Once and for all, can your pets get sick with COVID-19 and can humans get the virus from pets? I’ve heard yes. I’ve heard no. I’ve heard (and unfortunately seen pictures that I can’t get out of my mind) of people killing their pets by throwing them off high-rise buildings. So what are the real facts here? Can we eliminate some of the fear and rumors?

Currently, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), arguably our greatest resource on all matters COVID-19, writes, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.” They go on to say that there is no evidence of risk from livestock, wildlife, animal products, or even imported animals. The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) concurs and adds that those not ill with COVID-19 can interact with their pets as normal. However, they then add:

» Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. Have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a face mask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.

We’ve only had two positive COVID-19 cases in Burke County so we haven’t seen this play out. My concern is that an “abundance of caution” may cause some folks to dump their animals. Burke County Animal Services (BCAS) announced that, effective Monday, March 23, they are limiting their operations to appointment only and restricting their intake to essential and emergency only. BCAS coordinator Lindsay Stump states that, as of March 23, they haven’t seen an influx of dogs or cats surrendered specifically due to COVID-19. But a few could be attributed to indirect effects of the virus such as lack of resources from reduced or canceled jobs.

BCAS is ready to help in several ways. On an emergency basis, they will provide pet food while supplies last. These are mostly donations, so keep them coming! If a pet-owner is hospitalized due to COVID-19, with no resources for pet care, BCAS can provide temporary boarding, albeit subject to their regular fee schedule.

One of the positives arising from this situation is the increase of volunteer foster families at animal shelters across the country. A March 19 article in the New York Times reported that, when the Animal Care Centers of New York City put out a request for temporary foster homes for shelter pets, looking to fill 200 slots, they got more than 2,000 applications. The obstacle of “not being home enough to care for a pet” has obviously been removed and people are looking for a way to help. Pets give some structure to one’s day, requiring regular exercise, feeding and play time, which is healthy for those mandated to shelter-in-place. And, more importantly, animals ease the loneliness that could otherwise affects those in isolation. BCAS happily reports that they, too, have had a number of new foster families remove dogs and cats from the shelter this past week. If you would consider fostering, please reach out to BCAS, the Cats’ Cradle, A Better Life Animal Rescue, or your favorite local, animal rescue group.

Organizations like Best Friend Animal Society and the AVMA are advocating for pets during this crisis. They are writing letters and lobbying for states to include pet care practices in their shelter-in-place plans, to list veterinary practices as “essential businesses,” to incorporate important messages about animals in their formal communications, to name just a few of their priorities. To be proactive, pet owners should make their own contingency plans; have plenty of food and prescribed pet medicine on hand in case of shelter-in-place mandates, arrange for animal care in the event of hospitalization, and make arrangements for your pets in your will. While the COVID-19 epidemic gives us plenty to think about, don’t forget the animals that need us.

Emily Elder is a volunteer with Cats’ Cradle.

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