The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many changes to daily life and routines. Businesses and shops have had to close - at least temporarily - and things have had to be put on hold. But for the volunteers who work with stray dogs and cats in our community, everything suddenly became more critical than before.
"When the order for sheltering came down from the governor, several issues came up," says Deb Hardin, board chair for Clifford's Army Rescue Extravaganza (CARE).
"1. The shelter closed all owner surrenders and were only picking up strays if injured or a nuisance. With a closed limited-space shelter, the last thing anyone wanted was for the shelter to fill up and animals to have to be euthanized due to space.
"2. Many people were either laid off or lost their jobs, which meant they had to worry about feeding themselves and their animals.
"3. Public fundraisers and adoptions were canceled. We normally have a bunch of fundraisers during the spring, and our annual fundraising event is also usually during this time. Not only do these events and fundraisers help with adoptions, they also help our dogs to be seen and help to raise lots of our funds for the rescue to survive.
"4. While we are a dog rescue, this is kitten season, and with the shelter closed until very recently, we were slammed with people wanting to surrender cats/kittens to us, too."
Facing all of these various concerns, organizers at CARE got to work prioritizing what needed to be done first.
"Since we were getting tons of calls for dog and cat food from all over the county, we talked with the Cleveland County Animal Shelter (CCAS) and organized a food drive," she says.
Both CARE and CCAS brought just over a ton of pet food to the drive.
"The drive was scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., but when we arrived at 9 a.m., people were already there waiting....I actually ended up going to a nearby store to buy more cat food," Hardin says. "We finally ran completely out right before 1 p.m. I called our supplier, and the next day we purchased and delivered even more food."
Hardin says that calls for pet food assistance slowed once the government-issued stimulus checks and unemployment money started coming in for local residents.
"We are still getting calls, but that number has dropped drastically," she says.
Animal surrenders have also been an issue, especially while the CCAC was closed. But CARE was able to contact partners in the northeastern part of the United States.
"With a much-larger foster base, these groups could take some dogs immediately, which helped keep us from getting overwhelmed here," says Hardin. "We actually sent some of our dogs that had already been vetted but for which we had not had much adoption interest here. These were really great dogs, but for whatever reason we still had them with fosters and no potential adopters."
The northern rescue agency was able to quickly find placements for these dogs.
"What a great feeling it was to see the adoption pictures as they found homes there, and it opened up space here for us to take in those in need," says Hardin. As CARE started getting requests for cat fosters, the organization once again reached out to a rescue partner up north.
"Again, we really hit the jackpot," says Hardin. "Since the organizers in these rescues knew that it was kitten season in the South, they were already planning a transport. Three cat rescues located in the northeastern US combined forces and preapproved 100 cat/kitten adoptions.
"We had 47 cats/kittens head north last week," says Hardin. "There were seniors, young adults, kittens and even a couple pregnant cats. We will send another group in a few weeks."
Meanwhile, CARE has also continued fostering and caring for the animals from around the county.
"Each time we take in another dog, we have to struggle with if we have space and if we can afford to do what is needed medically," says Hardin. "But at the end of the day, we rescue - it is what we do, and we cannot abandon emaciated, sick or injured dogs. We have to help. So we do."
During the pandemic, CARE has held several live auction fundraisers online and has appealed to supporters for extra funds during this difficult time.
"We are thankful for all the community support," says Hardin. "We truly believe that all lives matter."
For more information about CARE, visit the organization's website at www.cliffordsarmyrescue.com.