Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Pets & Pandemic: Animals, like their humans, are suffering from this crisis.

Kristen Zellner got $50 from a customer asking her to put it toward pet food for households in need. Annette Reiff started a pet-food bank. Animal rescues are fielding calls from pet-foster aspirants.

“It’s pretty wild how much people just want to help each other and animals,” said Zellner, owner of Abrams & Weakley General Store for Animals in Susquehanna Township.

In the COVID-19 crisis, humans are hurting, and when humans hurt, their pets are not far behind. Throughout the midstate, pet stores and animal rescues are going about their business as usual, even as they step up their pet lifelines.

At Abrams & Weakley, Zellner began offering curbside pickup in mid-March. She also spread the word that her store can deliver to the homebound and offer donations or discounts to those in need.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “We have had people call us and send money for their friends to buy food.”

The Humane Society of Harrisburg Area’s pet food bank has seen a “significant increase” in use since the crisis began, said Director of Marketing and Outreach Amanda Brunish.

“There are a lot of people who are losing income and need a helping hand, and that’s why we’re here,” she said. “Our mission is to build a better community for pets and people, and it’s not just about the homeless animals here. It’s about ensuring that pets stay in the homes they’re in now.”

Castaway Critters volunteer Annette Reiff, of Harrisburg, put out calls for donations for a pick-up pet food bank outside Tri-County OIC in Midtown. A large donation from Purina, via a York warehouse storing grocery overstocks, supplied enough dog food. More cat food donations are needed.

“I’ve been checking every day,” said Reiff. “The bins have been mostly empty. I fill them up again and check the next day.”

As the economy plummets, animal rescues are more concerned than ever that people unable to care for their pets will surrender them to shelters—already groaning—or abandon them, said Reiff.

That fear is driving much of the pet-itarian effort.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to have to get rid of a pet because they can’t afford food or basic things,” said Zellner. “I’m happy to go into our donation box and deliver to somebody who needs it.”

At HSHA, applications for a ramped-up fostering campaign—coincidentally, launched just before the crisis broke—have tripled since March. Even people who can only foster while they’re working from home or are laid off are welcome.

“People have really embraced fostering,” said Brunish. “We don’t know how long this is going to last, and we don’t know what kind of circumstances we’re going to run into. It’s nice that people want to give a helping hand.”


Ready to Roar

HSHA especially hopes for kitten fosters and is eager for kitten-related donations—kitten replacement milk, kitten wet and dry food.

The reason? Seems that animal shelters are a necessity that remains open. Pet adoptions, too, although they continue in virtual and no-touch form. Spay-neuter is not, and veterinarians are withholding non-elective surgeries, like their people-doctor counterparts.

The pandemic hit just as kitten season was accelerating. As young as 4 months old, those early kittens will become kitten mamas.

At trap-neuter-return program Steelton Community Cats, a lack of supplies is hindering the monthly surgical clinic conducted by Dr. Diane Ford of Vetting Zoo, Palmyra.

“Everybody, every rescue, every humane society, every TNR program is just doing the best we can with what we have,” said longtime volunteer Rosemary Loncar.

March and April clinics were canceled, but Steelton Community Cats is ready to roar as soon as possible.

“Each month, we will be doing 80 cats,” said Loncar. “We really are behind the 8-ball right now, because all of those cats we were supposed to do in March—most of the females are probably pregnant.”

Taking care of people is top priority, she added, but “we’re biting at the bit. We really do want to get started.”


Like a Flood

Boiling Springs-based Furry Friends Network has seen “a huge amount of interest in helping, both adoption and foster,” said co-founder Robin Scherer.

However, Scherer must hope that those potential pet foster parents can wait. Southern shelters that normally send dogs up north for adoption are not transporting.

“We’re in a holding pattern for new dogs,” said Scherer. “We’d love to have more foster help in normal times, and I hope that the people who are offering to help will offer to help after the pandemic is over.”

She does “fear what is coming down the tracks,” especially with more than 150 cats still remaining from last year.

“These poor kittens,” she said. “I know what I can handle here, and that capacity is going to be filled up quickly. It’s like a flood. The kittens are a pandemic of their own.”

Although the donations that help Furry Friends Network pay for medical care have virtually stopped, Scherer is “totally against putting pleas for help out right now.”

“Everybody is in the same boat,” she said. “Businesses are struggling. People are struggling. It’s real for everybody.”

She does hope, though, that people consider adopting, including older cats and dogs.

“The animals need us, but I think people need the animals as much during this period of time,” Scherer said. “They can bring a lot of joy into your life. As long as you go into it realizing that they’re going to need you after the pandemic is over. A wonderful thing to do would be to keep helping them.”

Author’s note: Sweeney the tabby cat contributed keyboard strokes to this story.


Lending a Paw

Want to help? Contact these pet organizations and others.

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