The impact of COVID-19 on animal shelters in Salt Lake County


“When push comes to shove, if there’s a major emergency, the community is willing to step up, especially here in Salt Lake,” Guinnevere Shuster said.

But what do you do with homeless animals in a pandemic?

Shuster is the associate director of marketing and communications at the Utah Humane Society located at 4242 S. 300 West in Murray, Utah. In an interview over Zoom, she described its experience during the pandemic.

“We put a call out for foster families to just come take all of our animals, and we had a great response to that,” Shuster said. “We were able to place many of our animals into foster homes.”

According to Shelter Animal Counts, there was a downtrend of adoptions in Utah during March and April 2020, followed by a large spike during the subsequent months. Shuster was able to explain this.

After fostering, many families “did end up keeping the dogs or the cats and a big part of that was, you know, it gave them an opportunity to kind of foster to adopt,” Shuster said. “They got to know the animal.”

Temma Martin, the public relations specialist at Best Friends Animal Society Utah, located at 2005 S. 1100 East in Salt Lake City, shared its experience placing animals in foster homes as well.

“In 2020, through Dec. 24, nearly 5,000 animals were placed in foster homes, and 3,050 were adopted, compared to 2,740 foster placements and 2,514 adoptions in 2019,” Martin said in an email interview.

There was not a large amount of surrenders during the pandemic, which may come as a surprise. This was in part due to the Utah Humane Society’s Pet Retention Program and Best Friends Animal Society Utah’s donations.

The outdoor clinic check-in at the Utah Humane Society in Murray, Utah. Photo by Sorina Trauntvein.

The Utah Humane Society asked those considering surrender to consider other options. Its program offered “resources to keep the pet, whether that be food or some basic vet care,” Shuster explained.

Both the Utah Humane Society and Best Friends Animal Society Utah offer adoption clinics, spay and neuter and a pet food pantry. These programs promote pet retention and helped Salt Lake County citizens during the pandemic.

Best Friends Animal Society Utah requested donations during March 2020 in order to keep up with the high demand for animal necessities.

“We receive a lot of our animals through transfer programs from other organizations. Some of them are local, some of them are in rural parts of Utah. And then we also receive animals from states that are just overburdened with their homeless pet population problem,” Shuster said.

Transfers from other shelters had been temporarily suspended during part of 2020, which meant “it was a little tough for some people to find, you know, the animals they wanted to adopt during the pandemic,” Shuster said.

Abby Buttars with their cat, Henry; he loves cuddling and reminding people to wear their masks. Photo courtesy of Abby Buttars.

Abby Buttars adopted their cat, Henry, from the Utah Humane Society in June 2020. The process had changed, but shelters were still doing everything in their power to put the right pets with the right people.

“I decided to just look on the humane society website and I saw his picture and had to have him,” Buttars said in an interview over Instagram. “So they had me do a phone interview to kinda see if I would be a responsible owner, and then they had me do a Zoom with him and his foster family. Then they set me up with a time for me to come pick him up!”

Appointment-based adoptions were an early change after March 2020, and they’re still in effect now. If you’re interested in adoption, you can make an appointment for Best Friends Animal Society Utah here or Utah Humane Society here.

“Making appointments for certain things has really worked out for the better for our staff and the flow of the animals as they come in through our shelter,” Shuster said.

During quarantine, many people adopted pets because they were home more often and needed to combat loneliness.

The check-in table at the Utah Humane Society, requesting visitors to wear a mask and sanitize their hands before interacting with any animals. Photo by Sorina Trauntvein.

“He definitely changed my life for the better. He’s helped me feel less alone during the pandemic,” Buttars said.

Adoption and fostering went somewhat smoothly during the pandemic, but it was not shelters’ only concerns.

The majority of publicly available purchases were donated to the shelters, such as food, bowls and beds. Necessary items for the clinics were in short supply, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), medication and pet-specialized first aid supplies.

“Especially we saw this in our clinic, where PPE, and that kind of stuff was all going to the hospitals, making sure that our hospitals had enough to take care of their human population, which is just as important,” Shuster said. “So we did have to slow some of our services that we offer to the community, which in our clinic is spay and neuter and vaccinations.”

Those services are running again now, but the supply chain shortage was difficult at the beginning. Utah Humane Society expects that to continue in the foreseeable future.

“There’s also things that we don’t receive as donations, like drugs that we use in our clinic. And we’ve seen supply shortages on those too, in some of these drugs. While there’s other options that we can use, there’s a big cost difference between some of them,” Shuster explained.

As coronavirus continues to wind down, there are still needs that can be filled by those living in Salt Lake County.

“Individuals can help by choosing to adopt pets from shelters or rescue groups,” said Martin, with Best Friends Animal Society Utah. “Other important ways to help are by fostering, choosing to spay/neuter pets, donating, volunteering and spreading the word about animal welfare needs.