COVID-19 Resources for Animal Shelters

This website provides up-to-date resources and information regarding COVID-19 for Canadian animal shelters. The information was compiled through a collaborative effort between Humane Canada™, the Ontario Shelter Medicine Association (OSMA) and the Association Vétérinaire Québécoise de Médecine de Refuge (AVQMR).

Each section will be updated regularly and will be marked as such. Content editor: Dr. Linda Jacobson.

ADMISSIONS

Limit Admissions

Keep the population in the shelter as low as possible to allow for lower staffing while respecting social distancing and maintaining capacity. 

Limit intakes to emergencies only: 

  • Animals that are sick, injured or in danger
  • Law enforcement assistance
  • Dangerous animals 

Healthy stray cats and kittens should not be impounded or admitted to shelter. Stray dogs should not be impounded in communities where roaming is socially acceptable. Finders should be encouraged to help locate owners. Transfers and transport should be postponed, especially between geographically distant areas or those with differing COVID-19 prevalence. Life-saving transfers within cities or between areas with similar COVID-19 prevalence could be considered. Transfer of animals is currently forbidden in some parts of the country, such as Québec.


Provide Positive Alternatives To Intakes

It’s essential that shelters continue to help their communities. Offer resources to assist with short-term problems. 

  • Education and advice
  • Food or litter delivery
  • Behavioural resources
  • Telemedicine whenever possible
  • Help with finding fosters directly

Ask about family, friends and neighbourhood options. Assist with direct rehoming efforts using online platforms or Facebook groups, and using social media. Examples: Helping Lost Pets, Kijiiji Lost and Found Pets, Facebook Lost and Found Pets groups and Nextdoor.


When Intakes Are Unavoidable

  • Create outcome pathways prior to intake whenever possible (e.g. intake-to-placement, facilitated adoption).
  • Use foster placement rather than the shelter for housing pets.
  • Ensure that adoption pathways are available. Continuing intakes without outcomes will compromise welfare, lead to overcrowding and result in disease outbreaks.


Key Resources

Last Updated May 28, 2020.
Authors: Dr. Gabrielle Carriere; Dr. Alexandre Ellis; Dr. Genevieve Lessard

COVID-19 INFECTION IN PETS

What’s Known About COVID-19 In Pets

COVID-19 is almost exclusively a human infection. However, on rare occasions, other animals can become infected. To date, a small number of experimental and natural infections have been reported in animals, including ferrets, hamsters, cats and dogs. Experimentally infected ferrets were more likely to become ill and transmit infection to one another. Experimentally infected dogs did not transmit infection to other dogs. Cats have not been documented to spread infection to other cats outside of a laboratory setting, but this is certainly a possibility we need to be aware of.

Naturally infected cats and dogs have been asymptomatic or mildly affected clinically. In almost every case, there has been a clear route of transmission from an infected person to a pet. The vast majority of pets that have been tested have tested negative.

Commercial PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 is now available in Canada. Routine testing is not recommended by any Canadian health agency. The Canadian Council of Chief Veterinary Officer’s position statement states “Testing of animals for SARS-CoV-2 is not recommended”. Veterinarians should contact their provincial or territorial animal health authority if they wish to test a pet. Three conditions must be met:  exposure to an infected person; other signs of respiratory infection have been ruled out; and the pet has clinical signs of COVID-19.

To prevent COVID-19 in shelters, pets (especially juveniles) should remain in their own homes or foster homes whenever possible. Cat cages should be portalized to reduce stress, which greatly increases the risk of respiratory disease in shelter cats. If there is a suspicion of a COVID-19 shelter infection or outbreak, put appropriate isolation procedures in place while determining next steps: PPE should include masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns. If your shelter does not have a veterinarian on staff, it is best to consult with an experienced shelter veterinarian. Contact OSMA or AVQMR for suggestions. U. Wisconsin provides shelter consults through uwsheltermedicine@vetmed.wisc.edu.

