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Why fostering a shelter animal during the coronavirus pandemic is a win-win

We can stave off loneliness and decrease stress during social isolation by saving a life.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Jen Reeder

When Amber Batteiger found herself overwhelmed by the coronavirus news and suddenly working from home, she knew what to do: foster a homeless dog named Tux.

Tux, a 2-year-old American Bulldog, was a sad case of starvation and neglect when rescued by the Florida rescue organization Bullies-N-Beyond. But thanks to Batteiger’s loving care, Tux is now a “happy, active boy” who loves playing with her young Australian shepherd, Kai. (Her two older dogs, Reeba and Misty, patiently keep the younger pups in line.)

Florida resident Amber Batteiger cradles her foster dog, Tux.Courtesy of Amber Batteiger

“He’s really added a lot to my life,” Batteiger, 30, told TODAY. “It’s definitely been a nice, safe haven to have Tux here and to feel that I’m doing something bigger than myself to make a difference during this time.”

U.S. animal shelters and rescue organizations always rely on volunteers to care for dogs, cats and other pets in their homes temporarily while they wait for a forever home, but foster families will be particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic.

With so much uncertainty, fewer people are adopting, and adoption events have already been canceled due to social distancing efforts. There may be staffing shortages as shelter employees need to be at home in self-quarantine or caring for family members.

Chicago-area nonprofit Grassroots Animal Rescue found Teddy a foster family that decided to adopt him.Kristin Avery

“In times like these, shelters are going to be absolutely swamped with a tremendous number of pets,” Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the nonprofit American Humane, told TODAY. “We have to be able to provide safety valves for those shelters to release some of their populations into fostering homes. … Truly, we are in a major crisis for animal shelters and for rescue groups.”

Ganzert said fostering not only helps save the lives of animals but can benefit the people who open their homes, particularly those struggling with stress or social isolation. Fostering a dog or cat can be a terrific option for elderly people missing visits from grandchildren and other loved ones during shelter-in-place precautions, for instance.

“We just don’t want people to feel alone, and when you have an animal in your life, you’re never feeling alone,” she said.

In addition to dogs and cats, many animal shelters also need foster homes for "pocket pets" like mice, hamsters and guinea pigs.Kristin Avery

Studies show pets can lower our blood pressure and stress levels. People with dogs and cats are less likely to be depressed, and pets promote healthy childhood development.

Still, some pets in China have been abandoned and killed due to fear about the novel coronavirus. Panic continued to rise after a dog in Hong Kong tested “weak positive” for the virus. But Ganzert stressed there is no evidence that dogs and cats can transmit COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, to humans.

“At American Humane we say, ‘Only their unconditional love is contagious,’” she said. “These companion animals are only going to help make us healthier. They’re going to remove anxiety and (the stress hormone) cortisol from our bodies and allow us to have stronger immune systems, quite frankly, to fight the pandemic.”

Approximately 4-6 million pets land in U.S. animal shelters each year. That number could spike during the coronavirus pandemic.Kristin Avery

She worries the euthanasia rate will skyrocket in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, American shelters euthanize approximately 1.5 million animals each year. So fostering pets in the coming weeks will certainly save lives.

“Let’s raise our hands and open our hearts and our homes to foster a shelter pet during this crisis,” she said. “We are going to be the ones that truly benefit.”