The American Veterinary Medical Association put an updated statement addressing the SARS-CoV-2 in animals, including pets. This statement provides some excellent information that provides clarity to many of the questions we have heard from animal services staff, volunteers, and the community at large.
The main takeaways are:
- Current expert understanding is that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted person-to-person.
- There is no evidence that dogs and cats naturally infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) spread it to other pets or people.
- There is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified unless there is a risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. The best place for pets is at home.
- If you are ill with COVID-19, you should restrict contact with pets and other animals.
- Despite over one million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, we have only seen examples of two dogs, one cat,, and one tiger with positive tests for infection as a result of suspected natural spread.
As always, our top priority is the health and safety of our animal services staff and the communities (including pets) that we serve. It is for this reason that we are asking animal services, especially municipal shelters or shelters, holding a municipal contract to adhere to emergency field operations only. This means limiting calls for service to public safety concerns, sick/injured animal calls, and legally mandated quarantines that cannot take place outside the shelter. As we begin to see larger numbers of people impacted by COVID-19, we must prepare for the possible influx of COVID exposed animals to our shelters.
The first thing animal services agencies should be doing to prepare for this potential influx is communicating the urgency for pet owners to have a plan. Pet owners should develop an action plan for what will happen to their pet if they are to fall ill and are unable to provide care, including the name and contact information for a family member or friend who has agreed to provide care. Here is a sample outline for such a plan.
In the event that pets must come into a shelter, municipal shelters and those holding municipal contracts are most likely to have staff appropriately trained and equipped to deal with infectious disease outbreaks. These organizations should also have a veterinarian on staff or a contract with a veterinarian who can provide medical oversight/guidance for the reduction of spread. The key points regarding this type of intake transition are:
- Quarantine facilities should only be taking in sick/injured animals, animals exposed or potentially exposed to COVID-19, and animals on legally mandated rabies quarantine that cannot take place outside the shelter.
- Local Non-Profit Shelters (not operating government contracts), rescue organizations, and foster networks should be utilized to take in and house healthy stray and owner surrender pets.
- Animals taken in for COVID-19 quarantine should be housed in isolation (separated from all other animals housed at the facility) for 14 days before transitioning to other placement options, including short- or long-term foster care.
One of the main concerns we have been hearing this week surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic is timing. No time is ideal, but on the precipice of puppy/kitten season, really?!? Consistent messaging from the leading experts on the subject of intake is Emergency Intake Only! The position statement from NACA on the issue has been endorsed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, University of Florida- Shelter Medicine Program, The Humane Society of the United States, and many more. All that being said, what we continue to hear is, “What about the abandoned kittens?” First, are we 100% sure they are abandoned? Information that has been shared over the years continues to show us just how unlikely unweaned kittens are to be truly abandoned. Whenever possible, kittens should be left to the care of their mothers. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control in North Carolina put together a video on this issue, which is easily shared via social media with your communities. If kittens do enter the system, get them out as quickly as possible. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, in conjunction with the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, has put together a fantastic sheet of recommendations on the intake of kittens during COVID-19. These recommendations will aid in animal services departments balancing human and animal health and safety. Our communities and volunteers are fantastic supporters of the work we do every day, during this time of crisis we must engage them in pushing out the “Don’t Kit-Nap” or “Leave them Be” messaging. Pasco County Animal Services in Pasco County, FL, has had tremendous success with their “Leave them Be” program, and I know their Assistant Director Spencer Conover is always happy to discuss their model. Another group doing fantastic work with community cat programming is the Humane Rescue Alliance; their Director of Regional Outreach (who also happens to be on the board of NACA), Alice Burton is a genuinely amazing person and a fantastic resource when it comes to moving cats and kittens out of your shelters as quickly as possible. The key messages surrounding cats and kittens during this pandemic are:
- Only bring them into your care if it is an absolute emergency, and you have exhausted all other options.
- If you do bring them in, especially the kittens requiring intensive care, get them back out as quickly as possible
- Our priority during this pandemic must be the health and safety of our human staff and citizens first, and one way we can aid in keeping our teams safe and healthy is by encouraging citizens to “Leave them Be”
- We understand and acknowledge the communities concern surrounding the potential for an increased number of kittens this season due to the suspension of SNR services. These concerns are shared by many, but our priority at this time must be on the health and safety of staff and citizens, a conscious effort will be made to make up for ground lost in the area of SNR once we return to normal operations.
For years all of us in the Animal Welfare field have fought to gain traction and support for spay/neuter services in its varying iterations, most especially pre-adoption sterilization performed by our agencies or community partners to assist in the reduction of pet overpopulation and unintended breeding. Now amidst the rest of the chaos that has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are being asked and asking our agencies and partners to stop this essential service in an effort to conserve medical supplies.
Who would have ever thought that we as Animal Welfare Professionals would ever be the voices saying, “No, we will be adopting and otherwise placing animals without sterilizing them first, and that is okay?” Yet here we are.
It is imperative during this time to understand the “Why” behind this decision, and that why looks a bit different for every community but has a shared theme.
While we as Animal Welfare professionals still consider pre-adoption sterilization an essential service, we are beyond that terminology now in the COVID-19 pandemic. We have reached a point at which we should be conserving supplies for the treatment of human victims of the pandemic and other life-threatening conditions and animals in need of surgical intervention due to life-threatening conditions.
