UPDATED 3/30/20: Important COVID-19 information for animal shelters

veterinarian or shelter worker wearing glove holding paw of dog

Updated 3/30/20.

The Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida continues to monitor the developing situation as animal shelters cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is our Interim Guidance on Shelter Care of Animals Exposed to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), as well as additional helpful resources for shelter staff health and safety and obtaining help from your community.

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Interim Guidance on Shelter Care of Animals Exposed to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)
Last updated 3-30-20

This information is also available for download here.

This interim guidance is shared with the knowledge that ongoing research will likely uncover new information necessitating frequent updates. Much is unknown in this rapidly evolving situation and authoritative international expert guidance is still pending.

Every effort should be made to keep pets with their families. The CDC released guidelines for COVID-19 patients with pets recovering at home. However, some exposed pets will need to be housed in shelters, such as when the owner is hospitalized or unable to provide basic care. See guidance for animal control functions and officer safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus is spread primarily from infected people through small droplets from the respiratory tract that can remain viable in the environment for several days. Although there is no evidence at this time that pets from contaminated households can transmit the virus to people or other animals, it is considered prudent to minimize contact with animals with known exposure to COVID-19.  If intake into a shelter cannot be avoided, the AVMA recommends the following steps be followed and provides a detailed protocol.

  1. Wear PPE when entering a contaminated environment (such as an infected person’s home) cannot be avoided or when handling an exposed animal as for intake processing. CDC guidance for EMTs provides practical examples of PPE.
  2. House in an area segregated from the rest of the shelter population for 14 days, ideally in double-sided housing so feeding and cleaning can be completed without handling the animal.
  3. Post signage on the kennel identifying the exposure and “do not touch.”
  4. Restrict access by the public and nonessential personnel.
  5. Disinfect surfaces in common use areas where exposed animals have contacted (floors, gurneys, animal control vehicles, tables, handling equipment, etc). Fortunately, coronaviruses are easily inactivated by detergents and common shelter disinfectants, such as quaternary ammonium compounds, bleach, Trifectant, Virkon, Wysiwash, and AHP.

Read the complete detailed protocol here and check frequently for updates.

Staying Connected

Sign up now to get everything you need to know about animal welfare and COVID-19 from the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF, the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine Program, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, The Humane Society of the United States, ASPCApro, Best Friends Animal Society, the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, and American Pets Alive! Subscribe here.

Supporting Shelter Staff

Initial impact on animal shelters is likely to be focused more on human staff and volunteers than animals. Shelters should develop an emergency response plan for substantial workforce reductions due to illness, government-ordered reduction in services, or family emergencies. The CDC has published extensive guidelines for employers that can guide this effort.
Learn more…

Distance Learning
Shelter workforce reductions due to COVID-19 quarantines, business closures, and caring for kids home from school are coming. Some employees can telecommute, but some – such as kennel staff – can’t perform their duties from home and may be faced with using up their leave or taking unpaid leave. This does open up a chance for employees to complete online training from home while still being paid.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Fear Free Shelters. A great credential for all shelter staff and volunteers. Can be completed in less than six hours and is free (including four base modules and one bonus module). Enroll here.
  • Maddie’s® University is a free online learning management system that is comprised of a full catalog of classes to help you learn the A to Z of all things animal welfare. Register here.
  • Online courses and webinars from ASPCAPro.
  • The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement Learning Center provides educational programs for its members as well as non-members. Learn more here.

Keeping Pets in their Homes

We support keeping pets in their homes if at all possible. Consider steps such as having your ACOs drop off food and supplies to quarantined households and providing other resources as needed and safely available from your organization.

Meeting the Community’s Most Urgent Needs

Many shelters will not be able to maintain full-service operations over the coming weeks in the face of workforce and supply shortages and their public safety first responder priorities.

In order to preserve lifesaving of shelter pets, the National Animal Care and Control Association urges shelters to prioritize emergency services such as “law enforcement assistance, injured or sick stray animals, cruelty and neglect complaints, bite complaints, and dangerous and aggressive dog complaints,” and to suspend less critical activity such as “non-aggressive stray animal pick-up, leash law and licensing complaints, barking and nuisance complaints, trapping and transport of community cats, and conflict mitigation scenarios.”

Shelters should also prepare by reducing the shelter population through intake reduction and emergency fostering and adoption.

Asking Your Community for Help

Bringing pets into foster homes rather than the shelter, or creating capacity in the shelter by moving currently housed pets to foster care, is also strongly recommended. We’ve been seeing examples of very direct and transparent pleas to communities to help reduce intake and increase fostering/adoptions in anticipation of workforce reductions and business/school closures. Here are a few examples:

  • Norfolk ‘desperately’ seeking homes for pets as animal shelter closes amid coronavirus concerns
    The Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center is “desperately” looking for people to take home its animals temporarily or permanently as the shelter prepares to close on Monday. As with all other city facilities, the shelter will close to the public through Monday, March 30, “out of an abundance of caution” to help curb the new coronavirus.
    Read more…
  • PACC seeks ‘on-call’ fosters, halts non-emergent surrenders as shelter nears capacity
    Officials with Pima Animal Care Center are taking measures to reduce the number of pets coming into the shelter, while also seeking roughly 200 “on-call” emergency fosters who can take home a pet if the shelter nears critical capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    Read more…
  • Dallas Animal Services and Adoption Center
    We need YOU to foster or adopt today. All adoptions will be FREE UNITL FURTHER NOTICE and we have staff prepared to quickly help you become a foster — no experience required. All foster supplies will be provided (while available).
    Read more…

Dallas Animal Services

Please refer to our page on COVID-19 resources and PPE and sanitation alternatives for animal shelters to get additional information.