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How Shelters Are Dealing With Shelter-In-Place

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East Bay SPCA plays Matchmaker.

Bay Area shelters and dog rescues are currently closed to the public. So, what’s happening with all the unhoused dogs? Turns out, shelters are getting creative. 

In previous times, you know, before coronavirus, if you wanted to adopt a rescue dog, you’d search Petfinder or go to a shelter. You’d meet a bunch of pups, fall in love with the one who jumped in your lap and maybe you’d return a few times before deciding. But, like journalism — which as you can hear is now conducted largely over Zoom — all that has changed. 

As soon as the shelter in place was announced, Muttville, a senior dog rescue in San Francisco, realized that they needed to close their volunteer-run facility and find foster homes for all the rescues. 

"We found foster homes for all 86 dogs within 48 hours," explains Sherri Franklin, Muttville's founder and CEO.

Then Sherri and her team had to figure out if they were gonna continue their adoption program: "And we ultimately decided that we would continue to do safe, no contact adoptions. Because really the outpouring of support from our, you know, basic community around here was, 'Hey I want to help.'"

"You know how everybody was panic buying on Amazon? We panic-adopted a senior dog." — Beth Kanter, whose family adopted Tigger

Muttville has seen a 300 percent increase in applications for adoption. "In fact, because we have so many applicants, we're really, we have to screen the applicants because there's not enough dogs to go around," adds Sherri. 

"You know how everybody was panic buying on Amazon. I said, we panic-adopted a senior dog," says Beth Kanter, whose family passed Muttville’s screening.

Beth is an author, speaker, virtual facilitator, and trainer in the non-profit world. And now, she's the proud mama of Tigger.

Tigger is adorable. But why did Beth and her family decide to adopt now? "My kids who are 18 and 20, they've been wanting a dog forever. And then when all this came down, I said, 'Oh, this would be a really good thing to do since this is now the coworking college dormitory,'" explains Beth. "I thought it could be a good bribe to empty the dishwasher."

But how do you choose a dog virtually and then adopt while staying six feet away from another human being?

The first step in the adoption process is to go to the Muttville website and look at the available dogs. And then they set up a virtual adoption meeting. Beth was impressed because Tigger's foster mom was eighty years old "and she knew how to use FaceTime on an iPad...flawlessly."

"So we interviewed her and she did all the, you know, put the camera on the dog and we got a real sense of his personality and we said, 'Yeah, let's do it,'" says Beth.

Beth and her family then met Sherri at a park halfway between San Jose and San Francisco. Everybody wore a mask — except for the dog. Sherri handed over Tigger and a plastic bag filled with all kinds of doggie necessities. 

"I was spraying it with Lysol anyway," notes Beth. "And we gave air hugs and we brought him home. Tigger’s been amazing. He's a really sweet dog. And our family's really grateful that we got him." 

Muttville isn’t the only shelter that’s seeing an uptick in adoptions and fosters. I contacted a half-dozen of them throughout the Bay Area. And every single one has seen a huge increase in interest. But all the shelters are closed to the public. So like Muttville, they’ve had to find new ways to do it.

The East Bay SPCA has come up with a particularly clever solution inspired by the hit Netflix dating show: "Love is Blind." And that's what attracted Alison Smith, a yoga teacher who lives alone and is "recently-ish divorced." 

Alison had been wanting to adopt a dog for a long time — practically since her last pup passed. And then shelter in place began. "And all of a sudden it was like, I had this great opportunity to do a lot of training and really, you know, be forced to never leave it."

"You can see a picture of a cute puppy and have no idea what its personality is like. And I think it's really easy to get attached to an idea of a dog based on its picture. Kind of like online dating. Right?" — Alison Smith, yoga teacher and Juniper's mom

So, she turned to East Bay SPCA and their "Love Is Blind" approach to adopting. "I like the idea of matchmaking," she explains. "You can see a picture of a cute puppy and actually I have no idea what its personality is like. And I think it's really easy to get attached to an idea of a dog based on its picture. Kind of like online dating. Right?" Right.

She sent in an application and two days later, a woman from the shelter called. "And she was like, 'I might have a match.' And then she interviewed me. And then she told me about the dog and asked, 'Does that sound like it might be a good fit?' And I was like, I hadn't even seen a picture of the dog at this point in time. I'm like, yeah.

Alison's first impression: "She was adorable. She ran into a room and like jumped into my lap. And so, it kind of solidified that, that this would be a good match."

There was only one problem: the dog's name. "She's being renamed to Juniper," says Alison. The dog's given name? Jigglypuff, after a Pokemon character.

Alison notes that "the dog I brought home, I would probably wouldn't have inquired about her cause she was a little older than the type of dogs I normally adopt. But that's actually been great."

It’s only been a day since Alison brought Juniper home, but they’re already bonding. "She's definitely like a full-on lap dog. Like she's sitting on my lap right now. And it feels really comforting. I think like all of us, there's so much uncertainty that it's really easy to get spun out and in whirlpools of anxiety or fear. And it has been really nice to have something to, you know, to just take my mind off of it."

Alison will be able to take Juniper to her yoga studio. And Beth, who you met before, works from home. But what about folks who will have to go back to an office after shelter in place is over? Sherri from Muttville has already thought of that.

"First off, we are going to be sending out a how to...because all of our dogs, including mine, they're all going to have a significant change when all of a sudden we all go back to work," says Sherri. "The other thing is: Muttville has been proactive in really talking to each adopter about the commitment they're making and how they're going to deal with it so that we can make sure that Muttville dogs anyway will have a better chance of staying in their adoptive homes."

Karalyn Aronow from East Bay SPCA, who helped facilitate the match between Alison and Juniper, believes that it’s ok if a dog is returned. The time spent in another environment is still a welcomed break from the stresses of shelter life. And I think we can all relate to that.

David Boyer is the managing editor of KALW News. He is also the producer/host of the Murrow Award winning podcast THE INTERSECTION, which looks at our changing cities, one street corner at a time. Past seasons focussed on an intersection in the middle of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, an intersection in the middle of Google’s Mountain View campus and conceptual intersections at 2019’s Burning Man.