?” “Are they supposed to sleep this much?” “Should I be worried they paced at night?” I hope you don’t get one of those but… “They paced at night should I be concerned?” So they’re really making sure that the support staff is there to help fosters be successful.

But what’s really encouraging is I was chatting with a shelter friend the other day and I said, “Hey, how has the matching gone? Like has it been successful?” And he said, “Actually, it’s been better than when they were allowed to sort of say spend all this time, like with a pet in advance and understand like, is this a good match? Should I do it? Should I be nervous?” It’s almost like you’re a bit thrown in the pool and then you figure out how to swim. Which can maybe be easier for some people than learning how to swim and then deciding to try to swim. You’re just sort of like, “You’re in Go for it.” And it’s actually been very successful, so I think that’s encouraging.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 11:24

That’s such a good perspective on it, because it’s sort of like the expectations have shifted, because you don’t step into it to find the perfect pet right now.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 11:33

I think we’re removing overthinking. I think that’s a lot of it. And like you’re just like, “Look, in this moment, I have free time, I have a house, or I live alone and I would love company and this pet needs somebody too, so let’s let’s go for it and see how it works.” I mean, I think that’s kind of where we’re at.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 11:50

Yeah, and I’m glad because it’s sometimes that’s the best way to one learn and two to make a difference.

What else are you seeing on the ground? From some of the rescues that maybe are in really hard hit places, and that we should know about.

 

NOT ALL RESCUES ARE THE SAME

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 12:06

Yeah, I think what’s interesting is that people have talked about COVID being this great equalizer, right? Because it doesn’t really… you don’t know who it’s going to pick or the virus… I mean, there’s people who are higher risk, but it’s same across the country like you can have two shelters that essentially offer the same services from veterinary care and feeding programs and helping keep pets and families together, what they call “Safety Net Programs,” so that people don’t have to relinquish, but just based on where they’re at geographically they’re having to operate very different.

So example would be Michigan Humane, which is in Detroit and Detroit is hard hit right now for two reasons. One, they’re like I think that third city with COVID cases, and of the 100 largest cities in the US, they also have the highest poverty rate. So Michigan Humane services about 150,000 pets at the poverty or below range each year through programs that assist people and pets. And what’s interesting is I mean, they’ve done what all shelters have. They’ve moved pets out into foster. They’re consolidated into one location. They’re still operating trauma and veterinary services, but they’re really having to be available for their community. I think in week one alone of the “Shelter in Place,” they supplied 30,000 pounds of pet food to the communities nearby where people were out of food for their pets. So that’s one way right. They’re just like almost around the clock caring and nurturing and feeding those communities who don’t have access to anything.

Then you look at Jacksonville Humane. I just had a conversation with them and they’re also becoming a hotspot, that northeastern part of Florida for COVID. And when the executive order of Florida went into place for everything to close down that included pretty much the government municipalities as well. And so Jacksonville Humane is the only shelter in Jacksonville that’s still open and providing services for people who are potentially having to separate with their pet. If pets are being found or injured or neglected animal control is bringing them into that location.

So some are more active in this and are doing it all for the entire community and some are like “Hey, our role right now is very simple. It’s to keep fosters together. It’s to feed pets in the community and it’s to be there for trauma and urgent care.” It’s just a reminder that depending on where you’re at geographically, so many issues are the same and yet they’re very different.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 14:42

Mm hmm. So what is it for me and for people like me who are isolating and at home… I haven’t left my home in forever. My husband still has to work. He’s essential, kind of like your husband is. They’re essential. They have to go out and work and so he is the nominated… Goes to the store. Does everything. I haven’t left in forever.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 15:02

My husband literally found toilet paper today. It was very exciting. He just took a picture and sent it to me. We’re at that place in life, you know what I mean?

 

HOW CAN WE HELP?

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 15:10

We are. We are. So what is it that we can do from our homes, from behind our computers to sort of help raise awareness? What are the things we can do?

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 15:20

Yeah, I think that’s great. I don’t know about you. I mean, I know you are because we’re connected. But you’re active on social as am I and I think that that is one thing. People have been active on social, obviously, this whole time, but I think they’re being active on social for a very different purpose. I think the things I’m seeing now are spreading good news and advocating for charities that otherwise maybe wouldn’t get a lot of attention. People are trying to be more productive. I feel like at least in the circle I’m in with their social accounts and advocating and I think that’s something that’s super super important for people to remember.

A couple things… Reach out, always if you can support your local communities, your local shelters and rescues. They’re still there. They’re still existing and so even reaching out via social or calling them and saying, “Look, whether it’s I only have $5 but I want to do something.” Look every dollar counts. Every single dollar makes a difference for shelters especially when they’re hurting.

If you’re like “I don’t have money, but I want to help. What can I do?” So you can foster, certainly that would be an option. Maybe you have, this is so random, but I’m saying this if you have extra felt and extra random supplies. Go on Pinterest and if you look up homemade dog or cat toys, you can find some really good stuff to do with a lot of art supplies at home that are pet friendly, especially fleece. You can make things and drop them off at the shelter.

