Lawrence shows ‘tremendous’ response in fostering pets as pandemic disrupts normal operations of Humane Society

photo by: Angela Korte Randall

Foster dog Henny photographed by Angela Korte Randall

In Lawrence, as elsewhere across the country, residents have been stepping up in big numbers to care for animals in the community.

The stay-at-home order issued by Douglas County to curb the coronavirus pandemic has led to unprecedented hardships, to be sure, but also has created a uniquely comforting circumstance for animals who need care and for people who long to feel useful.

“A lot of people are at home,” said Shannon Wells, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, and taking care of an animal “has given them a sense of purpose,” as well as some companionship.

The Lawrence Humane Society, which has been open to the public only by appointment recently, currently has 90% of its animals in foster homes.

That’s more than 140 dogs, cats, rabbits and one 150-pound pig that residents have agreed to house to alleviate the stress on the shelter at 1805 E. 19th St., which has been deemed an essential business under the county’s pandemic order.

photo by: Christie Stiehl

Foster cat Rhapsody photographed by Christie Stiehl

The foster program, Wells said, is not only good for the shelter, which can now operate with reduced staffing, putting fewer people at risk for the virus, but it’s also good for the animals, who get more personalized care, and for the caretakers, who get the satisfaction of caring for an animal while they are stuck at home with little to occupy them.

The foster situation is also a bonus for those looking to adopt animals because it allows the Humane Society to gather helpful information about an animal’s behavior and needs. For example: Does this cat like kids? Does it get along with other pets? Does a dog chew on the furniture? Does it seem interested in bolting whenever a door opens?

Answers to those questions, which foster families can provide, facilitate making good matches with future adoptive families.

The response to foster needs has been so “tremendous,” Wells said, that “we’ve had more offers to foster than we have animals for.”

photo by: Alexandra Rose

Foster dog Maverick photographed by Alexandra Rose

The animal shelter, which supplies pet food, kennels and other essentials to foster families, currently is maintaining a waiting list for fostering, but Wells expects that people won’t have to wait indefinitely. With spring here, “we start having litters of kittens, for example, and it won’t be too long before we have an animal” to foster, she said.

Family transitions

Lawrence resident Elizabeth Garrett has been fostering animals from the Humane Society for years, and her family — consisting of seven humans, a dog, a cat and an assortment of chickens — recently took on two cats to ease the shelter’s burden during the pandemic.

photo by: Elizabeth Garrett

Frances Parker, daughter of Elizabeth Garrett, with foster cat Ezra

Her advice to new foster families? “Have patience with your foster pet because they’ve probably had more than one recent transition. Their behavior in the first few days is not necessarily indicative of long-term behavior.”

“The point,” she said, “is to socialize them so they’re good pets when they go to a forever home.”

One Lawrence foster home is already on the verge of becoming a forever home, thanks to the apparently irresistible charms of Gordy, a pig who turned up as a stray in someone’s yard. Animal Control caught the pig last winter and took it to the shelter, where it caught the eye of volunteer Lindsey Meyer.

“I would pet him every time I was at the shelter,” she said. “He had to have been someone’s pet. He wants belly rubs and scratches.”

photo by: Lindsey Meyer

Foster pig Gordy photographed by Lindsey Meyer

When the shelter sought foster families during the pandemic, Meyer, who had just bought a house in the country, decided to take on Gordy.

Days later, she affectionately describes the situation as really more of a “foster to adoption” scenario, depending on how her three big rescue dogs take to the porky newcomer and vice versa.

“He’s an ornery little guy, that’s for sure,” she said, as Gordy found his rhythm in his spacious new surroundings.

“He’s been at the shelter since the middle of February; that’s no life for a pig,” she said. “The second we got him out of the car he lay down in the mud.”

Shelter business

While fostering benefits the shelter, the animals and their caretakers, one group has taken a sad hit: the hundreds of volunteers who do the daily work of exercising and socializing animals, cleaning kennels and performing innumerable tasks that make the shelter run smoothly.

photo by: Chloe Amelia

Foster cat Lexi photographed by Chloe Amelia

“We have discontinued using volunteers in the building for now,” Wells said. “That’s been hard on them as it’s part of their daily routine.”

Wells said the Humane Society had about 500 volunteers on the books, with at least “50 who come all the time.”

The 10% of animals that are not fostered out are animals that have special medical or behavior issues or that are on a “stray hold,” meaning they are being held for a certain number of days in case an owner claims them.

photo by: Emily Adler

Foster dog Jade photographed by Emily Adler

Wells is looking forward to the shelter being fully open to the public again, whenever that might be feasible. In the meantime, the facility is adapting to the new normal.

For now, the shelter is asking people wishing to surrender their pets to wait if possible, as the staff is prioritizing “animals that don’t have any solution,” such as strays and those with injuries.

Starting Saturday, she plans to start doing adoptions remotely, using a combination of the shelter’s website,, video counseling and the online Zoom platform. Once the paperwork is completed, animals can be transferred to their new families within social-distancing guidelines prescribed in the stay-at-home order.

photo by: Ashley Frost

Foster dog Chief photographed by Ashley Frost

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