Dogs and other animals at the Kitimat Community Humane Society have been receiving fewer visitors than normal due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Clare Rayment)

It may be ‘ruff’ but it’s not ‘im-paw-sible’: how the Kitimat Humane Society has been impacted throughout COVID-19

Adoption practices, fundraising among changes made at KCHS during COVID-19.

Over the past few months, most pets have been getting more attention than usual with owners and families working from home, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for those at many rescues.

Animals at the Kitimat Community Humane Society (KCHS) haven’t been able to have as many visitors over the past few months with pandemic restrictions in place. The animals are used to have members of the public in often to visit and play with them, but with fewer visitors allowed in, and the number of staff lowered, the animals haven’t been receiving the usual amount of human interaction they usually enjoy.

READ MORE: Canadians urged to include pets in their COVID-19 emergency plans

Maryann Ouellet, KCHS shelter manager, said they had to stop volunteers from coming in once COVID-19 started, and many staff had health issues and couldn’t come in either, which left them with three staff trying to manage the shelter and take care of all the animals.

“It made a difference, too, to the animals, because you didn’t have enough hours in the day to just spend socializing with them, so they lost some of that,” Ouellet said.

Ouellet said the main changes that have been made over the past few months are the way adoptions take place, the types of fundraising they can do, and the management and care of the shelter and the animals with a significant decrease in staff.

For dog adoptions, pictures were posted to KCHS’s website for people to look at. From there, they sent in an application and contacted the shelter for an appointment. Potential adopters were asked to put as much information about themselves as possible on applications, so it would be easier, too, for Ouellet and the other staff to match them with a dog that was best suited to their lifestyle. Appointments also happened curbside, so no one from the public was allowed to enter the shelter, unless it was to pay.

For cats or rabbits, Ouellet said it was a little trickier.

“Cats, they pick you,” Ouellet said. “For cats, we just made people wear gloves and masks because [cats] are harder to bring and meet outside.”

Nowadays, people are allowed inside, but must wear a mask and can only enter in groups of two or smaller. They are still asked to make appointments if possible, but they will be allowed in if they show up and no other appointments are happening at that time.

Many of the usual fundraisers, such as ‘Pawfest’ and the annual dinner and auction will not be able to be held this year either, which are big fundraisers for the shelter. So, Ouellet said they’re looking into other, more restriction-friendly fundraisers and ways to get donations.

“I like to be out in the public’s face and provide events,” Ouellet said, “so you’re giving back something at the same time, it’s not just ‘donate’.”

Ouellet said the number of animals they’ve been taking in hasn’t decreased, and while the number of applications skyrocketed during the first few months of the pandemic, they were still very thorough in choosing homes for their animals.

RELATED: Kitimat animal shelter sees uptick in adoption amid COVID-19

“We had hundreds of applications coming in,” Ouellet said, “and [many] were upset with me because I said, ‘But you’ve got time now, but what happens when you go back to work and your regular life? Where’s this dog going to be at then?’”

Dogs were still adopted out to families and individuals who had been looking for a while and had plans in place, but many were told to really think about their decision and be sure a dog, especially, was something they could handle in the long run. Cats, she said, were a bit easier because “they’re more independent than dogs for the most part, anyway.”

“I’m now hearing from some of the rescues that they took advantage of that and adopted out all their animals, and now they’re getting some of them back,” Ouellet said. “I could’ve emptied the shelter if I really wanted to, but we would’ve got them all back and then some.”

Ouellet said the best adoption they had during COVID-19 was a dog named Sweetie who had been with the shelter for almost nine years. Sweetie was taken in by KCHS after being rescued by another shelter. She had been living on a property with around 100 dogs, many of whom were going feral due to the unsafe living conditions.

At first, Sweetie had extreme anxiety and was constantly fearful of everyone and everything, Ouellet said. She had warmed up over the years at KCHS, but was still never a cuddly dog after everything she had been through. However, she found her forever home a few months ago and her confidence has been increasing, according to her new owners.

“Almost after the eight, nine years that we’ve had her, she finally found that forever home, and the people just love her,” Ouellet said, and that it just goes to show what a little bit of time and attention can do for an animal.

Ouellet said she is hopeful that things will return to the way they were going forward, but she is settling in and adapting to the new situation for the time being, to ensure the safety of the animals and of potential adopters.

“It would be nice if we could go back to the normal and people could be doing their own thing again, just come in and spend as much time as they want with [the animals],” Ouellet said. “It would be nice to get back to that, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be any time soon.”

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