Animal Services Making Changes as Part of National Coalition

Rochester Animal Services (RAS) has implemented new programs and adjusted services as part of its COVID19 response plan to keep pets with the people who love them, even in challenging times. Many of the adjustments are intended to be components of the organization’s “new norm” to better serve the community. The focus is on supporting pet owners, being a resource for the community, keeping families together and keeping healthy animals out of the shelter.

While making these COVID-related changes, RAS was selected to be part of a national initiative called Human Animal Support Services (HASS) that involves implementing a new range of services for pets and people in pilot cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. The focus of HASS is on helping more animals stay in their homes and communities and reducing the number entering the shelter system. 

“We have been doing a lot of community-based, supportive work in underserved neighborhoods for the past several years but we know we can do better when it comes to getting pets home and keeping them with their families and communities, and now we’ll have more support behind us to further develop these services,” says RAS Director, Christopher Fitzgerald. “We are asking pet owners who may be considering surrendering their pets to consider other options. Visit our website or call us at 585-428-7274 to explore resources for keeping pets or rehoming them directly without turning them into the shelter.”

The Human Animal Support Services (HASS) idea emerged during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought shelters from across the nation together to talk about how they could continue to operate even during shutdowns. In response to the pandemic, Rochester Animal Services, like so many other organizations, asked the community for help.

“We needed to move animals out of the shelter and into foster homes because we did not know if we would be inundated with pets from households where owners were being hospitalized or if our workforce would be impacted if employees became sick,” says Fitzgerald. “So we asked for community members to become foster caregivers. The response was overwhelming and we continue to recruit to ensure that the Foster Program remains robust and sustainable.” RAS is inviting community members to support this work by becoming a foster caregiver or volunteer.

“We also realized we needed to do more to help animals where they live, instead of bringing every single animal into the shelter. Although we’re still taking in dozens of animals each month, we’re also asking people who find lost pets to help with locating the owner by keeping the pet in the neighborhood, hanging flyers, knocking on doors, and posting on social media forums,” says Fitzgerald.

RAS has already implemented some of these programs, like foster-based housing, and will be working with community partners and donors to ensure that most pets can stay out of the shelter. The Foster Care Program is funded entirely through donations to the Friends of Verona Street Animal Shelter d/b/a Verona Street Animal Society (VSAS). Similarly, the Outreach and Pet Owner Support Program is funded by donations and grants, which enables RAS to share information and resources for no-cost veterinary services, spay/neuter, vaccinations, training and behavioral information, and humane end of life services for suffering pets. To make a donation to continue funding this critical work, please visit www.vsas.org.

Information about the HASS project can be found at www.humananimalsupportservices.org. As a pilot shelter, RAS will receive ongoing support and training to implement these programs. The project is possible with support from Maddie’s Fund Family Foundation and several other national grant funding organizations. 

“Our mission is serving people and animals to create safe neighborhoods, support the human-animal bond, and save and enhance lives. So our core purpose and organizational culture align with the elements of the HASS model,” says Fitzgerald. “We are committed to doing everything we can to support Rochester’s animals and people and to helping RAS truly become a community pet resource center,” says Fitzgerald. If you are interested in getting involved, please join our volunteer team.