Yes, your dog wants to rescue you

by Scienmag May 31, 2020, 3:21pm
Credit: Deanna Dent/ASU

What to do. You’re a dog. Your owner is trapped in a box and is crying out for help. Are you aware of his despair? If so, can you set him free? And what’s more, do you really want to?

That’s what Joshua Van Bourg and Clive Wynne wanted to know when they gave dogs the chance to rescue their owners.

Until recently, little research has been done on dogs’ interest in rescuing humans, but that’s what humans have come to expect from their canine companions — a legend dating back to Lassie and updated by the popular Bolt.

“It’s a pervasive legend,” said Van Bourg, a graduate student in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology.

Simply observing dogs rescuing someone doesn’t tell you much, Van Bourg said. “The difficult challenge is figuring out why they do it.”

So, Van Bourg and Wynne, an ASU professor of psychology and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at ASU, set up an experiment assessing 60 pet dogs’ propensity to rescue their owners. None of the dogs had training in such an endeavor.

In the main test, each owner was confined to a large box equipped with a light-weight door, which the dog could move aside. The owners feigned distress by calling out “help,” or “help me.”

Beforehand, the researchers coached the owners so their cries for help sounded authentic. In addition, owners weren’t allowed to call their dog’s name, which would encourage the dog to act out of obedience, and not out of concern for her owner’s welfare.

“About one-third of the dogs rescued their distressed owner, which doesn’t sound too impressive on its own, but really is impressive when you take a closer look,” Van Bourg said.

That’s because two things are at stake here. One is the dogs’ desire to help their owners, and the other is how well the dogs understood the nature of the help that was needed. Van Bourg and Wynne explored this factor in control tests — tests that were lacking in previous studies.

In one control test, when the dog watched a researcher drop food into the box, only 19 of the 60 dogs opened the box to get the food. More dogs rescued their owners than retrieved food.

“The key here is that without controlling for each dog’s understanding of how to open the box, the proportion of dogs who rescued their owners greatly underestimates the proportion of dogs who wanted to rescue their owners,” Van Bourg said.

“The fact that two-thirds of the dogs didn’t even open the box for food is a pretty strong indication that rescuing requires more than just motivation, there’s something else involved, and that’s the ability component,” Van Bourg said. “If you look at only those 19 dogs that showed us they were able to open the door in the food test, 84% of them rescued their owners. So, most dogs want to rescue you, but they need to know how.”

In another control test, Van Bourg and Wynne looked at what happened when the owner sat inside the box and calmly read aloud from a magazine. What they found was that four fewer dogs, 16 out of 60, opened the box in the reading test than in the distress test.

“A lot of the time it isn’t necessarily about rescuing,” Van Bourg said. “But that doesn’t take anything away from how special dogs really are. Most dogs would run into a burning building just because they can’t stand to be apart from their owners. How sweet is that? And if they know you’re in distress, well, that just ups the ante.”

The fact that dogs did open the box more often in the distress test than in the reading control test indicated that rescuing could not be explained solely by the dogs wanting to be near their owners.

The researchers also observed each dog’s behavior during the three scenarios. They noted behaviors that can indicate stress, such as whining, walking, barking and yawning.

“During the distress test, the dogs were much more stressed,” Van Bourg said. “When their owner was distressed, they barked more, and they whined more. In fact, there were eight dogs who whined, and they did so during the distress test. Only one other dog whined, and that was for food.”

What’s more, the second and third attempts to open the box during the distress test didn’t make the dogs less stressed than they were during the first attempt. That was in contrast to the reading test, where dogs that have already been exposed to the scenario, were less stressed across repeated tests.

“They became acclimated,” Van Bourg said. “Something about the owner’s distress counteracts this acclimation. There’s something about the owner calling for help that makes the dogs not get calmer with repeated exposure.”

In essence, these individual behaviors are more evidence of “emotional contagion,” the transmission of stress from the owner to the dog, explains Van Bourg, or what humans would call empathy.

“What’s fascinating about this study,” Wynne said, “is that it shows that dogs really care about their people. Even without training, many dogs will try and rescue people who appear to be in distress — and when they fail, we can still see how upset they are. The results from the control tests indicate that dogs who fail to rescue their people are unable to understand what to do — it’s not that they don’t care about their people.