Health Canada and the WHO continue to advise that there is no evidence that pets are an infection risk for people. Out of an abundance of caution, social distancing measures recommended for people should also be applied to pets.


Intake And Handling Of COVID-19-Exposed Animals

For animals with no known or suspected exposure to COVID-19, no special handling protocols are needed upon shelter intake. 

Intake of animals exposed to COVID-19 should be avoided whenever possible. Preferable alternatives include having friends or family care for the animal or sheltering the animal in place with daily care. When intake of COVID-19-exposed pets cannot be avoided, a few safety measures should be implemented in order to limit exposure to other animals as well as staff. Recommendations use an abundance of caution model, because so much remains unknown.

Measures for handling and housing exposed pets admitted to the shelter include:

  • Separating these animals from the non-exposed population for 14 days from the time of last exposure, prior to placement in foster homes or adoption.
  • Animals reclaimed by the owners or acquaintances can be released prior to the end of this period.  
  • Wearing PPE when handling these animals (face masks, gloves, gowns, dedicated footwear).
  • Providing animals with double-sided housing to reduce staff interactions and exposure.

A detailed intake and handling protocol can be found on the University of Wisconsin’s Shelter Medicine Program website.

Systematic bathing of animals upon intake is not currently recommended and might cause distress to some animals. Furthermore, use of PCR testing cannot be used to avoid separation of exposed animals in the shelter. A negative test might indicate that there is no current shedding of the virus, but would not rule out possible incubation.


Key Resources

Last Updated: June 2, 2020
Authors: Dr. Alexandre Ellis; Dr. Linda Jacobson

OUTCOMES

Pathway Principles During COVID-19

It’s a truism that rescues and shelters must have viable outcome pathways, but unfortunately it has to be stated – especially now.  Outcomes MUST be available to match the needs of incoming animals. This is so that the number of animals in care does not increase beyond what a minimal number of on-site staff can manage. Pathways must protect the health and safety of both humans and the animals.


Return To Owner

Stray animals should ideally be returned to owners in the field without entering the shelter. Reunification with the owner can be through an Animal Control Officer (ACO) or the finder. To help with this, ask finders to hold onto the animal until an owner can be found. Encourage finders to post photos and Found posters on local social media sites. Ask about family, friends and neighbourhood options. Assist with direct rehoming efforts using online platforms or Facebook groups, and using social media. Examples: Helping Lost Pets, Kijiiji Lost and Found Pets, Facebook Lost and Found Pets groups and Nextdoor.

When the owner is located, connect the finder with the owner. Ask ACOs to actively seek owners in the community or by tracing identification. If no owner is found, ACOs should schedule a time to bring the animal into the shelter. Once an owner is found, documents can be emailed or photos of documents texted to verify ownership. Email redemption paperwork and schedule a time for picking up an animal. Alternatively, offer a drop-off service.

Another option is to have the finder foster the stray animal for the shelter. To do this, schedule an intake appointment at the shelter or a telemedicine consultation. Once the intake is complete, foster the stray animal to the finder.


Adoptions

Add online applications to your website for people to apply for animals. Staff can review applications and schedule a virtual viewing. Set up a virtual meeting with staff, foster and the potential adopter, where the adopter can see the animal and the staff or foster can answer questions. Complete the adoption electronically by sending the adoption contract to the potential adopter. Email vet records and any support material to adopter. Once all the paperwork is complete, schedule pick-up or offer a drop off service. Have staff or foster homes drop animals off to adopters. Provide virtual follow-up support for adopters.


Fosters

Foster programs are essential during this time. The foster process should be simple and remove barriers. Fosters should ideally be trained and ready to provide care before the need arises. Recruit and onboard new fosters regularly. All paperwork and training can be completed online. This will allow for minimal contact when a foster is picking up an animal. Offer a drop-off service to further minimize risk. Prepare for animals needing foster for different reasons. Some animals may need foster due to a family struggling economically or if they are sick/hospitalized and in need of emergency boarding. There may be animals who need ongoing medical or behavioural care, or kittens that need help. Send animals to foster to keep your shelter resources available for other animals or in the event your operations are disrupted.

