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Staying 'pawsitive:' People help out animals during coronavirus crisis

Rogue Valley residents aren’t just reaching out to help their neighbors during the coronavirus crisis, they are lending a helping hand to dogs and cats.

The Jackson County Animal Shelter is staying open for adoptions but limiting the number of people in the building at one time.

“We are wanting people to adopt our animals because we’re wanting to keep our shelter from filling up so we have space for stray animals that may need to come to us,” said Barbara Talbert, manager of the shelter located at 5595 Pacific Highway between Phoenix and Talent.

The social distancing strategies at the shelter haven’t stopped residents from coming in to adopt homeless cats and dogs — or from opening their hearts and homes to temporarily foster a pet.

“We had several people who had never fostered step up and offer to foster when they heard we could use that type of help,” Talbert said.

The shelter matched up the newbies with animals based on people’s experience and home situations, she said.

People who want to adopt a pet aren’t required to first make an appointment by phone right now, but Talbert said it’s a good idea to call ahead anyway. Reach the shelter by calling 541-774-6654.

As the nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions and public health guidelines are changing on a day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour basis.

So far, the shelter has enough trained regular volunteers on hand to keep up with duties like dog-walking and kennel cleaning, Talbert said.

“There may come a time when we have to put out a plea for more people to help with that,” she said.

The Southern Oregon Humane Society closed to the public March 17 as precaution to reduce the community spread of the COVID-19 virus. Staff members and volunteers continue to care for animals behind the scenes.

SoHumane now plans to resume adoptions Monday, but by appointment only. The shelter is at 2910 Table Rock Road in Medford.

“We appreciate your patience while we paused to develop a protocol that we believe mitigates the risk to our staff, volunteers and our community. We have used this time to provide additional training to our staff and to gather best practices from our animal sheltering network across the country,” SoHumane said Friday in a press release.

Visit sohumane.org and click on “Schedule Adoption Appointment” to arrange a visit.

“At this time, we are asking that only serious potential adopters schedule appointments to see a cat or dog. The SoHumane website features all of the available dogs and cats and updates regularly,” the organization said.

SoHumane can be reached by phone by calling 541-779-3125 between noon and 5 p.m. daily.

For now, SoHumane has suspended its road trips to bring shelter animals from other regions to the Rogue Valley to meet demand for certain pets. The organization is focused on helping local people find new homes for their pets due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fall-out, SoHumane Operations Manager Ryan Johnson said Friday.

UPDATED: The following information was updated March 23 to reflect changing conditions at Wildlife Images and Wildlife Safari animal sanctuaries.

Wildlife Images, a wildlife rehabilitation center and sanctuary southwest of Merlin, announced Saturday that it closed to the public until further notice.

The Grants Pass center will still accept patients and encouraged the public through a press release to call 541-441-7193 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. if anyone has an animal that needs care. Also, those who have questions about the behavior or health of a wild animal can email wildpatientupdates@wildlifeimages.org.

Wildlife Images staffers will remain on site to care for the 100-plus “resident animal ambassadors” and the patients in the clinic, and its education team will shift its focus to provide virtual experiences, encounters and resources for families who are sheltering in place.

Wildlife Images also announced Saturday that it will not host its Mother’s Day fundraiser and has lost a “considerable amount of revenue” due to canceled field trips and a lack of admission sales during the start of tourism season.

Those wishing to support Wildlife Images during the closure can make a donation or become a member by visiting wildlifeimages.org.

Wildlife Safari, a sprawling drive-through wild animal park, is not closing. Guests can view animals while driving in the privacy and safety of their own cars. Only drive-through options are available at the park, park managers said.

Animals include tigers, cheetahs, elephants, lions, bison, elk, zebras, giraffes and hippos.

The safari park near Winston south of Roseburg is open daily for drive-through tours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Visit wildlifesafari.net or call 541-679-6761 for updates.

Do to rapidly changing conditions, call ahead or check websites for updates and potential restrictions or closures before making the drive to Wildlife Safari.

Veterinarians have been asked to postpone elective procedures to save medical supplies for health care providers serving people.

The Jackson County Animal Shelter canceled a low-cost pet vaccination clinic that had been scheduled for Saturday because the event was expected to draw a large number of people.

Experts have fielded questions about whether it’s still safe to visit dog parks.

While human beings should keep a distance from each other, it’s probably OK to keep petting dogs, including the dogs of other people playing at dog parks, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

There’s little evidence that dogs can catch the COVID-19 virus and infect humans.

The virus can stay alive up to three days on smooth, hard surfaces under laboratory conditions, but porous materials like pet fur tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract the virus by touch, AVMA Chief Veterinary Officer Gail Golab said.

Dog parks always harbor pathogens found in dog feces, so people should wash their hands after petting dogs, throwing tennis balls and picking up after Fido.

Dog walking remains a healthy activity that helps people get outside in the fresh air, exercise, boost their spirits, combat cabin fever and beat social isolation. Just remember to stay a healthy distance away from any humans who cross your path.

Snuggling with a cat on your lap is also a proven stress-buster.

Concern about the possibility of dogs catching cornonavirus spread among pet owners worldwide after a 17-year-old Pomeranian in China tested “weakly” positive for the coronavirus. The dog also tested negative several times. The Pomeranian never showed signs of the illness, but it did die after returning home from quarantine. The dog was very elderly and had underlying health conditions, veterinary experts said.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert, told CNN Health the virus is now in humans but data shows it’s not spreading among pets.

Scientists are still studying whether the virus may have originally spread from bats directly or indirectly to humans in China, where the outbreak originated.

“This is the time to hug your pet but not your human loved one,” Schaffner said. “So let’s keep the social distancing focused on human beings, and if you need to hug something, hug your dog or your cat or ferret or whatever.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

A variety of animals at the Southern Oregon Humane Society need homes. Photo courtesy SoHumane.
A dog at the Jackson County Animal Shelter gets a helping hand from a woman Friday. Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune