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Thousands of New Yorkers have responded to pleas from animal shelters looking to find homes for pets amid the COVID-19 crisis. And it turns out, fostering animals also has emotional and physical health benefits for the humans taking care of them, especially during self-isolation. Newshour Weekend’s Melanie Saltzman reports.
Roughly six and a half million dogs and cats enter American shelters each year, where the goal is to find people to adopt them, or at the very least foster them until permanent homes can be found. That's suddenly become a little easier at some shelters. NewsHour Weekend's Melanie Saltzman has the story.
Shannon and Josephine Lorraine have gotten into a pretty regular routine these days. Mom Shannon works remotely in the kitchen, while Josephine prefers the office, where she can be closer to her new friends.
These guys have given us definitely a daily mission.
This is a Calico cat named "Hillie." She has a litter of five, four-week-old kittens.
I think anxiety can really make your head go in circles with thoughts, and when is this going to end, and what's going to happen with school. We just come in here and hold one of them, it feels like that place you can come in, and ignore everything.
I wish everyone could have a litter of kittens in their house during quarantine. Any feeling that you have, if you go in here, it just makes everything a hundred times better.
But the Lorraines might not have these cats forever. Right now they're fostering them.
Why are you fostering now, especially a whole litter of kittens and their mom?
It just felt like it gave us something to focus on. Taking on this project as a mom and daughter, together, we've really had a fun time.
We'll rely on that network of people who want to foster.
Risa Weinstock is the President of Animal Care Centers, or ACC, of New York City. Its shelters take in and find homes for more than 25,000 animals each year — housing at least a few hundred at any given time.
In anticipation of this crisis, we wanted to get as many animals out as possible, and immediately put out a call on social media for foster. And in the last three weeks, the number of applications has soared to 5,000.
They focused on foster families because they're much easier to find than those who will commit to adoption. And ACC says most of its cages are empty now because it's found at least temporary homes for 320 animals in the last month.
Well, It doesn't surprise me that shelters are seeing people really interested in fostering right now.
Philip Tedeschi is a social worker and Executive Director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver.
They're some of the most reliable relationships we have. And in this time, when we're required to be distant from one another, they're playing a particularly relevant role in helping us manage isolation, and loneliness.
Tedeschi points out that loneliness was a huge issue — even before the novel coronavirus.
Loneliness and isolation is the single most dangerous mental health condition that we treat in the United States. It's about as dangerous as being a chronic cigarette smoker for, in terms of lethality.
Tedeschi cites numerous studies that have found an association between pet ownership and a wide range of health benefits.
He says research shows that pet owners exercise more, have fewer doctor visits and sleep better. And emotionally, pets help increase self-esteem, and decrease stress and feelings of loneliness.
Looking at your cat in the background, who is having a nice nap right at the moment. When we see another living being, who is able to relax, we're also able to relax.
So her being that passed out right behind me is actually serving a function for my own mental health?
It literally changes your physiology, and your emotions.
This is Tootsie roll.
Kaitlyn Standfest has had anxiety for years. She decided to take in Tootsie, a pitbull mix, when she saw ACC's plea for help.
I think especially because I do live by myself. I think she definitely provides that sense of structure, which I think is really, really important during a time like this.
Every day, Standfest and Tootsie wake up for a feeding, then take a long walk together. In the afternoon, Tootsie keeps Standfest company as she works. After work, they catch up with family online.
She likes it!
What do you think your life would be like right now without Tootsie?
I am honestly kind of surprised at how much it's helped having her around. I've definitely thought about where I would be if I didn't have her. And I don't think it's anywhere super great.
As important as pets are to their owners during the pandemic, Weinstock says owners need to be ready with a plan, in case they are no longer able to physically care for their animals.
Weinstock told us about Jennifer Arnold, who showed symptoms of COVID-19 last month.
We got a call from a family member who said that their sister was in the hospital and she had two cats. And there was no one to care for them. So our chief veterinarian went into the home and set up those two cats with self-feeders. But unfortunately, the woman didn't make it.
Those cats ended up in a neighbor's home who is helping find adoptive families. And as for what's going to happen to some animals currently in foster homes, after the pandemic has subsided?
With this whole pandemic going on, my silver lining I guess is that I did get to foster her and she came into my life. I can't imagine her ever leaving my home or ever not being mine. So yeah. This is my girl.
Melanie Saltzman So you've adopted her?
I've adopted her!
And as for Shannon and Josephine Lorraine, they say they can't keep all six of their foster cats.
But I can't imagine not keeping one. We've grown very attached.
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Melanie Saltzman reports, shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of issues including public health, the environment and international affairs. In 2017 she produced two stories for NewsHour’s “America Addicted” series on the opioid epidemic, traveled to the Marshall Islands to report on climate change, and went to Kenya and Tanzania to focus on solutions-based reporting. Melanie holds a BA from New York University and an MA in Journalism from Northwestern University, where she was a McCormick National Security Fellow. In 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in Berlin, Germany.
Laura Fong shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of topics, including U.S. politics, education, the arts and urban transit. She also covers breaking news for the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. Before joining NewsHour Weekend, Laura worked on the first three seasons of the CNN documentary series "Inside Man" with Morgan Spurlock. Through Teach for America, Laura taught first grade for two years in Houston. She has a B.A. in electronic media from the University of Oregon.
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