Empower and encourage your foster parents to find new homes for their foster animals and manage most or all of the adoption process.


Key Resources

Lat Updated: May 11, 2020
Author: Kim Monteith

SPAY-NEUTER AND TRAP-NEUTER-RETURN

Most Spays And Neuters Are Non-Emergency Procedures

Now that restrictions are easing, each organization needs to determine the best method of prioritizing the most important elective spay-neuter surgeries and deferring those that can be postponed. Euthanasia should never be utilized as an alternative to releasing unsterilized animals to adopters/foster homes.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has put together this helpful chart to aid in determining which spay-neuter procedures are essential.


Megestrol Acetate As An Oral Contraceptive In Cats

Oral contraception with megestrol acetate (MA) is an option for short-term contraception of female cats until spay/neuter services are restored.  Low dose MA maximizes efficacy while minimizing side effects.  

The recommended oral dosage for cats not showing estrus (“heat”) signs is about 2.5 mg/cat weekly (0.625 mg/kg/week) for up to 30 weeks. The dosage for cats showing signs of heat is 5 mg/cat daily for three days followed by the standard weekly dose. The pills must be compounded into a liquid formulation to allow safe dosing, but are affordable (majority of the cost is in the compounding). Veterinarians prescribing MA to colony cats need to consider the legalities of the VCPR as it pertains to colony cats.  

MA is contraindicated in pregnant cats as it may cause fetal abnormalities and dystocia. Side effects at higher doses include transient diabetes.


Colonies And Colony Caregivers

Shelters should support community cat caregivers who utilize TNR services, to continue caring for their colonies. Colony tracking is essential to ensure that cats are accounted for if a backup caregiver is needed. If your organization operates a TNR food bank, consider how you may be able to continue offering this service on a non-contact basis. Shelters and rescue groups should be preparing for the recovery by repairing and replacing traps and ensuring other supplies are in place. Discounted traps are currently available from Tomahawk using the promo code MCC2020.  Neighborhood cats’ COVID-19 page offers help, advice and protocols for TNR, colony caregivers and community cat advocates.


Resuming Spay-Neuter Operations

As provinces and territories start to lift restrictions, and we begin the process of returning to a new normal, each clinic will need to decide when and how to resume spay-neuter operations.  

There are many considerations for doing this safely and responsibly, such as:

  • Implementing measures to limit client contact through the use of virtual bookings and payments
  • Curbside drop off and pick up
  • The use of apps to facilitate timing of intake

Clinics should be prepared for inventory shortages,  modifications to staffing and clinic flow, and adjustments to financial/business planning. 

The COVID-19 Wellness Clinic Preparedness Guide is an excellent tool to assist clinics in the development of safe and reasonable approaches and policies for operating spay-neuter clinics.  The Shelter Med Portal also has 2 lectures on spay/neuter during COVID-19 to assist in preparation for reopening.


Key Resources

Last Updated: May 11, 2020
Authors: Tracy Satchell; Dr. Esther Attard; Dr. Hanna Booth

CHALLENGES FOR ANIMAL CONTROL

Challenges For Animal Control During COVID-19

Animal bylaws and mandates of municipal animal control services vary significantly geographically across Canada.   As an essential service in communities, animal control operations have continued to respond to animal emergencies during the COVID-19 crisis.  

Active measures should be taken to mitigate unnecessary exposure to the virus for animal control workers, and to reduce non-essential shelter animal intake.  Duties that can be performed remotely should be identified, to minimize interaction with the public and the number of staff on site.  These can include various enforcement classifications and scheduling appointments to attend the shelter.

