Coronavirus shatters volunteer reliant operations at Austin Animal Center; fosters come to rescue

Clear the Shelters
Austin Animal Center adoptions

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The coronavirus pandemic revealed an Austin Animal Center some had not seen.

“I’ve been here over two and a half years and I’ve never seen empty kennels like that before,” said Jennifer Olohan, the Austin Animal Center’s communications and media manager.

As a stay-at-home order went into effect for the Austin-Travis County area on March 25, many figured out new ways of working, caring for and homeschooling their children and many, Olohan said, had time to add a furry friend to their family. “We got tons of animals out into foster homes,” with over 1000 foster applications pouring into the shelter. “We got an amazing response.”

Having them be in a kennel, we’re not really seeing what their true personality is like, so to be able to get them into home, let them decompress and relax and just be an animal, be loved on, that helps us make better adoption matches too because we can learn about the pet. 

Jennifer Olohan

So many rushed to help, but the shelter officially closed March 16, and with the stay at home order that followed close behind, that meant losing all 500 of their participating volunteers — those that help socialize the pets, take them for walks, play with cats and clean kennels. “For this full time, staff has kind of had to help fulfill both roles to feed, care, clean, and socialize and give love, which is really fun for staff but it puts a lot on their plate to fill all of those roles,” explained Olohan.

On top of that, they were not able to do adoptions or take in animals unless they were sick or injured, which put an even greater strain on staff.

“We rely on them so much, they’re such a huge part of our operations and so being without them was really hard,” she said about their volunteers. “Our veterinary staff relies on them for things. There are volunteers that help with ICU animals and surgeries and they do all kinds of stuff that once you take all of that away, it’s a lot.”

With less animals in the shelter to try and care for, fosters became the heroes of the pandemic for the center.

Even then, July 6 couldn’t come soon enough, which was when volunteers returned after three months of not being able to go in to help to prevent the spread of the virus. Though, there are still limits. They can only have four volunteers on site per day, whereas they were averaging about 40 per day before the pandemic.

They also slowly started doing curbside adoptions, and now they are scheduling adoptions by appointment. The Austin Animal Center schedules four adoptions per hour between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“Our biggest need is still fosters,” said Olohan. “While we got the shelter fairly empty somewhat in the beginning when they all went to foster, I think we’re getting back to close to 95% occupancy with animals right now so we’re getting really close to capacity.”

We’re hoping with Clear the Shelters that there will be some priority for people to come and adopt and foster, but we definitely are going to need that help here very soon or we’re going to get to capacity.

Jennifer Olohan

Join KXAN as we partner with Central Texas animal shelters to “Clear the Shelters” during the month of August! We want to help you find your next furry family member.

The Austin Animal Center is accepting volunteer applications as well, but they are currently not holding new volunteer orientations.

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