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Fostering pets is helping some better cope with the pandemic

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.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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.

  • Shannon Lorraine:

    These guys have given us definitely a daily mission.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    This is a Calico cat named "Hillie." She has a litter of five, four-week-old kittens.

  • Shannon Lorraine:

    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.

  • Josephine Lorraine:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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?

  • Shannon Lorraine:

    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.

  • Risa Weinstock:

    We'll rely on that network of people who want to foster.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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.

  • Risa Weinstock:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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.

  • Philip Tedeschi:

    Well, It doesn't surprise me that shelters are seeing people really interested in fostering right now.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    Philip Tedeschi is a social worker and Executive Director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver.

  • Philip Tedeschi:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    Tedeschi points out that loneliness was a huge issue — even before the novel coronavirus.

  • Philip Tedeschi:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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.

  • Philip Tedeschi:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    So her being that passed out right behind me is actually serving a function for my own mental health?

  • Philip Tedeschi:

    It literally changes your physiology, and your emotions.

  • Kaitlyn Standfest:

    This is Tootsie roll.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    Kaitlyn Standfest has had anxiety for years. She decided to take in Tootsie, a pitbull mix, when she saw ACC's plea for help.

  • Kaitlyn Standfest:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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.

  • Kaitlyn Standfest:

    She likes it!

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    What do you think your life would be like right now without Tootsie?

  • Kaitlyn Standfest:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    Weinstock told us about Jennifer Arnold, who showed symptoms of COVID-19 last month.

  • Risa Weinstock:

    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.

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    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?

  • Kaitlyn Standfest:

    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?

  • Kaitlyn Standfest:

    I've adopted her!

  • Melanie Saltzman:

    And as for Shannon and Josephine Lorraine, they say they can't keep all six of their foster cats.

  • Shannon Lorraine:

    But I can't imagine not keeping one. We've grown very attached.

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