The coronavirus has brought good news and bad news for cats and dogs.
Over the past three weeks, some 40 dogs and 25 cats have been abandoned at the gates of the country’s oldest animal shelter, the Israel Society for the Prevevntion of Cruelty to Animals, in Tel Aviv.
That, said Gadi Vitner, the shelter’s spokesman, was around 35 percent higher than during a normal month.
“I’ve been involved with this shelter since I was eight years old — now I’m nearly 50,” he said. “We’ve been through wars, through crises, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Some people abandoned their pets having read fake news that dogs and cats could transfer COVID-19. Others were losing their jobs or felt they could not cope for various reasons.
Vets have since assured the public that their pets are not vectors for the pandemic.
Over the past two days, no new furry visitors have appeared at the Tel Aviv SPCA’s doors.
At the same time, there is good news. Adoptions have rocketed, almost balancing the abandonments out, at the Tel Aviv SPCA. According to Vitner, the same time period had seen around 40 animals finding a home.
Will the current adoptions be long term?
Vitner worries that when the crisis is over, and families return to work and school, many of the animals now being adopted will be returned to the shelter.
Haya Beili, a board member and volunteer at the Jerusalem animal shelter, which, with the capacity to hold 130 dogs, is almost full, has similar concerns.
“Lots of people say they want to adopt a dog, but what they really want is a toy because they’re bored at home. We have to be very careful and I’ve turned down many people. I tell them that a dog is a commitment for 15 years and they’re surprised.”
She went on, “We haven’t seen an increase in abandoned animals. They’re abandoned all the time. People always have excuses. One of the most common is ‘I have no money.’
“My fear is that once people are really short of money [during the coronavirus period], they won’t give up on the cellphone or the TV; they’ll give up on the dog. It’s a question of priorities. That worries me a lot and it will probably increase as unemployment rises.”
Yuval Navon, who spent 20 years in hi-tech and tourism before pursuing his dream to take on an animal shelter, has been running the SPCA for Ramat Gan and the surrounding area for the past three years.
“Every time there’s a major change in routine, it’s the pets that pay,” said Navon, who shares his home with a veterinarian wife, two children, five dogs and six cats. “During the summer, they abandon them because they don’t want to pay someone to look after them when they go on vacation.
“But it is a time when adoptions are rising, and it truly is a unique period now during which new owners and families have the time to establish a relationship with a new animal.”
But he cautioned, “You may be bored, but a cat or a dog is not a toy. You can’t say, ‘Well, we’ll see how it goes.’ We are doing very careful checks with people. A dog or cat brings so much joy. But it is a long-term commitment. A cat can live for 20 years.”
Navon said that his shelter — with a capacity of up to 50 cats and dogs — puts heavy emphasis on community involvement and was currently encouraging young people to walk the dogs of elderly residents confined to their homes. “We are a community-oriented nonprofit and the situation has also generated very good things,” he said.
Donations starting to dry up
In Israel, each shelter — known in Hebrew as a Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayim — is an independent, nonprofit organization with its own approach. Some take animals from municipal pounds and try to get them adopted. Others take abandoned animals off the street. Another layer of organizations has no shelters, but tries to help with adoptions.
The Guidestar register of nonprofits in Israel lists 21 animal welfare organizations, with a combined turnover of more than NIS 43 million ($12 million) in 2018 — the latest year for which figures are available.
Vitner said NIS 12,000 ($3,365) worth of small, monthly donations had already been canceled by people who were panicked by the uncertainty, promising to renew their payments once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
“We have a monthly budget of NIS 350,000 ($98,000)” he said, “and we rely totally upon donations. It’s our oxygen supply.”
The stringent restrictions on the movement of people enacted to stem the spread of COVID-19 will also increasingly impact upon the possibility of adoption.
The Israel SPCA — which can accommodate up to 300 dogs and 70 cats — is currently a recognized “essential service,” which people who want to adopt can still visit, within the framework of the coronavirus rules. Its clinic is open around the clock, and would-be adopters come — one unit at a time — to fill in questionnaires and meet the adoption adviser.
Vitner said the organization is pressing the agriculture and health ministries to continue excluding it from harsher anti-coronavirus regulations. It is also preparing for a situation in which people will no longer be allowed to visit physically.
“Maybe we’ll do interviews by video, questionnaires by computer, and send photographs of a couple of dogs that might be suitable. Then either they’ll come to pick up or we’ll go to them.”
Navon, who said he is prepared to do “home deliveries” of pets, called Israel’s nonprofit organizations “the heart of society.”
“Once, I would argue about whether my company car would have a sun roof or not,” he said.”Today, I understand that nonprofits are the real world. They are the ones buying that extra yogurt for the pensioner who has no money. They are the ones giving shelter to the abandoned dogs. These are things that bind community, that motivate people to volunteer. I don’t publish pictures of sad dogs about to be put down, but emphasize the joy that a pet can bring. I always like to look at the glass as half-full.”
Navon’s shelter aims to find homes for cats and dogs, and to educate. “I and my volunteers lecture thousands of pupils each year,” he said. “We work with 30 groups of marginalized youth and special needs students. All that has stopped now. Many of the volunteers can’t get here because of the coronavirus restrictions on movement. Our ongoing work has taken a huge hit.
‘Nonprofits fear a fatal blow’
“This period is, and is going to have, a colossal impact on nonprofits,” Navon continued.
“Everyone’s talking about the problems of [Israel’s national airline] El Al [which has grounded its planes because of coronavirus] and other companies, and it’s true that they have problems,” he said.
“But who’s talking about the third sector on the primetime nightly news? We all fear a fatal blow.”