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Where your pets fit into COVID-19 crisis | Victoria Shroff

Monday, March 23, 2020 @ 2:54 PM | By Victoria Shroff

Last Updated: Monday, March 30, 2020 @ 2:47 PM

Victoria Shroff %>
Victoria Shroff
Health and well-being of humans is interrelated with our family pets and should be addressed. It’s a troubling time for humans, but animals are also impacted by COVID-19’s world rampage.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 panic, some animal shelters were full to bursting as some people were needlessly abandoning their pets due to fears of COVID-19 even though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) made it clear that COVID-19 is spreading from human to human and not from contact with animals. Over the past month I’ve had mixed reports about adoptions and fostering. At some shelters across Canada, pet adoptions have been suspended during the pandemic and the volunteer workforce has been sent home, yet in other shelters, online adoptions and fostering have been very effective in getting animals out of shelters and into homes. I’m pleased to hear that animal fostering and adoption numbers have increased with folks wanting a pet for company while self quarantined, but my animal welfare concern is that the situation should be lasting and not temporary; i.e., once the person returns to work and then tries to return the animal. Uprooting animals is very hard on them. Their welfare should be paramount. A pet is not just a convenient COVID-19 buddy, he or she should be yours for life.

As of March 19, most shelters are only accepting emergency surrenders of animals. Sadly, some people will simply abandon their pets. It happens. Cruelty or abuse complaints have fortunately not been suspended, and investigations are still being taken with exposure measures in place for officers. Please don’t add to the COVID-19 crisis by failing your own pet and do report abuse or an animal in distress if you see it.

Most provincial animal cruelty statutes, aside from abuse and neglect define “distress” as when an animal is deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, light, space, care or vet treatment, kept in unsanitary conditions, excessive cold or heat and is injured, sick, in pain or suffering.

I am neither a vet nor an epidemiologist. I’m an animal law lawyer and educator, I work for animals every day in Vancouver on their legal problems but I also care deeply about their well-being. I am continuing to work with my animal law clients via phone during the pandemic on a reduced schedule. My pet has put in a few quirky cameo appearances during video consults. If you’re working from home like me, those of you who also have pets at home may now see them as sleeping partners or furry colleagues, or maybe that’s just me.

To adjust and prepare myself and my furry family member during this pandemic, I researched current information from reliable sources about family pets and COVID-19.

First, some key facts from medical experts about pets and the COVID-19  virus: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC noted that they have not received reports of pets or other animals coming down with COVID-19 virus: “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19. However, since animals can spread other diseases to people, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after being around animals. For more information on the many benefits of pet ownership, as well as staying safe and healthy around animals including pets, livestock, and wildlife, visit CDC’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People website.”

According to animal health experts, COVID-19 is primarily a human to human transmitted virus. Since the outbreak began at the end of December 2019, two dogs worldwide have been found to have signs of SARS-CoV-2 but there is no clear indication that the dogs became sick with COVID-19 or showed any symptoms of the virus according to experts. “Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. Human outbreaks are driven by person to person contact,” states the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare,” according to the OIE Questions and Answers on COVID-19.In parts of Asia and Europe animals were abandoned or dumped following news reports of the first dog testing weak positive for COVID-19.

Most recently, a cat in Belgium tested positive for COVID-19, but vets in that case stated it’s extemely rare and it was a human to animal transmission, not the other way around. This fits with advice provided by medical experts that an infected person should limit or avoid contact with their pets and have someone else step in to care for the animal.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they spread it to other animals, including people. If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you normally would. … Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.”  

The WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) global veterinary community — an association of some 200,000 veterinarians globally — also states that there currently is no evidence that your companion animal can be infected with COVID-19.

We are all readjusting to a temporary new normal, but there’s no need to panic about your furry family member according to disease experts. Please, under no circumstances should you ever abandon, compromise or neglect your animals in any way. It’s wrong and it’s also against the law.

Ensure you have enough food on hand to feed your four-legged family member. Factor in their welfare as well when you get supplies to last you for two to three weeks. If you’re not going out, food and provisions can also be delivered to your home. (Personally, I’ve been provisioning for a few neighbours and it’s simple enough to drop off human and pet food at someone’s front door.)

While it is important to include your dog or cat as part of your emergency preparedness planning generally, this does not mean hoarding pet food like toilet paper. It means having a reasonable amount of extra food and other needed supplies, enough to keep on hand to for your pet for a two-to-three week period. Same goes for any medication that your pet may need.

Most veterinary clinics are limiting operations, but still open.

As provinces declare states of emergency it is critical that vet clinics stay open as an essential service for Canadian animals. Animals need and deserve health care.

“Veterinarians are an essential service and ... we are the health care provider for thousands of animals across Canada, and it’s absolutely critical that we continue to both administer medical care as needed as well as ensure supplies of medication to pet owners across Canada,” stated Dr. Ian Sandler veterinarian and member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

I would further add that pet food should also be readily accessible for all animals and that would entail keeping pet stores open as an essential service as well.

Phone your vet right away if you have any concerns about your pet and seek medical guidance if you are unsure. Some vet clinics are asking for pets to be dropped off at the door and the human to wait outside.

Ideally, have someone else in your house feed or care for your pet if you are infected. Web MD echoes this information on its website. If possible, it’s a good idea to connect with a neighbour or friend now, in case you get hospitalized and cannot care for your animal. Your relationship with your pet is symbiotic, companion animals are good for your immune system and great at keeping your spirits up.

Bottom line: be prepared to care for your pet during COVID-19 and figure out if you need help. Animals are your furry family members and they’re counting on you.

V. Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law civil litigation for 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates (604-891-0209). She is also erstwhile adjunct professor of law at the Peter Allard School of Law at UBC and has lectured internationally from India to Galiano Island and is frequently interviewed by media. She was recently honoured by the International Society for Animal Rights with a SEEDS award for her animal law work. Follow her at @shroffanimallaw or on LinkedIn.

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