“Next, we want to explore whether the dogs that rescue do so to get close to their people, or whether they would still open the box even if that did not give them the opportunity to come together with their humans,” Wynne added.


The study, “Pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) release their trapped and distressed owners: Individual variation and evidence of emotional contagion was published last month,” was published online last month in the journal PLOS.

Iowa Dog Finally Adopted After 900 Days at Shelter

Iowa Dog Finally Adopted After 900 Days at Shelter Helps New Owner Recover from Breakup

Two years ago, Leo was rescued from being euthanized, and now he’s found his forever home!

Claudia Harmata

After more than two years — 900 days — one Iowa dog has finally found his forever home!

Just a few years ago, Leo was rescued by Linda Reynolds with Dogs Forever from being euthanized at a rescue operation in Sioux City.

“We said we would take him and I met the person that was transporting him in Webster City on Aug. 10, 2017, and brought him to Dogs Forever,” she told ABC affiliate KCRG.

He was a rather difficult pup who had a hard time bonding with potential owners that came through the shelter. That was until he met David Evens from Urbana.

On Christmas Eve of 2019, Evens saw Leo on the Dogs Forever website and decided to pay him a visit. From then on until March of 2020, Evens would come and work with a trainer to bond with Leo, and also fulfilled a few requirements to make sure his home was ready for the active pup.

“He said he was willing to put a fence in, he was willing to put the kennel inside,” Reynolds told the outlet. “We asked him to work with Mike our trainer for a month. He worked with him for three months.”

While Evens may have given Leo a forever home, he says that Leo has helped him as well.

“I went through a breakup and needed an animal to spend time with,” he told KCRG. “No loneliness now.”

Amid the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, animal shelters across the country are also encouraging potential pet owners who are able, to take in a furry friend to be a companion during isolation.

“If you don’t have a pet and are thinking about getting one, now is the perfect time to ‘try it on’ by fostering from your local shelter. Shelters and pet adoption facilities nationwide need people to foster pets on a temporary basis,” Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, previously told PEOPLE about how they can help rescue pets and themselves during the pandemic.


Volunteer of the Quarter – Patty Souza

Mutt Militia, meet our Volunteer of the Quarter, Patty Souza. Patty has always been a “Big Fan of Zack Skow’s “Marley’s Mutts” & all the time, love & care he gives to each animal.”
“I’ve wanted to volunteer for years, but owning a winery & tasting room, there was never enough time. When I retired, I finally had the opportunity. I started in January 2020, as a volunteer with Marley’s Mittens. My favorite part about volunteering is knowing I can make a difference caring for the kitties & of course all the love they give back in return. If anyone is considering becoming a volunteer, I highly recommend working with the dogs or kitties. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to make a difference in the life of these sweet babies.
Right now I have 2 kitties, “Mini”, my sweet girl & my “Rocky” or Roo-Roo for short.
I’m quite honored to have been selected for “Volunteer of the Quarter”..Wow! Thank You “Marleys Mutts
“Fun Fact” …Cats are like Potato Chips, You can Never have just One”

Make your rescue or foster pet a ‘forever’ friend

Fuzzy, furry friends are filling our homes since the lockdowns due to cornoravirus began in early March.

Over the last two months, the numbers of people fostering cats and dogs have risen dramatically over the same period last year.

“About 40% of all of the shelter population in the country are in foster homes right now, and that represents a current reality of about 60 to 90,000 animals, which is huge,” said Julie Castle, chief executive officer for Best Friends Animal Society, which helped launch the no kill movement in the United States.

Those numbers are based on data gathered by 24PetWatch, a pet insurance company that provides a weekly snapshot of over 1,100 animal welfare organizations around the country.

Adoptions, while down due to the closing of shelters, may be starting to rise as well, Castle said, perhaps a result of people falling in love with their foster pets and giving them forever homes.

In the Best Friends no-kill shelter in Salt Lake City, 46% of foster applicants said they were interested in potentially adopting. If they follow through — and that attitude is replicated across the US and other countries where there’s been an uptick in fostering — it could be a huge win for homeless animals everywhere.

