When the pandemic began to shutter businesses, it didn’t halt the need for homeless animals to find their forever homes. It also didn’t stop the influx of dogs and cats arriving at local shelters.

In Green Valley, animal shelters — an essential business under Gov. Doug Ducey’s shutdown order in March — never stopped adoptions, medical care or working to find animals homes. But they had to do it with fewer volunteers in some cases, fewer opportunities to introduce adoptable pets in person, and without some of the fundraising avenues that typically bring in funds.

The Animal League of Green Valley and Paws Patrol said they are faring well and never stopped taking in animals or getting them adopted.

Finding homes

Though COVID-19 brought its challenges, both rescues have seen either increased adoptions or at least close to the number from previous years.

In August, Paws Patrol, dedicated to saving stray cats, saw the largest number of adoptions in its 15-year history. A record 29 cats and kittens moved to their new homes, compared to the average 15 to 20 a month.

President Patti Hogan said people locally and nationwide have been craving the company of a pet and adoptions have held strong.

“The good thing about animal rescues that came from COVID has been the increased number of adoptions and increased number of volunteers and fosters,” she said. “And that's due to the fact that a lot of people were working from home or not working or just found it got boring being home all the time, and a little companionship in the house did a lot to help the people, too.”

To limit the number of people entering their facility they took to revamping their website and created an online application to help move the process along faster. They also dropped their adoption fees by $20.

“We didn't know who would be shorter on funds,” Hogan said. “If the only thing keeping you from having a cat in the house was an extra $20 or something, that was something we could work with. It helped get cats to homes faster and it’s been a big boost.”

Animal League President Kim Eisele said that considering the pandemic, their adoption numbers have been good.

“I think a lot of people wanted companionship because here you're being told you can't leave the home except to go to the grocery store or something, and people got lonely,” she said. “They were fostering and we had a lot of adoptions. At one point we had only one dog on site.”

Over the last few weeks, they’ve gone to Pima Animal Care Center to pull dogs from them.

The numbers over the last few months have been close to what they were in 2019.

In June, 67 animals were adopted, compared to 75 in June 2019. There were 71 pets adopted in July compared to 92 in July 2019.

This August was the only month they saw a larger dip in adoption numbers, with 46 animals adopted compared to 91.

“Part of it was we didn't have a lot on-site and there were less pets to choose from,” Eisele said. “People have not been relinquishing animals like they have in the past.”

In August 2019, they had 126 animals up for adoption, this year it was 83.

The Animal League closed to the public March 14, and moved to an appointment-only set-up to get animals adopted.

Fostering is up

Both animal rescues immediately worked to get as many animals in foster homes as possible in March to limit the number of animals in-house and also decrease the need for volunteers on-site.

Hogan said pre-COVID-19 they had a standard group of nine fosters. It has increased to 14.

“If kittens are right out in foster homes they get socialized faster and adopted sooner so it would keep our turnaround moving,” she said. “What we did very early in March is put in an order for each foster of $100 worth of supplies, food, whatever and sent it to their houses. Nobody had to go out and this ensured nobody would run out of anything.”

She said typically about half their animals are in foster homes.

Eisele said the community heard the call when the Animal League began seeking fosters for dogs in March. She said 37 people responded with an interest to foster a dog, including people who had never fostered before the pandemic. She said some of their long-time resident dogs have even been adopted out of their foster homes.

Volunteers

The animal rescues rely on volunteers to do everything from direct interaction with animals to cleaning and administrative work. They never really stopped working, though Animal League and Paws Patrol limited the time volunteers spent in-person.

Eisele said their first thought when closing their doors to the public was to protect volunteers, many of whom are older.

“We wanted to keep our volunteers safe and not endanger them, not give anybody a chance of getting COVID,” she said. “Because we’re essential, a lot of people never stopped.”

Before the pandemic, TALGV had about 600 volunteers. Right now it’s about 300.

Eisele said they lost several volunteers when they instituted a mask requirement, but most have had no problem wearing them. While some are still reluctant to return, the majority were most concerned about volunteering at The Attic Thrift Store in a role that required direct interaction with the public.

“A lot of people are afraid to work with the public. We do have some in back to sort and price and all that,” she said. “I don't blame them. If I were older and my immune system was compromised I wouldn’t be rushing out, but luckily we have enough to do what we’re doing.”

Eisele said since reopening the thrift store in June, they’ve had to reduce the number of days they’re open to Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays because they don’t have enough volunteers.

Hogan said Paws Patrol didn’t lose many volunteers. Three of their winter visitors have not returned but they currently have 44 volunteers.

“We kept a couple volunteers out of the office and we limited the number of volunteers who came in to socialize or clean to three a day,” she said. “We’re also keeping the number of cats to the bare minimum in the office so we’re able to ensure nobody will be inside for a long period of time.”

Only a few people opted to stay home and not volunteer due to health concerns.