Animal control workers will be required to take additional protective measures to help mitigate the risk of infection from/spreading of SARS-CoV-2 during their daily operations. 

Appropriate PPE (disposable gown/hazmat suit; surgical grade mask; face shield/goggles; disposable procedure gloves; shoe/boot covers) is required for an animal control response to a location with someone who is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19.  All efforts should be made for ACOs to avoid entering the homes of COVID-19 exposed/positive individuals.

Shelters should work with their local animal control services, to develop strategies to reduce non-essential shelter intake. This could include defining high priority/emergency calls vs. non-emergency calls and deciding on animal control activities appropriate for each specific community during the pandemic. If feasible, cats that are not injured or in distress should be left in place, as they are often owned by someone in the community.  Whenever possible, approaches allowing animals to remain in their homes should be employed. This can include working with neighbours, next-of-kin and landlords/superintendents to assign a caretaker for the pet(s) and develop a schedule to ensure appropriate standards of care are met.  These strategies are especially effective when the owner will return home within a few days.


Key Resources

Last Updated: May 11, 2020
Authors: Dr. Shelley Hutchings; Dr. Esther Attard

CARING FOR KITTENS

Healthy Kittens With A Mother Should Not Be Admitted

Kittens are the most vulnerable shelter population and most “orphan” kittens have actually been removed from their mothers. Recognizing this, many shelters have already implemented a “Don’t Kitnap the Kittens” program. This push, first advocated by the Arizona Humane Society, has been massively accelerated by the pandemic. 

Only kittens that are sick, injured or at risk (starvation, cruelty, neglect) should be admitted to the shelter during this crisis. Refuse intake of healthy neonatal kittens, while at the same time supporting and educating the finder. Advise the finder to return them to the exact location they were found, and wait to see if the mother returns. Finders can then provide food and shelter as needed. If leaving the kittens in place with their mother is not possible, support the finder with supplies and training on care of neonatal kittens until the shelter re-opens or the kittens can be adopted from their foster home. 

If neither option is possible, arrange for rapid foster placement, or shelter staff should immediately return the kittens to the field if this is judged to be safe for them.


What’s Best For Kittens

Now, more than ever, we must acknowledge that: 

  • Healthy, unweaned kittens do not fall into the category of sick or injured. 
  • Healthy, unweaned kittens are unlikely to be orphaned – and only become so when they are removed from where their mother is, usually nearby. 
  • Kittens are healthiest, short and long-term, when raised by their mother. 
  • Healthy kittens of any age found/seen outside are not an emergency for shelter intake.


When Kittens Need To Be Fostered

A 2018 study by Hannah Shaw (aka The Kitten Lady) found that 75% of foster parents started because they found a kitten. Mobilize the finders, have kitten kits pre-prepared, and make use of training videos (see links below).

For kittens that are in foster care, consider training foster parents to administer vaccinations OR facilitate curbside appointments. Vaccine timing and frequency for foster kittens should be determined after a risk assessment for infectious disease. This can be done through a telehealth consult.


Key Resources

Last Updated: May 11, 2020
Author: Stephanie Miller
, RVT

ESSENTIAL MEDICAL PROCEDURES

Balancing Animal Care With Social Responsibility

In the COVID-19 environment, veterinarians have a social responsibility to limit services in order to reduce risk to members of the public, staff teams and themselves.  At the same time, veterinarians have a desire to assist and to support animals. In this environment, it is critical to assess all activities within a risk-based decision-making framework such as this example:

Veterinarians should follow whatever local, provincial or territorial guidelines are in effect for their region, if restrictions have been placed on your professional activities.  Additional questions should be layered over this decision-making guide in locations where personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages exist and inadequate supply may further restrict veterinary activities.


The most widely cited general guideline providing guidance about whether specific procedures should be considered essential has been written by Dr. Scott Weese and posted by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.  A similar guideline was developed by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. The University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program has used the Weese guideline and developed a more detailed approach related to common medical and surgical issues in a shelter environment.