But if that doesn’t happen and people begin returning foster pets as they return to work, the impact on shelters already strapped by a lack of funds could be devastating.

“It’s going to put a lot of pressure on animal welfare groups and shelters, and they’re going to have to reach out to the community for support,” said Michelle Cole, who is the chief marketing and sales officer at Pethealth Inc., the parent company of 24PetWatch.

“This is also the typical fundraising period, and they haven’t been able to do that due to coronavirus,” she added. “So already a lot of them are experiencing more financial strain.”

Adoption agencies are sounding the alarm, trying to encourage people to understand the ramifications of returning fostered or adopted pets who may be undergoing some behavior change or separation anxiety as their owners return to work.

In the United Kingdom, one of the largest welfare charities, called Dogs Trust, has changed its 30-year-old slogan from “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” to “A dog is for life, not just for lockdown.”

“Most of the shelter organizations are asking, ‘Why do you need to relinquish that pet? Can we give you support so that won’t ever be necessary?’ ” Montgomery said.

“Animal welfare organizations can be super creative and helpful in trying to solve those problems. We want to keep pets at home.”

If you find yourself in need of help with food or medicine for your pet, experts suggested calling a number of animal welfare groups and shelters in your area, as some may be more able to assist than others.

To also make sure that pet lovers continue to love and keep their pets, animal welfare organizations offer the following advice.


If you’ve already fostered a pet, you have likely taken into account the extra money you’ll need. If not, experts said, please stop and do so.

Vaccines, supplies like crates and litter boxes, vet appointments, heartworm and flea prevention, toys, food and pet-sitting costs can add up quickly to thousands of dollars each year, depending on the pet’s age and health status. Additional expenses, depending on the pet, include training and grooming.

There are ways to cut expenses, such as buying in bulk from pet supply or large warehouse stores, and many vets and shelters offer free or reduced spay and neuter surgeries.

You can reduce the need for vet and grooming costs if you brush your pet’s hair and teeth daily. Start very young, especially with cats.

Training and preventative supplies

If you’ve adopted a puppy, prepare to be calm and patient during potty training, and be sure to provide alternatives for teething so Fido doesn’t destroy your shoes and socks.

Obedience and behavioral training is well worth the investment in time and money, experts said. From potty training to teaching your pup to sit, stay, heel and behave, a well-trained dog is less likely to develop bad habits that irritate pet owners.

One of the biggest — potty accidents.

“Inappropriate elimination in dogs and cats can cause issues with the human-animal bond, and unfortunately it can sometimes end up in relinquishment of animals, either rehoming or return to shelters,” said veterinarian Dr. Meredith Montgomery, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida.

“You should always check with your vet to make sure it’s not due to illness or infection,” she added. “If it keeps up, your vet can help with behavioral modification, potentially paired with pharmaceuticals, to help decrease anxiety.”

For their own safety — and that of our bird population — cats should be kept indoors, experts said.

Having an indoors-only feline companion also cuts down on vet expenses from fights and accidents.

That means having the right number of litter boxes — one more than the number of cats in the home. You must also clean them daily to keep your cat from urinating or defecating outside of the box.

Providing proper scratching posts and high perches can keep your cat from ruining furniture or climbing curtains, and experts have pointed to the success of clicker training to mold a cat’s behavior while young.

“Always praise them when they’re doing something right,” said Dr. John Howe, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“It doesn’t do any good to get mad at the cat after the fact,” he said. “They have no idea what you’re mad about. So it’s always better in training to do positive feedback when they’re doing something right, and ignore them when doing something wrong.”

During Covid-19 social isolation, training has moved online. Be sure to look for videos and other tutorials which may also help with finances, too.

Exercise body and mind

Dog walking is excellent for our cardiovascular system, but those multiple walks are good for your pup’s health, too. Different breeds need different levels of exercise, so be sure to do your research.

Thankfully, it’s still possible to get outside during the age of coronavirus, but be sure to practice social distancing.

