Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Animal Health Foundation Animal Health Foundation
Dog in a field

Posts from October, 2020

Owner Gives Up Pet to SPCA; Angel Fund Comes to Rescue

A few months ago, Alex Elias’ dog, Oreo, was not doing well.

“I fell into a deep depression, coming home and seeing her not eating and getting weaker by the day,” Alex said.

“Oreo was urinating a lot,” his wife Rosalinda said.  “I told Alex that I think she has a bladder infection or some other kind of infection.  We took her to the animal hospital and the veterinarian told us she had stones in her bladder.  “The surgery was really expensive and we just didn’t have any money.”

“Oreo was getting sicker and sicker and we just couldn’t see her like that,” Alex said.  The couple decided to take the dog to the SPCA, hoping that the organization might be able to take care of her surgery and then find her a new home.

Alex, terribly depressed at the thought of giving up his dog, took a binder he had kept that had all Oreo’s health and other records.  “The young lady there [at SPCA] told me, ‘Wow, she’s a well-loved dog!  I‘ve never seen a binder like this.’

“I said, ‘Oh, I love her.’ I was crying when I handed her over.” Alex said.  “I said I wanted to surrender the binder with Oreo.  I thought the right thing to do was to surrender her so they could help her.”

Depressed and saddened, Alex and Rosalinda returned to their home in Hawthorne.  The next day, the SPCA called them and suggested that they call the Animal Hospital of South Bay and ask about Angel Fund, Rosalinda said.

“They said Angel Fund could help us,” she said.  “I talked to a lady at the hospital and she said, ‘OK, let me find out a few things.’ She called back later and said Oreo was scheduled for surgery that day.  I said, ‘Wait, she’s at the SPCA.’  She said, ‘No, we picked her up.  And Angel Fund is going to help you.’  That felt really good.”

When Alex returned home, Rosalinda told him that Oreo’s surgery had been scheduled and the hospital wanted to know if he would like to see her before the operation.

“I said, yeah! It was the happiest day of my life. It was better than anything in the world.”

At the hospital the reunion of man and dog was an emotional moment.  “She jumped out of the lady’s arms and into my arms and she’s kissing me and licking me,” Alex said. “It was amazing, it was amazing!  I’ll never forget how she looked at me and she was crying like a baby.”  So was Alex.

“Angel Fund made a depressed person very, very happy,” Alex said. “If they didn’t do what they did, I told Rosalinda, I needed to check myself into the mental hospital and she asked why.  I said, ‘Because I can’t live without Oreo.  If she goes, I’m going to go.  I can’t live without her.’  So Angel Fund actually saved two lives.

“I told my therapist that I was thinking about killing myself.  I really, really did.  I was very, very depressed without her.”

Alex has a learning disability and has been unable to read or write.  He has been working hard to change that and now can read at a third-grade level.  “My spelling is really bad but I can read signs and I am learning,” he said.

He has worked when family members have helped him find jobs. In one instance, he was fired from a job his brother had helped him find.  His employer gave him written instructions and told him to read them so he would know what to do.  When Alex said he couldn’t read the instructions, he was fired.

He is also diabetic.  He credits his dog with saving his life when he fell into a diabetic coma in 2016.  Oreo bit him hard enough to wake him up but not break his skin, he said.

“I was on the floor and I went into the kitchen to grab something to eat – a piece of candy or something.   She was crying and pulling on my shirt.  she knew that I was sick.  she started nibbling on my ear.”

He finally reached up and found a donut and that helped get him back on track, he said.

He and Rosalinda live with his son, although they are now divorced.  The son and Rosalinda are his caretakers, Alex said.  Alex has his own bedroom and Rosalinda shares a room with his granddaughter.  “We get along better than when we were married,” he said.

Oreo – a Chihuahua-Jack Russel mix – is doing very well, he said.  “She’s terrific – running around, getting a little chubby. But she’s great.”  The dog is now six years old.