Tailoring Services To A Time of High Uncertainty

Pent-up demand for services, the economic pressures of the pandemic, and a slowed rate of new human infections in some jurisdictions are beginning to signal changes to the new “normal” we are just getting used to.

Provinces and territories are beginning to relax some restrictions, some more rapidly than others. PPE will be needed in an increasing range of industries and further shortages may be experienced as the demand increases.

Veterinarians will need to adjust operations in the weeks and months to come, as services gradually expand beyond emergencies. Shelters likewise will need to balance animal welfare priorities with public safety considerations in a dance that will shift in parallel with changing human infection rates.


Key Resources

Last Updated: May 11, 2020
Author: Dr. Shane Bateman

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

The Community Is The Shelter

Appropriate and effective communication to community members during the COVID-19 pandemic is imperative. Any modification to services should be communicated in as clear and concise a manner as possible, to ensure understanding and appropriate information-sharing. Community members are the most valuable asset to a shelter and can greatly contribute to the number of lives saved when disruption to services occurs, for example by fostering shelter animals, waiting to surrender animals, using alternative approaches to dealing with lost or stray animals, and arranging for caregivers from their own networks in the event they are no longer able to care for their pets. This is the “community as shelter” model. The shelter can support community members to help in these capacities, among others, by providing information and counselling by telephone or online.


Why Are Shelter Services Limited?

Animal shelter services have been deemed essential in order to protect animals in distress and maintain animal life-saving. However, a number of measures have had to be taken to safeguard public health and ensure shelters do not become overcrowded. Adjustments continue to be made as the situation changes.

It is critical that SARS-CoV-2 transmission risks to staff, volunteers and the public be minimized by suspending all services that do not directly contribute to emergency rescue, intake and care of pets in immediate need, or placement of those animals in temporary or permanent homes. Shelters should primarily operate as disaster/emergency response centers, while most pets are managed in foster care or their own homes. That is why organizations have suspended non-essential intake and are providing remote adoption and foster counseling. Overall, as elsewhere in the community, it is necessary to reduce the interaction of people at animal shelters, by limiting the number of people who come in at a given time and reducing the number of staff members working on site.


What Can Pet Owners Do To Mitigate This Crisis And Keep Their Pets Safe at Home?

Emergency plans must include pets. Apart from ensuring that pet owners have all the supplies for their pets in case they need to self-isolate for 14 days, having an emergency plan also means identifying alternative caregivers for pets, in case the owner is no longer able to care for them. This will eliminate the need for the animals to be taken in by a shelter. Surrender to a facility can be devastating for the owner, is stressful for the animal, increases exposure by additional people and animals, and puts added strain on the shelter’s capacity. More details can be found here.

Here is an infographic with key messages and a video you can share.


How To Communicate About Stray Animals And Community Cats

It’s essential to communicate to the public that, even in normal times, many cats do not need to be taken to a shelter. Most finders have no idea that cats are thirteen times more likely to return to their owners by means other than admission to a shelter. For example, they may be reunited with their owners via members of the public, if the cat is wearing an ID tag or through lost and found posters or online notices, and through local neighbourhood searches. Or, the cat may not be lost at all but would have found its way home if not “rescued”.  This is more frequently the case than people may realize. Healthy unsocialized community cats suffer in confinement, and should be left where they are.

At any time, but especially now, organizations should support community members who are concerned about stray animals by giving them information about how they can help to reunite a lost pet with their owner without having to bring the animal to the shelter, or how they can best support cats in their community.

Some communities have local bylaws in place that prevent dogs and cats from roaming freely. Where such bylaws exist, there may be a need to advocate to municipal officials to allow for not taking in healthy free-roaming cats, in order to maintain a shelter’s life-saving capacity, limit activities that increase person-to-person contact, and increase the likelihood that owned cats will return home.