Just like dogs, cats need playtime too. A good “hunt” that ends in the catch and “kill” of a dangling feather or mouse right before feeding mimics behavior in the wild and will keep your house cat both physically and mentally stimulated.

A great way to exercise your dog or cat’s mind is to provide food or non-fattening treats in a puzzle or other interactive toy. The fun of figuring out how to get to that morsel can be quite mentally stimulating and satisfying. Just watch them “paw” themselves on the back once they’ve solved the mystery.


It can be hard to properly socialize a dog or cat during isolation from Covid-19, and this may well be one of the toughest areas of raising a pet during this time. Both species need to see and be around people other than you to lose their fear of strangers.

“Socialization is probably the most important thing, in my view, for getting a dog or a cat used to a new household and surroundings,” Howe said.

“It can still be done when they’re older, but really six to 12 weeks is really a critical time for making sure they get used to so many different activities,” Howe said, “such as walking, playing, petting, grooming, seeing other people, seeing other dogs and not being afraid of the vacuum cleaner.”

If you’ve been sheltering in a “bubble,” or a small group of friends and family, try to get each person to handle, pet and walk your pup to broaden his social circle. But it may not be a good idea to allow your dog to run up to others while out on a walk. If a fight were to break out, you may have to break the 6-foot social distancing rule to solve the issue.

Set up your kitty for success by making sure everyone in the family — especially children — handles your furry friend gently. No yelling or screaming, no eye poking or yanking of tails.

Instead, hug and snuggle your cat as much as possible, as young as possible. It’s even OK to pick them up and cuddle them like a baby — cats don’t have to be stuck-up by nature, especially if they are always petted and brushed when near their special people.

“If you can get your cat used to being groomed, combed, brushed, play with their feet a little bit, that’s really important, especially when they’re going to go to the veterinarian,” Howe said.”You don’t want cats that are fearful and don’t want to be touched, so grooming helps. That’s very soothing to cats.”

Use treats to get your kitty to come when called by name. And if at all possible, try to introduce a cat-friendly dog into their lives, as long as it can be done while observing proper social distancing.

Avoiding back-to-work separation anxiety

Imagine now the worst of the pandemic is over. You’re finally going back to work, and you’re thrilled. Your foster or adopted dog or cat may not be. Just imagine what it must be like for your pet to have you there all day and night and then suddenly, you’re gone!

To avoid any issues with separation anxiety, it’s best to prepare your dog or cat for your departure as soon as you first bring them home — by setting the same routine you will use when you go back to work. Just like little kids, animals thrive on routine.

“Getting up at the same time, eating at the same time, playing at the same time. That’s the key,” Howe said.

Using pet gates and crates is another suggestion, Howe added. If a dog is crate trained, it can be very soothing for them to go back to their own special place, he said. Again, start when your dog first comes home.

“They’re safe, they’re comfortable and it’s an opportunity for them to practice independence in their own space,” Howe said. The use of baby and pet gates or barriers can also help keep pets and children separated, he added.

Try playing species-specific music for your pet before you go back to work and if they like it, keep it on while you’re gone. A study published in 2015 found that cats preferred such feline-favorite sounds such as chirping, purring and the sucking sound of nursing kittens, mixed in with some classical music strains. You and your cat can listen here, while Spotify and other websites provide playlists for dogs.

And keep up your quality playtime, just as you would with a child, Montgomery said.

“What may this look like? Ten to 30 minutes of play with a favorite wand toy, special brushing session, — if liked by your pet — a walk with your leashed dog or time spent with a favorite toy playing fetch or tug-of-war,” she said.

And if all else fails, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local animal welfare group or shelter or veterinarian, experts said.

“The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, ACVB, has a great website to find a veterinary behavioral expert that can do a consult with you,” said Dr. Dana Varble, the chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community.

“And some of those behaviorists are already set up to do via the phone or video.”

Local pet rescue feeding animals in need

BAKERSFIELD, CA. (KGET)- Businesses are suffering, people are being laid off and it’s becoming even harder to put food on the table.

But, it’s not just humans suffering, our pets are being affected.

Stories across our county of those unable to provide for their pets, so Marley’s Mutts decided to step in and help make sure no pet is left behind.