Study upends understanding about joint injuries

From the Cornell University “Chronicle”

An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can lead to severe osteoarthritis in both animal and human patients. Now, a new interdisciplinary study on the protein that lubricates our joints says that lubricant may actually be a precursor of joint disease.

The paper, published Oct. 7 in Scientific Reports, is the first that investigates the role of a protein, known as lubricin, in ACL-type injuries in dogs. It may also have larger implications for similar injuries in humans as well as the potential for treatments and therapeutics.

“Lubricin is crucial for normal joint function and the lubrication of cartilage,” said Heidi Reesink, Ph.D. ’16, the Harry M. Zweig Assistant Professor in Equine Health at the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and senior author on the paper. “We know that if a person or animal doesn’t make that protein, they will develop devastating joint disease affecting all the major weight-bearing joints.”

Lubricin is universal to mammals, including humans, though there is conflicting data regarding its role in joint injuries. Reesink’s study found that, in canine patients that had suffered a ligament tear in the knee, lubricin increased within the joint – the opposite of conventional assumptions in medicine. “The dogma in this field has been that lubricin decreases in joint disease,” Reesink said.

In three canine patients that had a joint injury, lubricin dramatically increased in the time between their initial injury but before any signs of arthritis in their X-rays.

“This indicates that the presence of increased lubricin might actually be a biomarker for predicting future osteoarthritis,” said Reesink. “We also saw increased lubricin in dogs months to years after they injured their ACLs, suggesting that lubricin might be an indicator of ongoing joint instability.”

Reesink said increased lubricin could consequently be a signal for clinicians to intervene or try a different treatment approach.

Reesink and her collaborators laid the groundwork for this new study by completing a systematic review of the literature surrounding lubricin in both human and veterinary medicine. The review waspublished this summer in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.

The overall finding of the review: There is no unified consensus on how lubricin is altered in other domestic veterinary species and in human joint injury, demonstrating the need for further study – which Reesink’s new paper has done.

“In looking at horses and dogs, we’re seeing the same pattern,” she said. “The strongest piece of data would be to show it in humans as well.”

Reesink and her collaborators worked with the Cornell Veterinary Biobank to obtain samples. The biobank supports CVM researchers as well as scientists across the globe, using biological samples collected from both ill and healthy animals at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA). The samples are processed, catalogued and provided to researchers, which accelerates biomedical research.

Among the motivators for this study, said Reesink, is that a large number of cases in the small animal orthopedic section at CUHA is knee ligament injury, which is common in dogs.

“We can help both animals and humans by potentially coming up with better diagnostics, by more fully understanding how these molecules work and designing therapies beneficial to both, by taking advantage of these naturally occurring cases and improving orthopedic care,” Reesink said.

In the veterinary realm, Reesink’s team plans to do a follow-up longitudinal study in dogs, examining multiple time points in a patient’s injury, treatment and recovery process. They also hope to draw similar connections in human ACL and other orthopedic injuries.

Currently, Reesink is examining parallel samples from both the Cornell Veterinary Biobank and the Hospital for Special Surgery, using funding from a pilot grant from the Weill Cornell Medicine Clinical and Translational Science Center.

CVM authors on the paper include Dr. Bethany Cummings, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences; professors and small animal surgeons Dr. Kei Hayashi, Dr. Ursula Krotscheck and Rory Todhunter, Ph.D. ’92; and Dr. Philippa Johnson, assistant professor in the section of diagnostic imaging. Co-lead authors are David Gludish, a combined D.V.M. and Ph.D. student, and Yuyan Wang, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering.

Melanie Greaver Cordova is managing editor at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Black bear whose paws were scorched in North Complex fire returned to wilderness

From the Los Angeles Times 10.13.20

A 10-year-old black bear burned in the North Complex fire was released back into the wild.

A 10-year-old black bear burned in the North Complex fire was released back into the wild in Butte County on Oct. 5.  (Department of Fish and Wildlife)

A 10-year-old black bear burned in the North Complex fire has been released back into the wild after an innovative treatment helped heal his scorched feet, wildlife veterinarians said.

Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found the 370-pound bear in mid-September near the town of Berry Creek in Butte County, where the North Complex blaze has burned more than 318,000 acres since igniting Aug. 18. All four of the animal’s paw pads had been burned and he was unable to walk on his own.

After tranquilizing the bear, officials transported him to the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova, where he was evaluated by Fish and Wildlife veterinarians Deana Clifford and Emma Lantz. His lungs were damaged from smoke inhalation, his paws were badly burned and he had a minor eye injury.

A 10-year-old black bear was burned in the North Complex fire.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Emma Lantz sutures sterilized tilapia skins onto the burned paw pads of a black bear, after medications had been applied. 
(Kirsten Macintyre / Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Paw pad injuries are common for animals in wildfires, Clifford said, noting that when the tender tissue is damaged, it can present significant problems.

“That’s the challenge,” she said. “If they can’t walk, they can’t find water and they can’t find prey. … They become stuck.”

The bear’s rescue was the result of a partnership between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which banded together in the midst of California’s worst-ever wildfire season to find and treat animals injured by flames. Dubbed the Wildfire Disaster Network, the group comprises veterinarians, wildlife biologists, ecologists, trained animal care volunteers and rehabilitation centers.

Under the direction of Jamie Peyton, the chief of service at UC Davis’ Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the bear was given a suite of treatments, including pain medication, fluids, infrared lasers and anti-inflammatory salve. The animal also received an innovative treatment involving the use of tilapia skins as natural bandages for its paw pads.

Afterward, he was kept in a quiet enclosure for several days and monitored around-the-clock with a remote camera. The bear’s appetite remained healthy throughout recovery, and he even put on weight, but officials were eager to take him home.

“These are free-ranging animals that have never been in a cage,” Clifford said, “and so this is not an ideal situation for them. What is ideal is for us to get them back in the wild.”

On Oct. 5, staff deemed the bear ready for release, and wildlife biologist Henry Lomeli transported him back to Butte County. Lomeli chose a site within 25 miles of his home range but safe from the wildfire’s path.

The bear quickly ran back into the wilderness and even managed to pull off his tracking collar along the way.

He was the first of several animal patients this year. The Wildfire Disaster Network is now treating a female mountain lion from the Bobcat fire in Los Angles County that arrived on Sept. 21, and a 520-pound bear from the Zogg fire in Shasta County that arrived Sept. 30.

“It’s likely that we will receive more wildlife with burns,” Clifford said. “We are only halfway through the regular fire season.”

Making sense of genetic disease in dogs and cats

From Journal of the American Veternary Medical Association (JAVMA)

Making sense of genetic disease in dogs and cats

Published on October 14, 2020

Understanding genetic disease in mixed-breed and purebred dogs and cats can bring about more effective treatments and better client service, says clinical geneticist and general practitioner Dr. Jerold Bell.

French bulldog

“If we understand the genetic background of our patients, we’re better positioned to prevent, to mitigate, or to alter the expression of genetic disease, allowing our patients to be healthier in their lifetimes as well as to breed healthier dogs and cats,” Dr. Bell said.

An adjunct professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Dr. Bell spoke about genetic diseases during the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 this August. In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Bell works as a solo practitioner, and he sees “dogs and cats all day long and sees genetic disease in our patients all day long.”

He explained that common genetic disorders are caused by ancient disease liability genes that preceded breed formation. Since these mutations occurred long before the separation of breeds, these diseases are seen across all breeds and in mixed breeds.

The most common hereditary diseases in dogs are allergies, followed by hip and elbow dysplasia; inherited cancers such as lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumor, and osteosarcoma; patella luxation; nonstruvite bladder stones; hypothyroidism; mitral valve disease; inflammatory bowel disease; diabetes mellitus; retained testicles; and umbilical hernias.