Lost Pet Resources/Templates That Can be Customized to your Community


Key Resources

Last Updated: May 11, 2020
Author: Dr. Toolika Rastogi

RECOVERY PLANNING AND OPPORTUNITIES

We Are In This Together

Our industry is one  in which we should all feel proud to belong. We supported each other by quickly providing  information and reassurance. Our veterinary regulators acted to relax policies which proved crucial in business continuity. We’ve been creative, finding numerous ways to work. We’ve kept our staff and the public safe, whilst ensuring animal welfare was maintained. We’ve also shared  with one another, and with our medical colleagues. We are resilient. By continuing to support each other and plan together, we can emerge stronger at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While no one can predict with any certainty the economic, political and cultural changes this crisis will have on Canada and the rest of the world, we know these changes will be significant. The high level of collaboration among governments, businesses and civil society managing this pandemic should give Canadians confidence about our collective ability to deal with the long-lasting changes it will bring.”

Canadian Business Resilience Network


Recovery

Cities, provinces and territories are  gradually starting to reopen  businesses, services and  public spaces. Their plans are based on the advice of public health experts and require a gradual and thoughtful approach. Shelters are planning for recovery and reopening in a similar way. 

COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for change .Some of the lessons learned will help build a stronger animal sheltering and veterinary care industry, one that better serves  its community and animals. Sheltering organizations are talking about a new paradigm of “Social Services for Pets” or a “Safety Net for Animals”.

American Pets Alive! created a list of new programs that shelters should consider in re-imagining themselves. Some suggestions include: 

  • Intake needs and assessment triage services
  • Supported self-rehoming
  • High-volume foster placement
  • Adoption completed by foster parents

Operations need to be re-invented or updated, for example by using social media platforms, telehealth and  partnerships. Resources should be re-allocated to “Keeping Families Together” programs; housing most pets in foster; and building neighbourhood programs. APA will help shelters with questions about anything regarding shelter operations. 

Click here for more details.

Planning To Re-Open Spay-Neuter and Vaccine Clinics

COVID-19 Spay/Neuter and Vaccine Clinic Preparedness Guide
By Aimee St. Arnaud, Elizabeth Berliner, Jennifer Bolser,Gina Clemmer, Natalie Corwin and Cynthia (Cindy) Karsten. Click here to gain access to the archived webinar. The webinar was outstanding as it provides practical advice and useful links on all of the categories listed in the framework above.  Suggestions include:

  • Pre-prepping everything possible. Appointments-only processes are highly recommended, as this allows for prioritizing of patients, pre-payment, and pre-check-ins. Several ways to perform pre-check-ins were discussed, such as using  the Waitlist.me free restaurant app;  apps like Docusign for electronic signatures and curbside/parking lot check-ins. 
  • Check outs. Text or email invoices and any other discharge paperwork. 
  • Communication to the public. Important so they know what to expect when they show up. Clear instructions on prominent signage at the front doors. Website, radio, TV, and community papers can all be used as ways to communicate. 
  • Physical capacity. Most shelters will need to reopen at reduced capacity as physical distancing is still needed and  it will take time to test the new way of operating. This means it will take longer to process each animal. More time also enables staff to think creatively about how to ensure patient and staff safety.  This will therefore require a change in staffing levels and changes in staff scheduling, such as staggered shifts. 
  • Communicating with staff. Begin each day by announcing a staff checklist for what is to be done for the day to ensure staff/animal/public safety.

Key Resources for Financing and Fundraising

The crisis has affected the global economy and no doubt there will be a long road to recovery from  financial impact. There are some funding resources in addition to the traditional banks that shelters should explore. Some are  in the form of grants or fundraising sites. A few are listed below:

Last Updated: May 28, 2020
Author: Dr. Shalini
Ramsubeik

KEY COVID-19 RESOURCES FOR CANADIAN ANIMAL SHELTERS