“They looked forward to volunteering because you can only look at the four walls of your house so long and it gave them a sense of something I need to be doing that someone else can't do right now,” Hogan said. “We’ve been pleased and blessed to have the volunteers we do.”

Bringing in donations

The Animal League of Green Valley and Paws Patrol need donations and grant funding to ensure all the animals they bring into their facilities or host through fosters get the best care possible.

Hogan said that while donations have not dropped much, their expenses have risen.

Their operating costs are up about $13,000 from last year and medical bills are up about 30 percent.

“Grants were available early on in April, and May saw grant money,” she said. “One came in for operating expenses to cover us for about eight months.”

A lot of their cost increases were based on having more cats, despite limiting the number of cats in the office, and a number of unexpected health problems.

After implementing protocol changes in March, they shortly received three cats in need of amputations. Another two kittens came in with $5,000 in medical bills each, which were paid for through donations from the public.

They currently have a kitten with a rare cleft sternum, leaving her with no bone around her heart and unfused chest walls. Hogan said there have been only about five documented cases of the condition worldwide and only a couple surgeries have been performed in the United Kingdom.

“We are definitely in need of donations for vet bills,” she said.

Eisele said their income is down about $100,000 from last year but they’ve also made some adjustments to bring down costs.

“We’ve done really well working on animal-care expenses, especially outreach, but we didn't have the money to do as much as we used to do,” she said. “We’ve pulled in our territory — we used to go further into Tucson than we can now. We brought down some of our overall animal expenses, medical outreach, post-adoption support and medical care in-house.”

She said as far as financial donations, they are still getting at least what they received each month last year or more, and it’s been holding them up.

“We’re not in dire condition where we are going to fold or go under,” she said. “I feel like the community is really looking out for us.”

In August, donations equaled $33,566, compared to August 2019’s $24,138; September saw an even larger increase, going from $37,603 last year to $61,114 this September.

When The Attic Thrift Store began to accept donations of items again, they received an outpouring of donations, too much for them to handle.

They’ve had to limit their donation drop-offs to Sundays and last week 50 cars lined up to donate in just four hours.

Eisele said they used to bring in about $1,500 a day at the store and are making $700 to $1,100 a day now.

“We’re losing money but not as much as we could be,” she said. “All things considered, I think we’re doing really well.”

Other programs

Paws Patrol doesn’t take in cats that are surrendered by owners like the Animal League. Their focus is on strays.

Along with taking animals in, they have a Trap, Neuter and Return program where they spay and neuter feral cats and return them to reduce breeding.

Hogan said the pandemic came right around the traditional start of kitten season, making for a perfect storm. They were helped by a delay to the season.

“The influx of kitten season came a month or two later than usual so we could get our feet on the ground,” she said. “But at the same time, animal associations and groups in the country were sending us emails that this is not the time to pick up feral cats and have them fixed and return them.”

Hogan knew they couldn’t do that. If female cats were not spayed, they would surely have an influx of kittens come fall. The strange thing for them was they just weren't getting calls about pregnant cats or strays.

Now they are getting the kittens born from February to April.

“Unfortunately, we couldn't catch the problem before it happened but now we are getting great older kittens but it’s a lot of them from everywhere,” she said. “I don't know if in the spring people stayed in their houses and didn't go out and see the cats or figured nobody was taking in cats at this point. It’s been some interesting dynamics with what COVID-19 has done in our area of expertise.”

The Animal League are now using Santa Cruz Veterinary as their veterinarians, who Eisele said have been an amazing support system.

The league is currently in the process of developing an in-house surgical suite and most of the equipment is being purchased through a donation of $50,000 they received.

Once completed, it will allow the league to do procedures like in-house spay and neuter, dental and tumor removals.

For the animals

Though the local shelters had to make adjustments to their operations and handle unexpected costs, they’ve been able to continue aiding animals.

Paws Patrol will keep using their new online application process and are now able to continue their adoptions at Petco, which had been halted nationwide until recently. Hogan was thankful to the community and volunteers for their support and said the pandemic has been a learning experience.

“It’s terrific when the community pulls together with you,” she said. “I think we've learned to be a little more efficient.”

Eisele said when the pandemic first started she would wake up in the middle of night wondering how they would continue to care for animals.

“This could have been a disaster,” she said. “People could have stopped donating, the world could have held up and not adopted animals. We should feel so fortunate we’ve been able to continue to help the animals.”

She reiterated that the work of volunteers, staff and community at animal rescues is about the dogs and cats they care for.

“Everything we do funnels down to taking care of animals,” she said. “When they come in they’re shy, frightened, scared and we get them to trust, to get out of the corner, to let someone pet them. We teach them to walk if they don't know how and train them. You get a really good pet when you adopt from here.”

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728 

Reporter

Reporter Jamie Verwys grew up in Sahuarita and graduated from the high school in 2006. She lives in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018.