In cats, the most prevalent genetic diseases are inflammatory cystitis, then feline urological syndrome, diabetes mellitus, lymphoplasmocytic gingivostomatitis, nonstruvite bladder stones, allergies, eosinophilic skin disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Disease is not a function of homozygosity, which happens when identical DNA sequences for a particular gene are inherited from both biological parents, nor is it a consequence of inbreeding. Rather, Dr. Bell explained, hereditary diseases are a result of the accumulation and propagation of specific disease liability genes. Breed-related deleterious genes accumulate in various ways, including direct selection for disease-associated phenotypes, linkage to selected traits, carriage by popular sires, genetic drift, and—most importantly—the absence of selection against deleterious phenotypes.

“If we don’t select for healthy parents to produce offspring, then we have no expectation of health in those offspring,” Dr. Bell said. “Not selecting for health is selecting for disease, and we need to understand that and pass that on to our breeder clients.”

On the topic of disease and extreme phenotypes, Dr. Bell said brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome is frequently diagnosed at veterinary clinics on account of the popularity of certain brachycephalic dog breeds, namely Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs. Most breed standards do not call for the expression of extreme phenotypes, he said, nor do they select for the most extreme size or the most extreme brachycephalic trait.

“Moderation away from extremes that cause disease should be the guiding principle in breeding,” Dr. Bell noted, and in judging dog shows.

Common genetic diseases seen in mixed-breed dogs and cats occur randomly because of dispersed ancient liability genes, according to Dr. Bell. Uncommon and breed-specific recessive or complexly inherited disease is far less likely to occur in mixed-breed individuals.

Dr. Bell said designer-bred dogs and cats often have inherited diseases common in random-bred populations. They can also inherit disease liability genes shared by the parent breeds or parent species. “So if you’re breeding short-statured breeds together, it wouldn’t be surprising to see patellar luxation, or in smaller toy size breeds, to see mitral valve disease,” he said.

Hereditary disease manifests as a result of anatomical mismatch between parent breeds. “We see a lot of this in dental disease, where we see crowding of teeth and malocclusions and misplaced teeth,” Dr. Bell continued. “Even in the musculoskeletal, if you breed two breeds with different body types together, we may see degenerative joint disease and poor joints. All of these things, all need to be monitored.”

Sunshine Mills, Inc. Expands Recall Of Pet Food Products Due To Potentially Elevated Levels Of Aflatoxin

Sunshine Mills, Inc. is expanding its voluntary recall of certain pet food products that were made with corn that contained Aflatoxin at levels above FDA’s action levels.

Mast Cell Tumors


The dreaded diagnosis: mast cell tumor. Mast cell tumors are the most common malignant tumors in dogs, but are rare in cats. Mast cell tumors can be quiet, locally aggressive, or spread like wildfire. They are great imitators, sometimes appearing to be small, benign growths or skin tags. They can look and feel like a lipoma or benign mass under the skin or they can be pink, raised, ulcerated, and swollen. They may grow and shrink, only to enlarge again later. It is impossible to know whether your pet’s mass is a mast cell tumor without looking at cells under the microscope.

Healthy normal mast cells form part of the body’s immune system. They can be found in most tissues, but in particular in the skin and the linings of the digestive tract, lungs, mouth and the nose. They are also involved in allergies and allergic reactions. When triggered, the mast cells release large amounts of heparin, histamine, and enzymes.

Mast cell tumors are generally easy to diagnose. A sampling of cells from an impression smear or a fine needle aspirate can be stained and examined under a microscope in your veterinarian’s office or sent to a pathology lab for path review. The cells are distinct in appearance, being filled with dark purple granules. Generally, when a mast cell mass is aspirated, the cells will release those granules, resulting in purple spots all over the microscope field. While it is possible to say this IS a mast cell tumor, it is not possible to determine how aggressive the mass will be without a biopsy.

The cause of mast cell tumors is up for debate, just like many cancers. Immune-system suppression or dysfunction and over-vaccination have been implicated by some researchers.

