Arizona Humane Society adjusts services amid COVID-19 outbreak

Foster care and adoption at the Arizona Humane Society are going online for the first leg of the process, followed by an in-person visit at the organization’s south Phoenix campus.
Foster care and adoption at the Arizona Humane Society are going online for the first leg of the process, followed by an in-person visit at the organization’s south Phoenix campus.
Photo by Arizona Humane Society

With the coronavirus pandemic taking its toll on the state and around the world, the Arizona Humane Society is ensuring people, their pets and stray animals have access to critical services.

The AHS’ Second Chance Animal Trauma Hospital, which serves between 12,000 and 13,000 animals each year, has moved to a 24/7 model by splitting staff into two teams that don’t cross each other and deep clean areas before switching shifts.

“By doing 24/7 we were able to divide them into teams, keep them separated, spread the workload out, so we have less people in the hospital at any given time,” said Dr. Steven Hansen, CEO and president of the Arizona Humane Society. “And thereby increase the safety for our staff members while making sure the most vulnerable animals in the Valley get the care that they absolutely must have.

“Our team members have really stepped up and are quite willing to work the shifts.”

Dr. Hansen, who is also a veterinarian and board-certified toxicologist, says COVID-19 has affected the way the AHS manages animals, the way they interact with the public, and the way they manage cruelty cases. Fundraising and revenue generation have also taken a hit.

At the Nina Mason Pulliam Campus for Compassion, near 19th Avenue and Dobbins Road, staff has moved to a seven-day model with a primary focus in urgent care.

“These are the animals that require immediate care for pain or serious disease,” Dr. Hansen said. “That hospital is booked out. We are very busy serving the community, and it has allowed us to do that.”

In addition, AHS field teams are still out in the Valley, investigating cruelty cases and bringing in sick or injured animals. Call center staff are working from home and are sending out field members as needed.

Last Friday, the AHS teamed up with the Phoenix Police Department in busting a cockfighting ring in the south part of the city, recovering over 200 birds and a few dogs.

Dr. Hansen said field members have adjusted how they operate, from not going into people’s homes on most occasions, keeping a 6-foot distance, wearing personal protective equipment, and sanitizing.

“The one thing COVID-19 has done for the AHS is caused us to ramp up our innovation game even higher,” Dr. Hansen said. “I’m sure every business is doing that. We’re innovating it at breakneck speeds. We are innovating and developing some processes that will remain.”

Another change at AHS is the adoption and foster process. With the need to maintain social distancing, staff has moved those services online for the first stage of the process.

To adopt, people can go online, set an online appointment to talk with a matchmaker, connect with that matchmaker — who’s working out of home — receive information on an animal, and try to make a match. Staff can share videos and images, they can listen to the household’s situation, learn what kind of animal they’re looking for, and try to do the best possible match remotely. Afterwards, that person will then have an in-person meetup at the south Phoenix campus.

The AHS has 27 daily appointments of one hour each. They have three different outside areas where people can meet with a matchmaker and their prospective pet.

Dr. Hansen said the AHS adopted out 12 animals on Monday, and have seen 61 find new homes as of Tuesday morning.

“It’s important that we do have a foster process and safe adoption process,” he said. “If we don’t move animals into homes, our trauma hospital gets backed up and we can’t take any more sick and injured in.”

As for the foster process, the AHS has about 500 animals in temporary care today, according to Dr. Hansen.

The foster process involves a phone call, possibly taking the AHS’ foster training online, and then connecting with the AHS to determine which foster dog they want. The foster parent can then meet staff in the parking lot of the south Phoenix campus, or the AHS can deliver the pet.

Foster parents then come back for appointments or when the pet is ready for adoption. They meet staff in the parking lot, the staff takes the pet into the hospital and brings the pet back out if done receiving services.

“The Valley has stepped up to foster animals in the most heartwarming manner,” Dr. Hansen said. “We are practicing telemedicine. If the purpose for the call is a checkup, it doesn’t require us to have hands on the pet. If we need a video or image or discussion, we can conduct that over the phone and save that direct contact.