If you are at the grocery store, your husband goes, my husband goes, buy an extra bag of dog food or cat food or if you can find cat litter, also the thing that’s in short supply. If you can find those things, shelters still need those things for foster families and for the pets in their care.

But be an advocate on social. Talk about the great work that shelters are doing. Pick one that you’re super passionate about and share their content, comment on it, encourage your friends and family to do the same thing. At the foundation, we’re certainly taking a hit as well financially as our most nonprofits right now. And I like to run and I’m still allowed to run thankfully. And so I had a race that was coming up, and I was like, “Gosh, darn it, it’s hard to train for that and be canceled.” So one of our board members and a few other friends were like, we’re going to do it virtually anyways. And we got, I think, 45 other co-workers to do it and raised $3,000 along the way.

We’re fighting the urge to just eat comfort food, but be productive, be active, and still help pets in need. And so I think even things like that, like virtual walking groups, virtual running groups. There’s a lot of shelters right now also moving their walks to virtual. Join those. Raise money, Give what you can. I think there’s a whole lot of ways to be creative right now and to still support those causes you care about.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 18:04

Yeah, thank you for that. Because I think that one of the things that’s hard right now, for people if you’re in a position where you don’t have money to give, then you feel like you can’t do anything. But you really can. And I think like you said, the local communities and who is existing, the shelters and rescues that are in your community are really in need and focusing on that local.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 18:26

Yeah, this is a little bit random. But I always think about volunteering and giving back in three buckets. So it’s your time, your talent, and your resources. So if your resources are limited, what can you do with your time and talent? Most of us have a lot of time right now. And so what I would say is call your shelters because the other thing that’s important to them during this time is facilitating donor relationships. Donors that may not be able to fund them now, but when things get better, we’ll continue to fund them. So think about it this way. Let’s say you’re like I have lots of time. I would love some human connection right now. So you could probably be on the phone calling donors and checking in on them and thanking them and seeing how they’re needs are met. And so volunteer that. Call the shelter and say I would love to make phone calls. I’m happy to make emails. Can I write letters for you? Can I, whatever you need me to do? You would be surprised by the amount of help they need. And look, I should actually tell my mother in law to do this, but like an hour of time of day to just call people and talk about your mutual love of pets and what you can do to support each other during this time. I mean, that is super valuable.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 19:27

I love that idea. Maybe I’ll call my shelter because I do have some time right now. Okay. Well, I want to real us back in and kind of, we were really good though, we stayed on point and you shared some amazing stories and situations going on right now in the world, which I think is important for everyone to know. It’s just not the same everywhere. So wherever you are watching this, what’s going on in your local community. Whether it’s completely shut down or not, rescues are hurting right now. And so whatever you can do to help and I love those ideas of volunteering your time, making the phone calls, the letters, that all feels great. My bank did that this week, they called me just to check in and I thought, “Oh, how nice of them.” So I can imagine how that could feel for a rescue and doing that on behalf of them.

So you can find Banfield Foundation everywhere. They had an amazing 2019 Impact Report before all of this, but you can find that. You can learn more about their COVID grant and what’s going on. Maybe you know, a shelter. I’m sure the funds are probably almost out at this point.

 

WHERE TO LEARN MORE

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 20:29

That’s okay. We want to know because we have other grant programs that still exist. At BanfieldFoundation.org, there’s a whole list of our shelter support programs.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 20:39

Perfect. And then lastly, I just want to mention quickly that you just took over a podcast, so you’re also sharing information on that podcast. So give that a shout out real quick.

Kim Van Syoc, Executive Director of Banfield Foundation – 20:47

Yes, I’d like to start by saying I love podcasts. And that does not mean I should be a guest host,
but I did it anyway.

And really you can find it on Apple podcasts. It’s called the Animal Marketing Podcast and I just took over. The first episode came out yesterday. It’s a six series piece on really what shelters are doing across the country in response to COVID. And we are tackling everything from fostering to feeding to domestic violence pets, which has really become a problem in most communities across the country right now.

It also tackles you know, what happens when spay and neuters are allowed again because it’s going into kitten season right now. And people don’t think about it until all of a sudden they’re like, “Gosh, there’s a lot of cats in my neighborhood. What do I do?” So we’re tackling a lot of different things and how to support remote communities. People don’t think about how places in Puerto Rico and Alaska are virtually cut off, and then you add a pandemic and then a supply chain issue. And boy, there’s a lot of hurt happening in those areas.

Animal Marketing Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 21:46

Perfect. Thank you so much. Loved having you here, Kim. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you next time. Goodbye.

 
For more information on Banfield Foundation:

Website – BanfieldFoundation.org

Instagram – @banfieldfoundation

Facebook – Banfield Foundation