dog rescue toronto

This is how COVID-19 is affecting dog rescue organizations in Toronto

Toronto loves dogs. In the days before the pandemic, if you went to a dog park or chatted with another dog owner on the street, odds are you might have both adopted your dog from a shelter or dog rescue organization.

These days, more people are turning away from breeders and embracing the importance of giving abandoned, abused, or stray dogs a good home.

With people spending more time at home than ever, pet adoption is on the rise, and local rescue organizations are facing unprecedented interest, but also unchartered territory in how to proceed.

Factors such as food security, daily exercise, behavioural and training support, and finding homes have all become exponentially more difficult in the past month.

The ultimate goal of rescue organizations is to find permanent, loving homes for dogs in need, but that’s not all they do. These organizations save dogs' lives, yes, but they also provide support and training to help them succeed when they get adopted.

Through rescue transport missions, dogs are brought to Toronto from northern communities, the U.S., and other international destinations where local adoption is unlikely if it exists at all; and due to travel restrictions these partner shelters are now in an indefinite holding pattern.

While we are at home waiting this pandemic out, shelters are feeling the strain. “Shelters are now faced with the fees of housing dogs for many months unexpectedly, which means more costs and care needed”, says Jenna Bye, Executive director of Save our Scruff.

“At the same time, there's a worry for a surplus in dogs being surrendered due to the state of the economy and with already overfull shelters.”

Redemption Paws, another local rescue, regularly organizes volunteers to drive to Texas to bring dogs to Ontario. Their last trip transported 115 dogs in 4 cargo vans.

In March, they had no choice but to cancel that month’s rescue mission, leaving dogs at shelters that do not have the resources to care for them long-term.

“We can’t access dogs in need. Shelters have shut down and borders are closed”, says Nicole Simone, Redemption Paws Founder and Executive Director.

“We have so many people willing to help but no vets able to vet dogs and no way to get the dogs and they're dying. It’s a hard reality.”

For the dogs that are currently in Toronto and the surrounding area, continuing on as before is not an option.

Safety and advocacy for all is now at the forefront of rescue organizations, and what seems like best practices is in a state of flux.

“With the changes in policies daily, we worry about keeping our dogs advocated for, while at the same time keeping our foster parents and community safe. Things aren't black and white and it's been a lot of conversation to review the risks at hand”, says Bye.

“As a predominantly volunteer-run organization, there's a lot of logistics that go into in-taking animals and much of that involves community engagement… We want dogs to be saved, but also to respect our community at the same time.”

Finding ways to accommodate all of these safety measures requires time and money; Redemption Paws has rented a space to allow for foster drop-offs and potential adoption meet and greets – all at extra operational costs.

Interest in fostering and adoption has seen a significant increase, and rescue organizations are exercising extra caution with the worry that the responsibility and commitment will no longer seem appealing once people return to their regular routines.

“We have to make sure their placements are going to stick in a post-COVID world, not just during COVID, so we have to be extra careful”, says Simone, who has already seen an increase in owner returns.

The good news is many people want to help and are reaching out. Save our Scruff has seen more than 200 foster applications in the last few days.

At this point, it can be overwhelming for rescues to be answering individual messages or approving foster applications. “Much of the information people seek, is publicly available on our pages”, says Bye, hoping that will help keep people informed.

Just this week, Black Dog Rescue announced they are no longer taking foster applications; but there are still things that people can do to help.

What they really need, according to Bye, is “listening, or asking how we could use aid”. “Dog advocacy isn't on pause just because our intakes are. [We] ask people to do the right thing and wait for a rescue dog when the time comes, and use the time they have now to educate themselves.”

Aside from education and building awareness, fundraising is the biggest focus. Redemption Paws is organizing online fundraisers, including trivia nights in an effort to help to cover overhead costs and medical bills.

Donations can also be made through their respective websites; these organizations are not government funded, and they rely heavily on donations to continue their work.

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