The current health crisis is resulting in major shifts within the animal welfare community.

The shifts are mostly positive. But there are fears that as time goes on and COVID-19 health and financial impacts play out, shelters will see a significant jump in the number of owners looking to unload their pets.

Over the past two weeks, the Monmouth County SPCA has seen "a lot more" surrendering of pets, according to executive director Ross Licitra. The site asks that owners do not walk into any shelter to surrender a pet without making an appointment.

"The big thing that we're seeing is people having to move, unable to take their pets with them, and that's why we're getting a lot of calls to the shelter," Licitra said.

In late April, the county SPCA found a home for Che-Che, a 9-year-old poodle who had lost "two members of her family" to the respiratory illness.

"What we absolutely want to get across to the public is, please don't abandon your animals," Licitra said. "If you abandon your animal and you get caught, you'll be charged criminally."

Michelle Thevenin, chief operating officer for St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, said surrendering one's pet to a shelter should be a "last resort."

"We want to put a lot of other things in place to help people before they get to that," she said.

Thevenin encourages individuals to first attempt to "re-home" their pet within their own network of contacts. St. Hubert's, which is housing all animals in its Madison shelter for the time being, offers owners a drive-thru pet-food bank three days a week.

Since the pandemic hit New Jersey, both the Monmouth County SPCA and St. Hubert's have seen an enormous spike in the number of homes interested in fostering and/or adopting a pet. People are treating the quarantine lifestyle as an opportunity to introduce a pet into their home.

"The sky is not falling. We definitely had fears that it would," Thevenin said. "I think that the coming weeks and months will be telling."

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