The Humane Society of Eastern Carolina is set to reopen today following a four-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The organization, at 3520 Tupper Drive, will be open for adoptions only, officials said, to help limit traffic and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Appointments are required, and face coverings are mandatory for anyone entering the facility.
Shelter Director Shelby Jolly said staff members are eager to return to the facility, which was closed March 16.
“At this moment, it’s strictly staff,” she said, adding the size of the facility means that only its nine employees are being allowed inside to work with animals and prospective pet owners.
“Hopefully by the end of this month our volunteers will be be able to come back,” she said. “We definitely miss them, and our animals will be excited to see them.”
Volunteers have not been allowed inside the facility since the society announced what was initially planned as a 15-day closure. Cats and dogs under the Humane Society’s care were placed in foster homes, where some remain.
Despite the closure, adoptions continued. Jolly said more than 100 dogs and cats have been placed in permanent homes while the facility was closed.
“It’s actually lower than what we projected we would during these months,” she said, explaining those projections were made prior to the pandemic. “But it’s more than we thought we would be able to do with all the restrictions.”
Pitt County Animal Services has had a similar success rate of placing animals during the pandemic. Director Michele Whaley reported that 143 animals were adopted between March 16 and July 7.
“We’ve still been able to get animals out of here and into homes, but it’s definitely challenging,” she said. “If you compare the whole period to where we were in 2019, we are down a little. But if you do it by individual months, we were equal or a little bit higher in March and April.
“I think the reason is we were having the foster (families) send us pictures and videos and we were promoting them on social media,” Whaley said. “When people already see animals in a home, it’s easier to get them adopted.”
Animal Services has continued functioning with 11 staff members throughout the pandemic to provide essential animal control. The facility, at 4550 County Home Road, remains open for adoptions Mondays through Fridays, by appointment only. Animal surrenders are also by appointment only and are accepted on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Setting appointments is one of several changes that both Animal Services and the Humane Society have made because of the pandemic. To meet distancing requirements, both organizations are limiting the number of people permitted to attend adoption appointments.
In addition, both have temporarily discontinued programs that permit volunteers to take dogs out of their facilities to spend a few hours socializing with people and other pets. The Humane Society is hoping to resume Doggy Field Trips when volunteers return. Animal Services has discontinued Doggy Day Out but recently launched “Staycations” for dogs, allowing people to register to take an animal for a weekend visit to the family’s home.
Animal Services is not accepting applications for new volunteers, and existing volunteers are working alone or in small groups, primarily outside.
“Nationally in talking to different shelters, a lot of them are saying they probably won’t go back to what their operations were,” Whaley said. “There probably will be some long-standing policy changes as far as animal sheltering goes. We’re still learning. We’re still adapting.”
Jolly said that requiring appointments rather than accepting walk-ins allows Humane Society staff members to focus their efforts on people who are serious about adopting a pet rather than on those who simply want to stop in to view puppies or kittens. Prior to being allowed to schedule a 30-minute appointment with the Humane Society, potential adopters must have already submitted and received approval for an adoption application.
While Jolly is glad to see that spending more time at home during the pandemic has caused some people to choose to add a pet, she cautions that families need to consider what the pet’s home life will look like in the future.
“We just really want people to think about eventually, hopefully, you’ll go back to work,” she said.
“If you’re adopting because you’re free and you can do whatever you want now, we make sure that you realize that eventually we’ll go back. We want to make sure that animal fits your life when everything goes back to normal or a new normal.”