Emergency Life-Threatening Conditions are a reality of everyday life for people and pets, and in veterinary healthcare can include a variety of conditions such as:
- A pet being hit by a car
- Laceration requiring surgical intervention
- Gastric Foreign body removal
- Gastric Dilation & Volvulus (GDV)
- Pyometra (which will result in the female being spayed)
- And many more
It is vital that when discussing this change with our staff, volunteers, communities, and stakeholders, we include the following information:
- This is a TEMPORARY change dictated by a national emergency, NOT a philosophical change regarding the essential nature of spay/neuter services under normal operating conditions
- Inability to sterilize pet’s pre-adoption is NOT and CANNOT BE justification for unnecessary euthanasia
- This is larger than Animal Welfare and our missions, we are in a state of national emergency and must think in broader terms of public health and safety.
- This is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is imperative that we continue to focus on the fact that We are ALL in this Together!
A top priority of Animal Services agencies on any given day is the safety and well being of our teams, and this could not be more true during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Knowledge is power, and as we learn more and more about the virus that causes COVID-19 we have come to understand that the direct risk for our animal care workers has been reduced. According to the CDC “[a]t this time, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to people from the skin or fur of pets.” This information allows us to take a deep breath (metaphorically, as we don’t want to breath in any potential contagions) when it comes to our animal care teams caring for animals coming into our facilities from the community, but what about our staff members interacting directly with the public?
Animal Services agencies have multiple staff members who are interfacing with the public in a variety of ways, but customer service team member and animal control field officers are among those who interact fact-to-face with the public most frequently. Customer service team members can mitigate risk through use of appropriate persona protective equipment (PPE), scheduled services such as adoptions, foster pick-up, or pet reclaims, and limiting face-to-face contact as much as possible by using drive through type service arrangements. Field operations staff on the other hand are out in the community and may encounter any number of situations.
Animal Control Officers (ACO) and other Animal Services Field Operations personnel are some of the front-line employees most likely to encounter situations in which there is a know or suspected positive case of the virus that causes COVID-19. Here is a situation that we know as happened in many communities across the United States:
An ACO receives an assist other agency call and responds to find that they are being asked to enter the home of a known or suspected positive COVID-19 patient in order to retrieve an animal due to the owner being transported to a medical facility for admittance and care. There are no family members or neighbors who have entered the home and are able to assist. The ACO must enter the home to retrieve the canine.
In an ideal situation this ACO will have all appropriate PPE including gown, mask, and gloves that can be put on before entering and disposed of once the animal is secured on their vehicle. What we are hearing however is that in many communities PPE is limited, and Animal Control staff are not necessarily making the cut to receive any. This is unacceptable. ACOs are first responders and when put in a situation such as this they should be afforded any and all necessary to complete their job in the safest manner possible.
NACA acknowledges that our nation is facing a PPE shortage and encourages all Animal Services agencies to discontinue non-essential surgical/other medical and operations procedures requiring the use of PPE. This does not however include field operations. Situations like the above are essential operations and ACOs or other Animal Services Field Operations personnel must be appropriately outfitted to execute their essential job functions safely.
Animal control and animal welfare in general have been forced to think outside the box for years, and COVID-19 is no different. In fact, this pandemic has sparked many agencies to begin following some of the nationally-recognized and growing best practice models. These include reducing the number of animals housed in physical sheltering facilities and increasing the numbers being routinely housed in foster care and in the community.
The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) is striving daily to ensure that we are providing each of our members as well as other animal control officers across the country with the support and information they need.
As of now NACA has published the following list of position statements, which are intended to provide guidance to shelters struggling to make sound decisions that balance lifesaving and animal control functions. They are:
NACA is also working actively with our partner organizations on the national level to develop and distribute information. We have worked with organizations such as American Pets Alive, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement (The Association), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Best Friends Animal Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Maddie’s Fund, and many more. Here are a few links to tool kits that may help you in developing policies, procedures, and programs in order to maintain or enhance your operations during this pandemic:
Now we want to hear from you, the members that we serve and who are boots on the ground getting the essential work done during this challenging time! What are your current fears, concerns, and needs? How can NACA help? Please share in the comments below what information NACA can work on pulling together to aid you in the best way possible. We are here as a resource for you and we want to ensure that we are providing you with the most impactful position statements, letters of support, and information that you can use to influence, encourage, and directly implement change to ensure the good work you do day in and day out not only survives, but thrives in this time of need!
For the safety of our officers and the public they serve, NACA is advising all officers to take
extra measures to mitigate the short and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These
measures include protecting themselves properly to reduce risk of spreading the virus, as well
as working to manage and minimize the number of new animals entering our shelters.
As members of the public safety community we have an obligation to perform our sworn duties
during disasters both natural and man-made. To that end, NACA recommends the following:
High priority/emergency calls: At this time, officers should continue to respond to emergency
and high priority calls. High priority/emergency calls include law enforcement assistance,
injured or sick stray animals, cruelty and neglect complaints, bite complaints, and dangerous
and aggressive dog complaints.
Non-emergency calls and activities: Officers should suspend low priority/non-emergency
activity. This includes non-aggressive stray animal pick-up, leash law and licensing complaints,
barking and nuisance complaints, trapping and transport of community cats, and conflict
Shelter intake reduction: Animal control agencies should take active measures to reduce nonessential
shelter intake. Measures taken should include returning pets in the field instead
of impounding them, suspending non-emergency owner surrender intake, and encouraging
owners who are ill to keep their pets at home whenever possible.
Personal protective equipment: Animal control officers should be provided with personal
protective equipment (PPE) for cases requiring a response to a location with someone who is
sick or has been exposed to COVID-19. Officers should make every effort to not enter the home
of anyone who is known to have been exposed to the virus.
View More NACA Announcements & Resources
For ongoing information, please continue referring to all updates from the Centers for Disease
Law Enforcement Officers make numerous public contacts during their shifts, but Animal Control Officers make four (4) times as many contacts during the same time period.
Result: 4 times the exposure equals 4 times the possible liability.
Well trained animal control & humane law enforcement officers will display the proper image because they have learned what image is and understand its necessity and usefulness.