FORT WAYNE — Pets may not be able to carry the COVID-19 virus, but Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control is still encouraging people to practice the same social distancing with their cats and dogs to help mitigate spread of the illness.

“Just think of it as if you were to cough on a sweatshirt or something, and then you give that to someone and they put it on. The germs are on that sweatshirt. If you cough on or around your animals and it goes over to someone, and they start loving on them, it can be passed that way,” said Holly Pasquinelli, community relations and education specialist for Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. “It’s advised that people who are sick or believe they are sick to keep distance from their animals just like they would the people in their home.”

Like schools and local businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on local animal shelters. Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control told residents March 16 that the shelter was already operating near capacity. Due to social distancing and more people opting to stay home, the shelter anticipated a decrease in adoptions, causing space to fill up quickly. As an open-access shelter, Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control cannot turn animals away, which means euthanizing would-be pets to free up space for animals coming in.

“The biggest thing is we need to drastically slow the flow of animals coming into our shelter, since we don’t know what the next few days or weeks hold. It’s a fluid situation for everyone across the board,” Pasquinelli said.

Anyone taking their pets outdoors is encouraged to make sure the animal is wearing a collar with identification. In the event the animal is separated from its owner, contact information ensures the animal is returned to its owner directly before spending time in the shelter. Owners are also encouraged to make sure any microchip information is up to date and accurate.

“Do everything you can to prevent your animals from coming into the shelter,” Pasquinelli said. “And for people who are thinking about surrendering their animals, we are highly encouraging them to reconsider, at least for a few weeks until we can get back up to normal operations. If you can keep it a little bit longer, please do. If you need help with resources, contact us. We will do everything we can to help keep that pet in its home with you for as long as we possibly can.”

Although the shelter anticipated fewer adoptions last week, it experienced typical numbers March 17. A total of 19 dogs were returned to their owners, and 13 animals were adopted.

“We are near capacity, but with yesterday’s outcome of 19 dogs going back to their owners and 13 animals adopted, that definitely helps,” Pasquinelli said March 18. “We did still have animals coming in today, but we’re doing OK. At the moment, we’re not having to pull animals for space or do anything else.”

The shelter announced March 17 that it would waive adoption fees in an effort to free up space. However, the adoption process has slowed due to the implementation of social distancing to protect the health of guests, staff and volunteers.

“For anyone planning on coming here, it’s going to take a little bit longer,” Pasquinelli said. “If there’s somebody in front of a few people, they will have to wait until we’re done helping that person and they leave the building. We’re trying to keep it to groups of 10 or fewer on either side of our building, including our employees. We’re asking everyone to be a little bit further apart, which could mean you have to wait outside for a few minutes or in your car.”

Services will still be provided for lost and found pets, but some shelter guests may be asked to wait outside. “Only serious adopters” will be able to enter the building, according to Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control’s website. Anyone with respiratory symptoms, fever or possible exposure to COVID-19 have been asked not to enter the building. If you have questions about services, you can contact the shelter at 260-427-1244.

“We’re just bracing ourselves and doing what we can to get animals out of our shelter,” Pasquinelli said.

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