Treatment consists of surgical removal with wide margins. This can be difficult when tumors are located in areas such as limbs where there will not be enough skin to close over areas of wide excision. Biopsy of the mass will determine the grade of the tumor to help predict how the tumor will behave and whether clean margins were realized during surgery. Grade 1 tumors can usually be removed and normally they do not return. Only about 5 to 10% of Grade 2 tumors will return if surgery is done with a wide excision, but about 50% of Grade 3 tumors will return after surgical removal, even with clean margins.

Chemotherapy and radiation may be recommended for higher grade tumors. Unfortunately, there is certainly no guarantee these options will prevent recurrence. Many clients come to my office looking for alternative options to help slow the growth of these masses. While each pet is different, I have a few recommendations that I generally recommend.

  • A clean, commercial human-grade, whole-food diet low in starchy carbs or a home-prepared diet, or a ketogenic diet.
  • Palmitoylethanolamide or PEA, which is a fatty acid amide that supports the healthy function of mast cells and decreases inflammation and granule release.
  • Cannabidiol, which helps block pain and inflammation through cannabinoid receptors. There is some evidence that CBD can have an anti-tumor effect as well.
  • Mushroom supplements for their cancer-fighting aspects. Mushrooms fight cancer in four specific ways: They stimulate the immune system, help immune cells bind to tumor cells, reduce the number of cancer cells (cytotoxic effect), and slow down cancer cell growth. The Japanese government officially recognizes mushroom cancer therapy as a treatment.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids to decrease pain and inflammation. Omega-3’s work in conjunction with the endocannabinoid system to decrease spread of cancer throughout the body.
  • IP-6 400 to 800 mg daily – an antioxidant that plays and important role in regulating vital cellular functions, helps reduce tumor size and prevent spread
  • Artemisinin – also known as sweet wormwood, 100 mg twice daily for 11 days on, 3 days off, repeat. Cancer cells take up more iron then normal cells. Artemisinin is attracted to these high iron cells and selectively goes to them. Once inside the cancer cells it reacts with the iron causing free-radical formation which kills the cancer cells.
  • Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang – Mast cell cancer often arises if there is impaired blood flow to the skin. Without good blood flow the immune system cannot find and destroy the cancer cells that arise. This herb helps promote blood flow to the skin so the immune system can reach the mast cell cancer. In my experience this formula helps to reduce tumor size, occasionally shrink the small tumors completely and prevent formulation of new mast cell tumors.
  • Golden paste – turmeric has been shown to have cancer-fighting abilities. It is synergistic with the Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang.

From a traditional veterinary medicine standpoint, these tumors are commonly treated using steroids (prednisone, dexamethasone) and antihistamines (most commonly diphenhydramine). Side effects from long-term use of these drugs make them a poor choice for ongoing management, but they may have short-term benefits that might be worthwhile.

Assessing Canine Pain


Chronic pain can significantly affect daily living activities in our pets. In a previous blog I posted photos and descriptions to determine pain in cats. Determining pain in dogs can be more difficult, as there can be wide variability between pet owner and veterinarian observations, as well as variability in how dogs express pain. Dogs may act differently at home and in the veterinary exam room.

Currently there are no biomarkers (biochemical or physiologic parameters) that reliably correlate to chronic pain. Physiologic biomarkers, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, have very low specificity because circumstances other than pain such as fear, anxiety, and stress can also affect these markers.

Objective measurements are not widely used in veterinary practice. These might include force plate measurements, computerized gait analysis, and activity monitors. Unfortunately, even if these were utilized widely, they may only give insight into mobility parameters, with no measurement of internal pain. The most common chronic pain condition encountered in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis (OA); other conditions that can cause chronic pain include intervertebral disk disease, chronic pancreatitis, cancer, and other illnesses.