Through fundraising efforts, they’ve been able to raise over two pallets of food.

But, their generosity can only go so far, so now they need your help.

If you have food you would like to donate, you can drop it off at 3720 Easton Drive.

If you would like to donate monetarily to the cause, follow the link:

Birmingham Race Course ends live greyhound racing

Alabama no longer has a venue for live greyhound racing.

The Birmingham Race Course is discontinuing the sport and will rely on simulcasting when it eventually reopens.

Kip Keefer, executive director of the Birmingham Racing Commission, said the decision was made Friday by Lewis Benefield, COO of the Race Course. Receipts in recent years from live greyhound racing have become “embarrassingly low,” Keefer said, with most of the track revenue coming from simulcasting to other tracks.

“It was mostly a financial decision,” Keefer said. “Revenues have lagged. It’s not a product that was supporting itself.”

The Race Course shut down live racing in March as part of the coronavirus pandemic measures that have brought large portions of commercial activity to a halt. But Keefer said track management believes that while the course is not in a financial position to continue in the near term, it eventually wants to bring live dog racing back – and even horse racing.

“What they’re talking about is not a permanent cessation of racing,” he said. “It will be a considerable task to get everything back up and running, but they hope to do so.”

Dog racing has been declining in popularity nationally as a sport in recent years. While it remains legal in 10 states, it now takes place live in only five. West Virginia has two dog tracks, Iowa and Texas have one each. Florida has active tracks but a constitutional amendment is set to phase out commercial greyhound racing by 2021. The Arkansas Greyhound Kennel Association looks to phase out racing by 2023.

Animal Wellness Action, an animal rights organization, hailed the decision. The group’s executive director, Marty Irby, a native Alabamian, said he was “elated to see this archaic and abusive enterprise cross the finish line in my home state for good.”

“Most tracks don’t make money, but gambling interests that own the tracks are being obligated by the states to subsidize the operations and to require that the tracks run dogs even when it’s a money-loser,” Irby said.

In the short term, the Birmingham Race Course will be seeing to the disposition of around 400 to 450 greyhounds. Approximately 150 dogs have already left the Race Course’s kennels for other tracks. The Birmingham Race Course has an adoption program with connections around the nation, Keefer said. The operation placed about 450 dogs in new homes last year; now, it has that same goal in a short period of time. Many dogs are placed with convalescent homes, service organizations, and other destinations.

“It’s a little bit of a daunting task, but they’ve got the staff and resources to do it,” he said. “There’s a lot of demand in Canada and New England.”

Birmingham Race Course looks to reopen in May if coronavirus directives lift with the end of Alabama’s Stay at Home order April 30.

The track opened in March 1987 as the Birmingham Turf Club, an $85 million facility on 7,000 acres for thoroughbred horse racing. The city and the region had high hopes for the Turf Club, with eventual designs on an entertainment complex. But the large crowds envisioned by its backers didn’t materialize, and within a year, the operators filed for bankruptcy. The course was eventually bought by Milton McGregor in 1992, and his family has continued to operate it after his death in 2018.

In 1992, a referendum allowed greyhound races at the track. Horse racing ended at the venue in June 1995.

Last year, the course began offering machines that allow users to place wagers on horse races that have already taken place. More than 300 historical pari-mutuel betting machines were added in October.

Keefer said the end of live racing, whether temporary or permanent, is a sad time.

“It’s sad to think that in October 1992 when we ran the first-ever greyhound racing there, there were 14,000 people on hand,” he said. “I don’t like it for the loyal fans. Right to the end just before the shutdown, you could walk onto the racing floor up in the clubhouse and see the same couple of hundred die-hards. They wouldn’t have missed a race for the world.”

China just upgraded the status of dogs from “livestock” to “pets”

In a newly published list of animals categorized as livestock in China, the country’s agriculture ministry made a surprising announcement tucked away at the bottom of the policy document: dogs are no longer to be treated as mere livestock, but as loyal companions.

“Alongside the development of human civilization and the public’s care toward protecting animals, dogs have now evolved from being traditional livestock to companion animals,” the notice dated April 8 read (link in Chinese), adding that dogs aren’t typically regarded as livestock worldwide.

