NACA has received questions regarding interactions with wildlife during COVID-19. Here is what we have learned from the nation’s leading experts on wildlife and COVID-19.
First, it is important to remember that at this time the most likely route of exposure is between two human beings. Wildlife is, by nature, usually leery of humans which means their contact time with an infected/shedding individual is going to be minimal.
At this time, there is an unknown risk level associated with wildlife and their ability to carry the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19. Animal Care & Control professionals may be required to interact with sick, injured, or displaced wildlife as part of their essential duties, and because of the unknown risk, they should do so with an abundance of caution. Following the PPE guidance provided in the NACA Statement on Officer Safety during the COVID-19 Pandemic is recommended to ensure Animal Care & Control staff safety when interacting with wildlife.
Additionally, NACA recommends stopping intake of all ‘nuisance’ wildlife and not interacting with healthy wildlife unless absolutely necessary.
NACA will continue to monitor the recommendations associated with Wildlife and COVID-19, and encourages you to review the following resources related to the topic:
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.
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.