Furry friends find forever homes amid pandemic

Volunteer Renee Focht sits with "Chocolate" a ten-year-old pit bull available at the Castaic Animal Care Center in Castaic on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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As stay-at-home restrictions left Santa Clarita Valley residents quarantined, the number of animal adoptions surged.

“We are very blessed in the county right now that all the facilities are low, which means a lot of people have been adopting, a lot of rescues have been pulling (animals out of the care center), so that’s a great thing,” said Brenda Beougher, a supervisor, or SPC, at the Castaic Animal Care Center.

Even so, much has changed through the pandemic, including the center’s volunteers, who have been limited, only allowed to go in every couple of days due to the safety precautions put in place. Volunteers Terra Dispirito and Leigh Geraghty agree that things have been very different. 

“Some of us are doing special projects, trying to find ways to give our time to the community differently,” Geraghty said, “but it’s been hard. (The shelter is) where I would go after I had a long day at work.” 

While the Public Health protocols put in place changed the way many things were done at the care center, officials believe their “new normal” still has some benefits. 

Animal Care and Control Sergeant Cesar Chavez displays the nearly 50 empty cat kennels at the Los Angeles County Animal Care Center in Castaic on Friday, May 08, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Animal adoptions

With restrictions still in place, the care center is open to the public by appointment only, so those looking to adopt an animal must first visit the center’s website to view available animals.

“If they see an animal that they’re interested in adopting, they would call in,” Beougher said. “If it’s not available, we would place their name on a list, and at that point, we would call them back when it’s available.”

If unable to get through, as the center has been inundated with calls, Dispirito suggests private messaging the center on social media for additional help. 

At the appointment, potential adopters would have an allotted time to visit and interact with the animal. 

“If they needed more time than the time that was allotted, we could reschedule them to come back to do the adoption,” Beougher added.

Winter, a 2-year-old Siberian Husky, kisses Animal Control Officer Harmon at Castaic Animal Care Center. Courtesy of the Castaic Animal Care Center

Social media’s assistance

“Out of all the care centers, we have a great team,” Dispirito said.

Though limited, staff and volunteers have been working hard to keep the center’s social media active, working together to post animals that are available for adoption.

“(Volunteers) were doing a great job before with networking our animals, but now more than ever, that approach has been showing that it’s very successful,” said Carlos Pineda, the center’s manager. “We’re able to make connections because of the tools that we have available.” 

“Without social media, a lot of our animals would still be in the care center, but with social media, we’re able to network to a wider variety of people,” Beougher added.

Social media has also become a resource for lost pets, with a number of Facebook groups in the SCV dedicated to locating missing animals, as well as Shadow, a free app used by the county that works to reunite lost pets.

A two-month-old Siamese cat available at the Castaic Animal Care Center in Castaic on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

An expanded foster program

“Usually, the only way to foster was if you were already a volunteer within the county and it would be for, say an injured or unweaned animal to nurse them back into health,” Beougher said.

Now, the department has opened its foster program to the community, allowing anyone to apply to foster an animal temporarily until it is placed into its forever home.

“So, if somebody finds a stray animal, and they’re willing to hold on to it, we are pushing towards that,” Beougher added. “It could be in a warm, loving home, while we try to either get it back with its owner or in a new home.”

While spring is usually kitten season, meaning the center sees an influx of cats, Geraghty says this year has been unique due to the pandemic.

“It’s created a kitten frenzy,” Geraghty said, chuckling. “Normally, you couldn’t place a commitment to adopt without coming to the center, but now within 10 minutes of them going into the system, they’re completely gone.” 

Volunteer Renee Focht walks a three-year-old Dachshund/Welsh Corgi mix available at the Castaic Animal Care Center in Castaic on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Surrendering an animal

“Because of COVID, we’re doing a better job of asking the right questions to help keep animals in their homes,” Geraghty said.

Through the pandemic, the center has been working hard to change the public’s perception of surrendering animals, according to Beougher.

“The last thing we want is people to surrender their animals, so we are trying to offer plenty of resources for owners,” she added. “For example, if they can’t afford food, we do have food that we can give out. If they’re looking for medical treatment, we can reach out to the local vets and see if there are services they can provide for them at a lower cost.”

While the goal is to keep an animal in its home, if all resources have been exhausted and an animal still needs to be surrendered, it can be done by appointment. 

“I really like how we’re approaching things, and I believe we were doing this all along, but we’re working extra hard at this,” Geraghty said.  

“Chocolate” a ten-year-old pit bull available at the Castaic Animal Care Center in Castaic on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Coming back to a ‘new normal’

“All of our lives have been impacted, and the ability to to open our care centers and just allow people to congregate here is going to be difficult,” Pineda said. “We have to be prudent.” 

Now, as volunteers have begun to return to the center, able to walk the dogs and play with the cats, officials are starting to look towards new ways of doing things, such as virtual-based adoption events.

Adoption fees have been waived through the month of July at all L.A. County Animal Care Centers. Adopters must still pay license fee and trust deposit.

The Castaic Animal Care Center is located at 31044 Charlie Canyon Road in Castaic. For more information, visit animalcare.lacounty.gov, call 661-257-3191 or follow them on social media @castaicanimalslaco.

Animal Control Officer Harmon holds a 6-month-old bunny at Castaic Animal Care Center. Courtesy of the Castaic Animal Care Center

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