The official announcement follows on the heels of February’s nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China. The country’s top legislature fast-tracked the enactment of the ban in large part due to widespread suspicions that the Covid-19 outbreak stemmed from a novel coronavirus being transmitted from wild animals to humans. Those suspicions arose because some of the early confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, had exposure to the Huanan seafood wholesale market, where live animals were on sale. In fact, initial diagnostic guidelines (pdf) established by China’s national health commission stipulated that Covid-19 patients needed to have an epidemiological link to Wuhan or a wet market in the city.

Included on the latest list of livestock animals are 13 types of “traditional livestock” such as pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys, and 18 types of “special livestock” such as various kinds of deer, all of which could be raised for the purpose of eating, according to the ministry. The list is “dynamic” and could be widened to include other animals, according to the February decision banning eating of wild animals in China. The ministry is gathering public opinions on the draft document until May 8.

Although Beijing has said that the consumption of wild land animals not included in this list will be banned (link in Chinese), it is unclear whether dogs, which traditionally are not counted as wild animals, would also be protected from this fate after the “upgrade” of its status by the ministry. Calls to the ministry went unanswered, while it did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

However, given the clear classification of dogs as companion animals by the ministry, local governments in China could follow suit to set up regulations banning the consumption of not only wild life, but also pets. Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, became the first city in the country to ban the eating of cats and dogs, as well as state-protected and other terrestrial wild animals, days before the ministry’s announcement.

Around 10 million dogs and four million cats are estimated to be slaughtered and eaten in China every year, according to Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia, but the practice is coming under increasing criticism from the country’s growing ranks of pet lovers. In 2016, a group of dog lovers tried to stop a truck that was carrying 320 dogs headed for a slaughterhouse on a highway in Hebei province. They ended up getting into a fight with the truck driver and causing a massive traffic jam.

This Mumbai Boy Is Feeding Stray Animals Every Day Since Lockdown

For those who think that only human beings happen to face the difficulties and hardships of a distressing time like such, this veterinary student from Mumbai will help you shift your focus to just how bad animals have it.

COVID-19 has also had an equally scarring impact on the lives of stray animals across the nation and unfortunately like us they don’t have a voice. In a bid to help the suffering of these animals, Sagun Bhatjiwale is feeding these animals along with the help of some other good samaritans like himself.

Sagun is a part of he Nature’s Ally Foundation: an NGO dedicated to the welfare of birds, animals and trees, and his good deeds got him noticed on Instagram by account ‘nobordersshop’. The account shared his story, where he talks about how disheartening it is for him to see animals in such anguish

“My heart reaches out to the stray animals of the city, who face the scarcity of food and lack of water on a daily basis, struggling with extreme starvation and dehydration, as human activity has decreased to an unprecedented level.”
Sagun Bhatjiwale

Pet fostering takes off as coronavirus keeps Americans home


OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Simeon family was heading home to Omaha from a Smoky Mountains vacation when Kim Simeon spotted a social media post from the Nebraska Humane Society, pleading with people to consider fostering a pet amid concerns about how the coronavirus would affect operations.

A day later, a 1 1/2-year-old black lab mix named Nala was nestling in at her home. Nala is one of 35 dogs and cats that have been placed with Omaha-area families as part of an emergency foster care program.

“I just felt like, with all the virus stuff going on, it just seemed like a need we could help with,” Simeon said. “We’re all quarantined anyway. I mean, what a perfect opportunity to do something good.”

Amid an avalanche of bad news, Simeon’s story and thousands like it across the country are prompting smiles as suddenly isolated people rush to care for animals, easing a burden on shelters and providing homes — even if just temporarily — for homeless dogs, cats and other pets.

Shelters from California to New York have put out the call for people to temporarily foster pets. Thanks to an overwhelming response from people who suddenly found themselves stuck at home, shelters say they have placed record numbers of dogs, cats and other animals. If past trends hold, many of those who agree to temporarily care for a pet will ultimately decide they want the animal to stay for good.

