Austin loves its animals and many people are stepping up to the plate to foster dogs and cats in need of a home during this challenging time. Frances Jonon, president and CEO of Austin Humane Society, and shelter manager Sarah Hammel, join us to talk about how Covid-19 is affecting how they handle incoming animals, surgery, adoption and even volunteers.
Judy Maggio: I'll start with you Sarah. How have the procedures and plans to adopt pets at the humane society changed since the pandemic started?
Sarah Hammel: We have changed almost the entire way our adoption department runs. It's actually been really cool because there are things that we have changed that I honestly hope that we carry on after the pandemic is over. Ya know, we've always kind of talked about, we wish we could go paperless. And it would be so much better to streamline that process. And ya know what? In a matter of about 24 hours, we figured out how to do that.
We are doing a lot of virtual visits. We're telling people we're kind of available. We're open. We're just not allowing people in the building. People can set up an appointment on the phone, talk to our adoption counselors. We'll go over the animals medical history, the behavioral history, and then we'll set up like a little Zoom call with them. So they can get a sense of the animal's personality. And then we're letting people know we're really encouraging them to think about it as like a two week foster trial period. And if it goes well, then we'll finalize the adoption. And if for whatever reason it's not a good fit, they can bring the animal back here and we'll work with them to find somebody who is a good fit.
JM: Frances, I know the humane society works with a lot of different rescue groups. Can you give us kind of a big picture of how everything's going with some of these, there are probably a hundred or so, or more, rescue groups in Austin. How is everything operating now?
Frances Janon: I feel like definitely, initially, there was such a scramble to figure out how do we continue to operate? How do we continue to stay safe, but still save lives? And so most folks I feel like now are settling into, okay this is how we're gonna operate. This is the new norm. And so luckily we've not really had to introduce anything too wild to any of our partners. So when we're talking about, you're leaving the animal in this space for us during intake versus coming in and seeing us and being right there with us. Everybody's on board. And so I think, it feels to me like everyone is syncing up. This is the new norm and we're gonna make it work.
JM: So many people in Austin want to give back during this time. It makes them feel better. What do you guys need at the Austin Humane Society? Do you need more foster parents to come in and take the dogs and cats home?
FJ: We're asking folks to come in and do a foster to adopt. So make a temporary, possibly permanent commitment to an animal because we still need to save lives. Our program has definitely slowed down. Our adoption numbers unfortunately are a little lower than they are normally. So we want people to know that we have figured out a system that is safe for our staff, and it's safe for the community, and it's gonna save animal's lives. And beyond that, we're putting these animals into the community at a time when there's a lot of isolation, loneliness. Some folks need a little hope and that's what we're here for. That's what these animals really do for a family, individuals and the community.
JM: I know that my dog Ruthy, who's in the background, has been with me non-stop, glued to my side. When we're working from home our pets bring us so much comfort. Sarah, how have the day-to-day operations as far as caring for the animals changed at the humane society?
SH: I think that the biggest change for us in terms of daily care is we ended up suspending our volunteer program. We've always said we couldn't do what we do without the volunteers. And that's still 100 percent true, but we've really had to shift the staff day to include all of the wonderful things that our volunteers do for us.
We have staff that are still walking the dogs. They're making frozen KONGS filled with peanut butter to put in their kennels. Keeping up with laundry and general shelter maintenance, stuff like that. We made a whole kind of new daily cleaning schedule to include all of those things. And then there were the things that we didn't even realize that the volunteers were helping us with, that as a couple of days go by, it was like, “Oh wait. Has anybody washed the windows or taken out the trash in the break room?” And so filling in those gaps in the time being, it's been a challenge for the staff, but fun for them in a way too, to change up their day a little bit and spend some extra time with the animals.
JM: Final question for you, Frances. What would you like pet owners to keep in mind during this difficult time? As you've been working in this field for a long, long time, finding homes for countless animals. What's a general message that you'd like to send out to the animal lovers in Austin?
FJ: I think at the Austin Humane Society, we want everyone to continue to have hope. We feel very hopeful because we're still able to save animal's lives. And we want everyone out there to feel hopeful with their pets. And if they don't have one, think about getting one because they do bring hope to our lives. Something we really need right now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
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