After initial worries about how it was going to be impacted by the global outbreak of COVID-19, Animal Care League in Oak Park has seen a dramatic increase in pet adoption applications since the shelter-in-place protocols were announced in mid-March.

This past April, ACL reported 158 dog and 79 cat adoption applications were submitted. To put that in perspective, in April of 2019, just 17 dog and 18 cat applications were turned in during that month’s span.

“At first, we didn’t know how we were going to do this and it was kind of a whirlwind of policy, protocol and adjusting day to day,” said Kira Robson, executive director of ACL in Oak Park. “We were still figuring out our processes and then the donations started flooding in from the community without us even asking. That’s what is amazing about Oak Park and this community; they sort of stepped up on their own.”

Since social-distancing mandates made it difficult to operate out of the shelter on 1013 Garfield St., ACL and its volunteers had to find foster families for the animals. That paired with the challenge of adding online applications to ACL’s website, which deviated from their normal process of having prospective pet owners come in during adoption hours to meet the animals.

However, the change of procedure might have been a blessing in disguise. Instead of having people come to the shelter where the animals are in a stressful environment, ACL is conducting virtual meetings with the animals and those interested in adopting.

“I think people are kind of having fun with it,” said Robson. “Granted, people are home and everyone’s turning to Zoom. We were worried that people would not connect well because they can’t physically touch the animal. But there was just such a different dynamic, and it works better.”

Nicole Balch, who recently fostered two kittens, went through the virtual meeting between a staff member at ACL, her family, and the family that was interested in adopting “Keaney” and “Samantha.”

“I think it’s kind of nice because, usually, you can go and you can sort of ask, ‘Well, what were they like when they were being fostered?'” said Balch. “Instead of getting that information second-hand, I was actually able to answer questions directly and talk to the people who are interested in taking the cats.”

Not only is ACL sending animals to new homes but there has also been a decrease in how many animals are coming into the shelter. In the months of March and April of 2019, there were 174 animals (94 strays) taken in by ACL. In March and April of 2020, the shelter’s intake went down by almost 60 percent with 109 animals (62 strays) coming in.

“We saw intake come to an eerie halt,” said Robson. “Because of social distancing, when people would call in, we would try to come up with ways so that there wasn’t too much human-to-human contact. We suggested they put up posters or try to find the owner. So that definitely helped.”

The community has also helped keep ACL afloat by making donations after the shelter had to cancel its events, which were focused on fundraising, due to health concerns around COVID-19.

“I was nervous at the beginning of all this,” said Robson. “We asked a board member if they would be willing to match [the donations raised online] and we kept it low at $5,000. We raised it in less than a few hours, so we upped it to $10,000. Then we raised that in less than 24 hours, so we really appreciate the community coming through.”

Even with the people coming forward to help the animals in need of a home, Robson said there are still a lot of animals that are in need of extra care.

“Yes, animals are going out a lot faster, but we still have those long-term animals, which we call ‘special snowflakes,’ that are still waiting for somebody to come forward,” said Robson. “I keep saying to my staff, ‘There’s got to be somebody in these hundred applications for Hudson.’

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