“We have a waiting list of 2,000 people wanting to foster,” said Dr. Apryl Steele, president and CEO of Dumb Friends League shelter in Denver. It’s the largest animal shelter in the Rocky Mountain region, caring for an average of 22,000 animals a year.

Steele said the initial push there to foster animals came not from the shelter, but the community.

“We had people reaching out to us all of a sudden,” she said. “People just wanted to do something to help. We realized pretty quickly that we could soon be facing a shutdown of our adoptions and got on board.”

Shelters have several reasons for pushing to foster out animals, Steele said, including the fear that they might have to stop adopting out animals if people can’t visit them or that they might see an influx of people surrendering animals amid economic woes. But the overriding factor, she said, was concern for workers’ health.

“We need to get to a skeleton staff, stat. We can’t do that if the shelter is full,” she said.

Stephanie Filer, spokeswoman for Animal Rescue League of Iowa also noted that shelters are seeing a drop in donations — a normal occurrence during an economic downturn. The Des Moines-based organization and others have also had to cancel fundraising events because of virus containment efforts.

The good news is that when Filer’s group put out a call for temporary homes for at least 80 cats in their care, it received some 160 applications within 12 hours. She noted that 60% to 70% of people who foster an animal opt to keep the animal permanently.

“A crisis brings out the worst in people and the best in people, so we are thrilled to see some exciting things come from this awful situation,” she said.

Since mid-March, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has seen 1,600 people volunteer to foster, and the Oregon Humane Society in Portland has seen 1,000 new foster volunteers.

The outpouring comes at a critical time because animals produce lots of litters in the spring, said Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, president of the San Francisco SPCA.

“You have shelter leaders around the country who are just looking at this tidal wave that is coming our way,” Scarlett said.

In Washington, D.C., the Humane Rescue Alliance said more than 1,000 people signed up to foster in a 10-day period this month.

One of those was first-time foster volunteer Katie Lee, who is now caring for Calvin, a 2-year-old terrier mix. A move to working from home during the coronavirus scare prompted her decision, because “at least I’m home a lot.”

Ina Offret, of Anchorage, Alaska, agreed to foster 10-year-old Kelsey after a local shelter called saying it had no room for more animals and was desperate to clear space. Kelsey, a poodle mix, joined Offret’s poodle Suzie.

If she had been asked a month ago if she was ready to take in another dog, Offret said, she would have politely declined, noting she had had three dogs under her roof until last year, when old age took the other two.

“I had reached a point in my life when I decided I don’t want multiple dogs,” Offret said. “Then the coronavirus hit.”

Offret said she hasn’t changed her mind about wanting to be a single-dog family, but said Kelsey has a home until another family can be found.

“I’m going to keep her until whenever that is,” Offret said.


McFetridge reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

Shenzhen becomes first Chinese city to ban eating cats and dogs

Shenzhen has become the first Chinese city to ban the sale and consumption of dog and cat meat.

It comes after the coronavirus outbreak was linked to wildlife meat, prompting Chinese authorities to ban the trade and consumption of wild animals.

Shenzhen went a step further, extending the ban to dogs and cats. The new law will come into force on 1 May.

Thirty million dogs a year are killed across Asia for meat, says Humane Society International (HSI).

However, the practice of eating dog meat in China is not that common – the majority of Chinese people have never done so and say they don’t want to.

“Dogs and cats as pets have established a much closer relationship with humans than all other animals, and banning the consumption of dogs and cats and other pets is a common practice in developed countries and in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” the Shenzhen city government said, according to a Reuters report.

“This ban also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization.”

The race to find the source of coronavirus in wildlife
Animal advocacy organisation HSI praised the move.

“This really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade that kills an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats in China every year,” said Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist for HSI.

However, at the same time as this ruling, China approved the use of bear bile to treat coronavirus patients.

Bear bile – a digestive fluid drained from living captive bears – has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The active ingredient, ursodeoxycholic acid, is used to dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease. But there is no proof that it is effective against the coronavirus and the process is painful and distressing for the animals

Brian Daly, a spokesman for the Animals Asia Foundation, told AFP: “We shouldn’t be relying on wildlife products like bear bile as the solution to combat a deadly virus that appears to have originated from wildlife.”