It’s the dog days of summer, indeed.
After being forced to halt many operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, ACCT Philly has reopened once again. Located at 111 West Hunting Park Ave., the shelter is implementing many new safety measures and procedures to ensure the wellbeing of their staff and the public.
“Some of our services look a little different—of course, we’re doing social distancing and making sure everyone is protected,” said ACCT executive director Aurora Velazquez. “Unfortunately, we’re contending with severe budget cuts, so things are evolving and we’re making tweaks to the process. But we are back up and running and all of our services are available.”
Velazquez explained that most client interactions have now become appointment-based, so staff can better manage the amount of people entering the building. Masks are mandatory and obvious practices like using hand sanitizer and practicing social distancing are required.
People interested in adopting can peruse available animals online—there are approximately 200 animals currently looking for homes—then make an appointment. Most adoption counseling is now conducted over the phone as well, and if a person finds the right match, then he or she can come in to meet the animal in person. It’s a slightly altered way of matching animals with potential new owners, but in the age of coronavirus, it helps ensure everyone’s safety.
“It’s all about making good matches while minimizing people’s time in the shelter,” said Velazquez.
PHILLY STEPS UP
During the height of the pandemic, as many Philadelphians were forced to stay home, the dire situation did provide an unexpected silver lining for ACCT. The shelter, which is usually at max capacity during the summer months, was emptied to about 25% thanks to an influx of support from the community. In fact, ACCT first publicized a need for animal foster care in March and within 10 days, the organization received more than 1,200 applications from potential foster homes.
“We had so much support. They really showed up for us—as adopters, fosters—people worked with us to keep animals out of the shelter,” said Velazquez. “People who never fostered for us before, they were there for us. We were able to clear out the shelter—dogs, cats, anything you can think of—and so many of those animals were adopted to their forever homes right from foster.”
ACCT is hoping to keep that momentum going and is encouraging animals lovers throughout the Philadelphia area to consider fostering and/or adoption. Now could be the perfect time since most people are staying home due to the pandemic and have extra time on their hands. Also, the summer months are the most challenging for ACCT—it is their busiest time of year and because of the current heat wave, animals will be much more comfortable in a home.
“There’s no better time to do it then now. Even the best animal shelter can be a stressful, abnormal place for an animal to be,” Velazquez explained. “So it’s such a better solution for animals to be fostered and it really engages people in the work we’re doing, so it’s a win-win.”
Community engagement has been a priority for ACCT, especially since the coronavirus forced the organization to reevaluate its daily operations during these difficult times. Building relationships with potential volunteers and foster families is vital to ACCT’s mission and something the organization has embraced through its programming.
A NEW APPROACH
One of ACCT’s fairly new programs, Pet BnB, was implemented as an innovative way for lost pets to find their owners and if that is not possible, find a new home. When people find a lost or stray animal, many times their instinct is to take that animal to a shelter—which many times is the right thing to do—however, ACCT is adding a helpful step to that process.
“Some of the animals they are finding might live down the street or the next block over, so we’re asking people, if you found this cat, would you be interested in fostering for the short term? We’re happy to provide all supplies to set them up,” Velazquez explained. “We encourage them to get the word out, post on social media and then hopefully make those matches and get that pet home without bringing the animal to the shelter.
“It’s a win-win—helps animals and also gets people involved with ACCT and builds a relationship,” she added. “Maybe those people will become fosters or volunteers. It’s really all about relationships. We learned there’s so much potential and capacity in the community and we want to maximize that. How can we connect with more people and get them involved?”
ACCT is working to support the community as well through its Pet Pantry initiative, which serves pet-owners in need who may not be able to afford pet food and supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Traditionally, Pet Pantry was held twice a month and offered struggling pet owners free food and supplies. It was an in-person event that usually served about 100 people. However, since the pandemic, Pet Pantry has transitioned to appointment only, but still helps those in need. Participants can sign up online and make an appointment, then pick up their needed supplies, whether it’s food, cat litter or treats.
“When the pandemic hit, we knew having 50 people waiting in line was not an option. And we knew we needed to do more. So, we changed that to a daily, by-appointment model,” Velazquez said. “We are able to double our capacity, serving about 200 families every month, but the need is even greater than that. With additional donations, we can serve more people.
“Families shouldn’t be in a position to decide if they need to give up their pet if they can’t afford food. If we can relieve that pressure, that’s really important to us,” she added.
ACCT is always looking for donations, both monetary and also pet supplies. Donations can be dropped off at the shelter, or shipped directly through an Amazon Wish List. And of course, the organization is always seeking foster families and forever families to help animals find a happy home.
“I recommend generally people think about what kind of a pet would be a good match for their lifestyle. Be open to possibilities and ask questions,” said Velazquez. “The shelter has resources to help you make an adoption successful. It’s a big commitment and it can be scary, but it’s not an endeavor that people are doing alone. There’s a whole community behind them.”
For more information about ACCT’s programming or to foster or adopt an animal, visit www.acctphilly.org.