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Come on in, stay a while

Trish Sherrick, a volunteer at the Eastside Animal Shelter, pets Navigator, a young cat waiting to be adopted. (Anthony Jackson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

More than 500 homeless Albuquerque animals have found their way out of the shelter – at least temporarily – thanks to a burst of volunteer foster care activity.

In fact, the city’s Animal Welfare Department now has more dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs staying with foster families than currently living in its shelters.

Officials say it’s an extension of the goodwill the community demonstrated early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The city in March put out a call for foster help, hoping to reduce its shelter population in preparation for possible virus-related staffing shortages or a surge in pet surrenders due to economic conditions.

As of midweek, the city had 528 animals in foster homes, about 80% more than at the same time last year.

Shelly Boeglin, the volunteer and foster coordinator for Animal Welfare, said the animals are spread among about 400 households, and she estimated that 150 new volunteers joined the city’s long-standing foster program since the start of the pandemic. Some explained that they were working from home now, while others were college students doing schooling online. The summer has brought volunteers who are free to help after canceling their vacation travel plans.

The foster families are taking in litters of puppies and kittens – some who came without their mothers and need intense attention – as well as adult pets with medical conditions and senior animals that need hospice care. Boeglin said the city clinic recently put out a call to help eight older dogs – one of them 17 – and the shelter found foster placements for each of them.

“It’s the silver lining, I think, in this whole COVID thing, to see how amazing the community has been coming together for our pets,” she said.

Adoptions at the shelter, however, are trending below 2019 numbers. In the third week of July, the city sent 151 to permanent homes, compared with 224 during the same week last year.

That is something that outreach program manager Julie Buckland said is not entirely unexpected. The city has for months required potential adopters to make appointments for visits to the East Side shelter to limit traffic. It recently began accepting walk-ins at its West Side shelter and Everyday Adoption Center inside the PetSmart at 350 Eubank NE, but customers may still have to wait their turn in line to see the animals.

“We have a limit on how many potential adopters can be inside the facility, so naturally that’s going to decrease our adoption ability,” Buckland said.

The foster volunteers have become significant allies in the effort to find adoptive homes, Boeglin said.

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Albuquerque’s Animal Welfare Department now has more animals, like Cotton Candy above, in foster homes than in the shelter. Recovering from a feline virus, Cotton Candy has found her forever home. (Source: City Of Albuquerque)

Some have played matchmaker by pairing their foster pets with people in their social networks. In other cases, many simply adopt the pets themselves – something that has happened so often that Boeglin said there was a brief backlog of foster-to-adoption paperwork.

Boeglin said the city recently placed a kitten named Cotton Candy with a foster family that agreed to provide temporary help while she recovered from a feline virus.

The volunteer who took Cotton Candy was adamant that it was a short-term solution since her husband was allergic to cats.

But that changed.

“Sure enough they’re adopting the kitten,” Boeglin said, adding that Cotton Candy made a surprising connection during her stay. “Her favorite human is the husband.”

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