“We encourage people to go to the website, take the training, be a foster. We have a nice waiting list of people that want to be fosters. Without those volunteers doing those fosters it would cripple our hospital. I can’t emphasize how thankful we are for our fosters.”

The Pet Resource Center at AHS remains available over the phone to direct people to resources. Call 602-997-7585 ext. 3800. Dr. Hansen said the AHS recently hired a social worker as part of a grant-funded position.

“She wasn’t hired because of the pandemic, but it was perfect timing,” he said. “We learned a long time ago that in order to help an animal we have to realize that many times there’s a person on the other end of the leash.

“They may need food, a place to keep their pet, discuss vaccine series that they’re missing or other health issues. But they also have their own challenges. So, our social worker can work with them, get them the pet resources they need. And direct them to the human resources with that social working background.”

While staff continues to care for sick and injured animals, fundraising is still vital for the AHS, which is not funded by the state or federal government as a 501(c)(3) organization.

“Fundraising is down but remarkably strong,” Dr. Hansen said. “Our donors continue to step up and support what we do to allow that trauma hospital to run 24/7. Although overall donations are less than they would’ve been if the pandemic didn’t hit, the generosity of the Valley is very evident, and we are very thankful for that support.”

People can visit the Arizona Humane Society website to donate.

Dr. Hansen said they are doing their best not to take in healthy and owned animals, and instead encourage people to keep their pets until the current crisis settles down. However, they are taking in good Samaritan, stray animals that someone picks up, especially if they are sick or injured.

Healthy strays should be directed to Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, which also has implemented several changes, including temporarily closing its East Valley Shelter in Mesa and keeping its West Valley Shelter, 2500 S. 27th Ave, Phoenix, open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Adoptions are from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends.

“That really is their piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Hansen said. “We prefer the sick and injured come to us. We actively pursue the tough cases. We took several animals from Maricopa County Animal Care and Control yesterday that were sick and injured that they had picked up. We have a great partnership and work well together.”

The MCACC has made adoptions by appointment only. In addition, they are only taking in stray dogs, stray dogs and cats with bites, and lost dogs returned to owners at the West Valley shelter. They too are not accepting owner-surrendered pets at this time.

Those who find stray dogs are asked to file a report with the shelter, try to find the dog’s owner and if they aren’t successful may bring the dog to the West Valley Shelter or call 602-506-7387. People are encouraged to list the dog missing on the shelter’s Lost and Found website. That department is adding staff and hours in an effort to return more lost pets to their owners.

The AHS has been able to get through the COVID-19 situation by retaining all staff members. While volunteers have not been able to help out, staff is taking on additional roles, including with the 24-hour baby nursery, which mostly serves kittens.

The AHS’ thrift stores are not open, but they are seeing very active activity with online purchases.

“A lot of the better thrift items are being sold on eBay,” Dr. Hansen said. “That’s ramped up considerably.”

As COVID-19 numbers continue to increase in Arizona, afflicted people could possibly have pets that require care.

“What we want people to do is to plan in case they are actually ill and have to go to a hospital,” Dr. Hansen said. “We do have animals here that are on quarantine that did come from situations where there was a home and there was a positive COVID-19 disease in that home. We are quarantining animals, but we encourage people not to bring them to us if possible, but to have that plan in place.”

That includes who will come to their home. Is it a friend, a family member or a neighbor? Owners should leave directions on how much food to give each pet, what medications the pet needs, and what kind of exercise they need. Dr. Hansen also says pets should have at least a month’s worth of food.

Caretakers should come into a home with a mask on, and wash their hands before entering and leaving.

“It’s important because not everybody is going to understand how to take care of your pets,” Dr. Hansen said. “If it’s somebody that knows your animals, that’s what you need. Somebody that won’t upset the animals when they come into the home.”

People should also have a backup option in case their designated caretaker is unavailable.

“If you really don’t have somebody... I would certainly make sure if somebody went to the hospital to notify first responders that they had to leave their pets in their home,” Dr. Hansen said. “And then we would be notified, and we would go to the home and take care of those animals. That is not something that hopefully has to happen very often because that would quickly overwhelm our team. Make sure you have all the information out and easily visible. Please inform somebody that these animals need to be taken care of.”