“We were all petting them, and that kitten stood out to us because she would come to us and climb up our legs,”  Palo Alto High School sophomore Paula Luna says. “We felt a connection with her.”

After adopting a cat from the Pets in Need animal shelter a year ago, Luna decided to adopt another one from Mexico just 4 months ago. She is just one of many who has taken in pets during the pandemic.  

Bunny bonanza 

“No matter how hard my day is, whenever I go downstairs, I just see my rabbit’s little bobbing nose, and it just makes me so happy,” Castilleja sophomore Zoe Ho says. 

Whenever Ho needs a pick-me-up, she never needs to look farther than to the faces of her three foster rabbits. She is one of many teens and their families in Palo Alto who have opened their homes to animals in need during the pandemic. 

Ho had never fostered a pet before COVID-19, yet she now takes care of three foster rabbits: Ramen, Matcha and Boba. But fostering is no small task. Ho has taken on the responsibilities of food, ‘bunny-proofing’ her home and researching the needs of a free-roam rabbit. Overall, Ho recommends the experience to other students looking for a way to help their community and escape pandemic boredom. 

“But it’s also a big commitment because you have to be willing to do your best for this animal,” Ho says. “It can’t be a half-hearted effort.”

The last outcome that shelters want is for a family to foster or adopt when they aren’t prepared. For students willing to put in the work, fostering or adopting an adorable fluffy friend from a shelter can bring love and smiles into quarantine life. 

“They are kind of like a light in my life if I feel kind of sad or hopeless,” Ho says. 

DPS adapts to the new normal

Since the pandemic, Doggie Protective Services has changed the process by which adopters meet their potential new pets. 

“When COVID struck, we had to revamp our adoption process,” Tera McCurry, executive director of DPS, says. “Now, folks have to be approved and meet one-on-one with an Adoption Counselor.” 

Thankfully, COVID restrictions did not slow fostering. 

“We went from under 50 fosters homes to onboarding more than 450 during from March to December of 2020,” McCurry says.   

Along with fostering growth as a result of the pandemic, DPS shut down their events, which meant various high school volunteers had to reimagine how to contribute.

“We have a core group of high school volunteers that are significantly involved but that really came down to them deciding they wanted to continue to participate and they made their own path,” McCurry says. “We are incredibly proud of those volunteers.” 

Even though DPS has changed some of their policies, they are still fostering and helping  dogs find a forever home. 

“Fostering is a fun and rewarding experience,” McCurry says. “It can be heart wrenching to say goodbye to a dog you’ve loved for a few weeks but also incredibly rewarding to know you made an impact on that dog’s life.”

Pets in Need

When COVID-19 hit, Pets in Need, an animal shelter in Palo Alto, was forced to reevaluate how they could continue to serve the dogs and cats in their care with uncertainty around how staff could safely come to work. Pets in Need focused on relocating all of their animals into foster homes, following the strategy established by shelters all over the country, according to Foster Manager Audra Farrell. 

“We made the push to get all the animals that traditionally would stay in the shelter out into foster care because we didn’t know when any kind of normalcy was going to come about again,” Farrell says. 

Due to the strategy’s resounding success, Pets in Need ended up receiving a surplus of foster applications.

“It’s a great thing to see people want to help,” Farrell says. “They realize that they have the time to do something that maybe they weren’t interested in doing before.” 

But the process of fostering an animal has had to change due to the pandemic. Since in-person visits are no longer feasible, interviews have to be conducted over Zoom. It has presented a unique set of obstacles, such as introducing a foster family’s dog to a shelter dog they would potentially foster. 

“Those kinds of things, obviously, still need to be done in person,” Farrell says. “Dogs don’t Zoom that well.”

Pets in Need has adapted to the new normal, but there are some things that will always hold true, especially the positive impact that finding a dog a foster home can have. 

“It saves the life of the animal you’re fostering but what it also does is it opens up space in the shelter for another animal that may need that space who may not be able to go to foster right away,” Farrell says. “It’s a win-win.”