NEWPORT NEWS—There is a mantra in the animal rescue world: “If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, donate.” Those words are ringing true at shelters across the United States right now, including the Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter (PRAS) in Newport News, which is currently experiencing a problem with overcrowding.
Since PRAS is in the process of revamping its volunteer program, the shelter is focused more on adoptions and finding fosters for animals that aren’t quite ready for adoption yet. Of course, they certainly won’t turn down donations.
“Yes, donations are lovely,” said Tiffany Webb, PRAS Shelter Coordinator. “Certainly, when you have 400-plus animals in your care, we’re not going to turn down donations of any kind, especially for things like treats, toys, blankets, and bedding. For our staff, donations give them that moment that the community cares about what we’re doing. For the animals, being able to change up the different kinds of toys available to them is definitely huge. It creates a stimulating, enriching environment.”
Cash donations are also welcome to help pay for food and other necessities.
So, where are all these animals coming from? According to Webb, it’s happening because things like the cost of living, accessibility to affordable housing, or even paying for veterinary services for pets that have been adopted have become increasingly difficult for many individuals and families.
“Being an intake shelter for four jurisdictions, we have the responsibility to take in those animals,” said Webb. “When people are looking at trying to feed themselves versus trying to feed themselves and their pets, that’s a really hard decision for them to make. We’re all just one emergency away from a breakdown. So that’s why we’re seeing so many pets come into our facility.”
Webb points out this dilemma has created a domino effect for those who adopted during the pandemic. Community veterinary resources have been exhausted. Veterinary offices are experiencing staffing shortages due to compassion fatigue and burnout, so the accessibility to vaccines, spay and neutering, and other healthcare services for animals has become limited. Which has in turn had an effect on being able to afford care and provide for a pet.
“We’re very fortunate to have a veterinarian on staff and a small medical team that are responsible for serving the needs for 400-plus animals in the shelter as well as the 200 animals outside the shelter that are currently in foster care,” said Webb. “In addition, we’re experiencing animals that are in the shelter longer, sometimes up to three to five days. That’s five days of extra food. Five days of housing and boarding. It may not sound like a lot, but it adds up.”
One of the best ways that people can help is by becoming animal fosters. Many people may not realize that the shelter provides them with everything they need, such as food, leashes, collars, after-hours emergency support, guidance, and more, so people can bring a pet into their home without the obligation of adopting.
Fostering helps in a number of ways. For the animal, it gets them into a home with people and sometimes other animals so they can be socialized and cared for individually. For the shelter, fosters can report characteristics about the animal that will help adopters decide if the pet is a good fit for them. This may include training the dog to be house-broken, learning to walk on a leash, observing how they interact with people and other pets, and more. For people interested in fostering, visit the shelter’s website and fill out an application.
For those who don’t currently have the room or time to foster, one of the easiest ways to get involved in helping is to be a social media advocate, especially on Facebook and Instagram.
“Sharing posts about available animals has really helped us find homes for many long-term residents at the shelter,” said Webb. “It has also helped us reunite pets with their families after the animals have been missing for a while. So, for us, the next best thing to adopting and fostering is through social media and helping us to spread the word about available pets.”
The Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter is located at 5843 Jefferson Ave. in Newport News for people who would like to potentially adopt an animal or drop off donations. The shelter is open from 8am to 5pm. Those interested in volunteering should keep an eye on the shelter’s website for new opportunities that will be available soon.