Things to consider when determining pain level in your dog include:

  • Ability to play
  • Appetite
  • Gastrointestinal function
  • Hygiene (ability to maintain cleanliness, urine or stool incontinence)
  • Interaction with family members
  • Presence of pain (flinching when touched, tension in the body, vocalizing)
  • Sleep (increased, decreased, interrupted by pacing or wandering)

One owner assessment questionnaire that has been widely used was developed in Finland by the University of Helsinki researchers. By filling out the questionnaire weekly, a pet owner can determine whether their dog’s mobility is improving or declining from week to week. Another assessment questionnaire has been developed by the canine arthritis association.

A more complete assessment of pain may be made using the BEAP Pain Scale created for pet hospice patients. By assessing appetite, ability and desire to move around, facial expressions, body weight, and vocalizations a pet owner can determine changes in pain scores from week to week.

Determining quality of life can be difficult for pet owners and veterinarians. By using these tools weekly it is possible to document changes in pet comfort that may help make decisions regarding improved pain management to improve quality of life.

There are many treatment options available for pain. Don’t let your pets suffer in silence.

About Dr. Morgan

Americans are starting to give up their pets because of COVID-19 hardships

We’ve been hearing that  shelters are adopting out many animals as a result of the COVID Pandemic.

Well, this article tells the other side of the sad story about pets during the COVID Pandemic.

Animal shelters and other nonprofits are working to help keep pets at home with the people who love them.

Courtesy Best Friends Animal Society

 / Source: TODAY
By Jen Reeder

When three older Labrador retrievers wound up at Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary this summer, they hadn’t done anything wrong.

Luka, 7, Kona, 9, and Bella, 11, had lived happy lives together as ranch dogs in California. But when their owner lost his business and his home due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, he could no longer afford to care for them. He’d tried for about a month to figure out a way to keep them but realized he didn’t have a choice.

“He was a mess,” Alice Mayn, founder of Lily’s Legacy, told TODAY. “Those dogs were his life. He’d done a really, really good job with them but he had to give them up.”

Because the dogs were so bonded to one another, the sanctuary managed to place them together in a new home. But Mayn is concerned that other senior pets are at risk during the pandemic. Lily’s Legacy, which is located in Petaluma, California, has already had five dogs surrendered due to the pandemic recession, and she knows of two more coming in soon for the same reason.
Three black Labrador retrievers smile from the back of a car.
After being surrendered to Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary in Petaluma, California, due to economic hardships, Luka, Kona and Bella were adopted together to a loving home. Alice Mayn, founder of the sanctuary, is concerned that more senior dogs will be surrendered during the pandemic and is hosting “Saving Senior Dogs Week” from Oct. 26-Nov. 1 to highlight the need for senior dog adoption.Courtesy of Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary

“We’ve had people that have been affected by the recession, and the lack of jobs, and not being able to pay their rent and that sort of thing,” she said. “They’ve lost their homes or have to move and can’t take a dog with them or are moving in with family and they don’t have room. There are a variety of things. I’m very worried about them — and this COVID thing obviously isn’t going to go away tomorrow.”

In August, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals released data estimating that 4.2 million pets will enter poverty in the next six months as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, a 21% increase from pre-pandemic estimates. The total number of animals living in poverty could rise to more than 24.4 million dogs, cats, horses and other animals.

Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA, said the organization is working to address the crisis. In March, the nonprofit launched a $5 million COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Initiative to help families keep their pets at home by improving access to veterinary care, pet food and supplies.

“We are working to reimagine how the animal welfare and veterinary field can best serve pets, owners and communities,” he told TODAY in an email. “Providing access to free pet food, supplies, veterinary care, emergency boarding and information will help keep animals safe and healthy, in their homes and out of shelters, while also sustaining important family bonds for millions of people.”

Volunteers pass pet food for a pantry.
The ASPCA’s $5 million COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Initiative, launched in March, provided $2 million in grant funding to more than 50 animal welfare organizations across 30 states. As part of the response effort, the nonprofit also donated more than 1,800 tons of emergency food for dogs, cats and horses with struggling owners.Courtesy of the ASPCA

Bershadker suggests people facing economic hardships contact their local animal shelter, veterinary clinic, food bank or other community service provider to learn more about available resources.

Sarah Brown, division chief of Manatee County Animal Services, which operates the Manatee County shelter in Palmetto, Florida, said her shelter and others are focusing on individual needs to assist with whatever issues people are facing. For instance, MCAS started offering a drive-up pet food pantry at the onset of the pandemic for anyone in the community who needed assistance. Many people came for food, but others still couldn’t keep their pets.

“While we continue to offer assistance to the community, ownership of a pet has become beyond the capacity for so many,” she told TODAY in an email. “Aside from simply not being able to afford their pets, we have seen many impoundments made because owners are in jail or have been sent for mental assistance.”

A puppy gets loving care at an animal clinic.
Many shelters are working with veterinary professionals to provide free or discounted services like vaccinations, spay/neuter and other medical care to pets whose owners are facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic.Courtesy of the ASPCA

Kristen Hassen, director of animal services at Pima Animal Care Center, the municipal animal shelter in Tucson, Arizona, said the shelter has distributed a million meals to pets in the area since May, a huge increase. While the overall number of pets being surrendered is still down thanks to pet services and retention efforts, there’s an increase in the reason: pandemic-related issues.

A black cat runs toward the camera.
Many leaders in animal services believe the future of animal sheltering will involve increased help from fosters, who temporarily shelter pets in their homes not only when the animal is waiting for a forever home, but while their owners are hospitalized or dealing with a temporary crisis.Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

“We are seeing an uptick in intakes due to evictions, intakes due to temporary crises, and intakes due to job loss,” she told TODAY. “We’re seeing an increase in intakes due to people having either mental health crises or needing to go into drug rehab. Those are the kinds of factors that maybe don’t become immediately associated with COVID, but clearly, people are really struggling and everything we’re seeing in our data is pointing to that.”

In March, Hassen co-founded Human Animal Support Services, a network of more than 500 animal services leaders trying to transform the role of shelters.

With grant funding, HASS has started providing not just pet food distribution but free veterinary care to pet owners impacted by the pandemic and boarding for pets whose owners are facing temporary crises or have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

“We’re trying to become pet support centers and resource centers, rather than these intake facilities that all we do is churn animals in and out of the system without addressing the root causes of why they’re coming in in the first place,” she said.

Julie Castle, chief executive officer of Best Friends Animal Society, said housing issues are the second most common reason that people surrender dogs and cats to shelters. So the national nonprofit advocates for affordable, pet-friendly housing without breed, size and weight restrictions on pets and cost-prohibitive pet deposits.

She said renters should learn their rights as tenants and know what resources are available in their community prior to eviction, and mentioned as a good source for information. She also recommends embracing the power of “neighbors helping neighbors,” whether through the neighborhood social networking site NextDoor or reaching out in person.

A child pets a senior corgi.
Animal shelters and nonprofits across America are working together to try to keep pets with the families that love them.Sarah Ause Kichas / Best Friends Animal Society

“Helping people find needed resources or even providing temporary foster care for the pets of neighbors in crisis can help keep their pets from being relinquished to shelters as they get back on their feet,” she told TODAY in an email. “The amazing outpouring of people fostering and adopting has made a huge difference in the impact to community shelters and ultimately, the animals.”

“We’re just having a marvelous time,” she told TODAY. “They are just delightful and fun, and they listen and they’re very smart. They’re just diamonds.”

Tara Nicole Weyr adopted Kona, Luka and Bella from Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary after their previous owner lost his home and business.Courtesy of Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary

She said their “dad” did everything right in raising them, and that she thinks about him every day because she knows giving them up must have been so hard. She hopes that people who truly have no other option than to surrender their pets take comfort knowing there is still a chance for a happy ending.

“I know a lot of people who care about senior dogs and will adopt them,” she said. “There is hope out there.”