It’s been said that we should never let a serious crisis go to waste; crises can be rare opportunities to attack old challenges in new and innovative ways.
The coronavirus crisis is providing just such an opportunity for philanthropists, the Annenberg Foundation among them. We’re aiding established programs and setting up new ones in this time of terrible need—working hard to help first responders, frontline health care workers and hospitals, and also to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry.
But there’s another area I’m very concerned about. If we pick our heads up for a moment and look ahead to the day when we can reclaim our lives, I hope this particular pandemic-era innovation will be here to stay.
Around the country, animal fostering has surged. It’s been a lifesaver, because so many animal shelters have been forced to cut staff and services. Here in Los Angeles, the county’s emergency Safer at Home order meant that the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace in Playa Vista had to place as many of our rescue animals as possible in temporary foster care as quickly as possible. Angelenos heard the call to action and opened their hearts and their homes to help keep rescue dogs and cats—among other animals—safe and secure until shelters were able to reopen.
It’s like that around the country, and there’s simply no reason to ever go back. The truth is that while “sheltering in place” may last just a few more months for humans, “fostering in place”—caring for a dog or cat until a permanent family can be found—can transform the animal adoption landscape forever. And it’s time to replace our system of crowded, resource-constrained animal shelters with a nationwide network of safe and loving temporary foster homes for rescue animals.
“But fostering is more than just a good deed. It has enormous benefits for the foster parents, too.”
For the animals, the benefits are without question. Instead of the often crowded, cramped, noisy, and stressful environments at many city and county shelters, they get to stay in safe and loving households, where they’re embraced as family. The difference is especially profound for puppies and kittens, whose immune systems are still fragile and are highly susceptible to infection in crowded shelters. To put it simply: fostering saves lives. All animals emerge healthier, happier, and in most cases, considerably more adoptable.
But fostering is more than just a good deed. It has enormous benefits for the foster parents, too. Many of them regard it as an “audition,” and they end up adopting their foster pet. This is known in the animal adoption community as “foster fail”—but I can assure you, there is no better kind of failure.
Others may be unable to adopt the pet for the long term, but welcome the fun and affection of an animal guest for a weekend, a week, a month. And it’s standard for shelters or animal centers to cover the full cost of fostering, right down to pet food and veterinary care. I defy you to find a better bargain.
Fostering can speed up the permanent adoption process as well, because if they can’t adopt the animal themselves, many of these temporary parents reach out to their own network of family and friends to find someone interested in adoption.
And don’t forget the benefits to us humans. I’ve been an animal lover all my life, and here’s what I know to be true: Our companion animals give us as much as we give them. They love us unconditionally. They keep us joyous and active and fully present. And scientific study after study has found that pets can raise our levels of oxytocin—the so-called “love hormone”—reduce our blood pressure, and extend the life expectancy of heart patients.
So let’s use the lessons we’re learning now. The hardship and dislocation of this pandemic mean that many more animals will be filling our overburdened shelter system. That’s why it’s so critical that we build on the momentum this crisis has given us and make fostering the new sheltering, once and for all.
I’m proud that Angelenos have risen to the challenge here. I plan to work with our team at PetSpace to make this the new normal and expand our developing foster program in the months to come. I urge animal lovers around the country to join me in this effort—giving all creatures the life-saving love and dignity they deserve.
Wallis Annenberg is Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, a family foundation focused on addressing the critical issues of our time for more than 30 years.
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