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With the Wichita Animal Shelter and Kansas Humane Society closed to the public because of the coronavirus outbreak, the burden has fallen on local rescue groups to get animals into foster and forever homes.

Stray animals are still being brought into the city shelter. Under normal circumstances, many would transfer over to the Humane Society, where they could be adopted out.

But since closing its doors to the public last month to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Humane Society has moved its 120 animals into foster care and is doing adoptions by appointment. Visit https://kshumane.org/ or call  316-524-9196 for info.

“Basically any dog that comes into the shelter at this point in time that is not reclaimed by their owner now has to either go to a rescue or be euthanized,” said Jessica Sherwood, head of K-9 Karma Animal Advocates in Wichita.

Her group and other licensed rescues have taken on the task of finding homes — temporary or permanent — for the dozens of animals that arrive at the shelter each week.

Wichita Animal Action League (https://waalrescue.org) has pulled at least 18 dogs in the past week, says executive director Christy Fischer; Beauties and Beasts, which focuses mostly on animals facing euthanization, says it pulled eight dogs in a 72-hour period.

“We usually place 1 to 2 dogs a week, and we help market out the other 10, 15 dogs that are at risk," says Beauties board member Kasey Breidenthal. "Now that we have all of them at risk, it's hundreds of dogs, not just 10.

“The volume has increased greatly."

Rescues from other cities and states are working with local groups and the Humane Society to pull and transport dogs from the Wichita shelter.

“We're doing the best we can to try to spread the wealth, so to speak,” Fischer said.

Compounding problem

Rescues say they aren’t seeing more animals come into the shelter, but they are seeing an increase in dumped dogs — pets left in remote fields or alleys.

Normally, the Humane Society would be able to take in some owner surrenders. The animal shelter has after-hours kennels available, but “you can't just walk in with a dog like you used to," Breidenthal said. “The process is different, and it's throwing people off.”

She says her group is also seeing an increase in the number of messages it receives from pet owners looking to surrender or re-home their pets.

“I'd love to say that we can take every single one, but that's just not a reality, unfortunately,” she said.

Adding to the number of unwanted animals: It’s also the start of puppy and kitten season, explains Fischer of the Wichita Animal Action League.

“Everyone right now is being inundated with animals,” she said. “This is already the busiest time of the year for us, and we've been getting a ton of owner surrender requests, and I know other rescues have as well.”

Fischer says many pet owners who have been furloughed or laid off might be struggling to take care of their cat or dog. Her group provides free cat and dog food for people in need, and the Humane Society is currently seeking donations of supplies to distribute to pet owners beginning this week.

“We know there is a need in our community right now for people that are unable to afford those supplies at the moment," said Humane Society spokeswoman Ericka Goering.

Fischer says there are instances where it might be impossible to keep an animal. But currently, rescue groups and the Humane Society are urging pet owners thinking of surrendering or rehoming their animal to hold off — at least until after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

"That animal is going to have a lot more options and a lot more resources, more than likely, that are able to go toward it than right now,” Fischer said.

Greatest needs

The stay-at-home order and guidances on social distancing have also created a hurdle for getting animals adopted out.

Many rescues — which take advantage of large events like parades to get in front of potential adopters — say they’ve had to get creative.

Beauties and Beasts is conducting its usual home visits over the phone; Wichita Animal Action League, which has an in-person adoption center at the now-shuttered Towne West Mall, is trying out “Feline FaceTime” to introduce its cats to interested adopters via video chats.

The Humane Society says it’s talking with fosters now to find ways to safely begin adoptions again soon.

“We still have people really interested in adopting right now,” Goering said. “We’d love to get those animals into their forever homes instead of hanging out in foster care.”

And more foster owners are still needed. Breidenthal with Beauties and Beasts says since the shelter and the Humane Societ closed, rescues have been successful in keeping any dog from being euthanized due to lack of space.

“We haven’t lost anybody so far, and we're hoping to keep it that way,” she said.

But she says she’s concerned with what might occur the longer the pandemic drags on.

“What happens three weeks from now when all these rescues and all these people have really stepped up to the plate, but now they're full?” she said. “I don't think it’s going to be a short-term thing.”

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