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With large gatherings banned, businesses closing and people losing income, animal shelters are taking a hard hit amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

McKamey Animal Center and the Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga collectively have lost about $200,000 in income due to canceled or postponed fundraisers ahead of another storm on the horizon: kitten season.

Every spring, the shelters fill up with kittens — and puppies, too — due to large litters being born, and many people begin in the spring to move around, since that's the end of the school year.

Only this year, with the loss of income affecting so many, shelters, rescue groups and veterinary clinics are bracing for an even greater spike in homeless pets, and some are contemplating layoffs.

While there has been an initial drop in pet surrenders, "we really anticipate the biggest pressure on us is going to come in about two to three weeks when people, due to economic hardship, start moving and their animals become displaced because they have to move in with a family member or a friend," said Jamie McAloon, executive director of McKamey Animal Center.

"It's scary times, and it's certainly times of great concern for everybody," Humane Educational Society Executive Director Phil Snyder said.

"We survive on donations, but there's such great needs out there that we know people have to categorize or prioritize on a lot," Snyder said. "And a lot of people are losing money, also. So, it's a great concern."

He said the humane society will have to close its thrift store on Wednesday, and "that generates a lot of income that will not be coming."

"So financially it's, it's a disaster," he said. "Usually, in a disaster, other people jump in and help financially in any way they can. But when this disaster affects everybody, there aren't too many directions to turn to try to seek additional funding."

Adoptions haven't been affected, though. At least not as of Tuesday.

"People have been coming in. They've been adopting, they've been fostering," McAloon said. "I think we've had about 120 animals go into homes in probably the last five days."

"There's still people that maybe are spending a lot of time at home, they're thinking, 'Well, we'd like to add to our pet population in the house' or get their first pet," Snyder said. "I thought maybe that would really cut back, but right now it's, it's still going on, and that's a good thing."

But shelters are changing the way they operate. They have limited the number of people in their buildings at one time, and both the Humane Educational Society and McKamey have moved to appointments only.

"We are asking a lot of questions on the phone to try to match-make so that a lot of time isn't spent in the shelter," Snyder said.

And they're asking people who want to surrender their pets if they can hold on to them a little bit longer.

"We're really working with people who are wanting to turn their animals in to see what we could give them to get them to keep them, if it's a safe situation," she said, adding that the center has a food bank and provides basic vet care.

Volunteers have also been limited.

"It's still important that the animals be socialized," Snyder said. "We have dog walkers, cat cuddlers they are keeping the pets socialized so that they're used to people. They're not stuck in the cages and kennels all day long but we do have to limit those numbers."

YOUR PET AND COVID-19

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals because all animals can carry germs that can make people sick. So if you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.

Source: CDC.

Rescue groups are taking a hit, too.

Meow Meow Kitty Rescue in Chattanooga relies on a network of foster homes to house cats until they're adopted.

"We usually adopt out of the local pet stores, like Petsmart and Petco," said Surekha Sud, director of Meow Meow. But "for safety reasons stores have made a corporate decision to remove the cats from those stores, so it's not easy for people to have access to potential adoptions."

And Naughty Cat Cafe, a local pet adoption facility, has had to close its doors to the public.

Both Meow Meow and Naughty Cat are still doing adoptions, but like the shelters, it's by appointment only.

For Naughty Cat, they rely solely on guest entry fees to visit the cats, so "the cafe has stopped generating revenue for about a week now," said Heath Hanson, the cafe's co-owner.

The couple has turned to social media and partnerships with local eateries to gain exposure for the cats now housed at the cafe. And they've started a social media campaign to crowd-source donations to stay afloat during the pandemic.

Sud said her rescue's greatest need is for donations of dry and canned cat food and litter that can be dropped off at Petco on Gunbarrel Road or on Highway 153.

The shelters — McKamey and HES — however, said their greatest need is for monetary donations to help with utilities, veterinary care and staff compensation. The shelters also receive discounted shelter rates for food and medications, so they would be able to get more supplies than someone would by shopping at a retail store.

"Everybody wants to help other people, but animals are very important to us, and pets are part of our lives," Snyder said. "Of course, we help people as well as animals with a lot of our programs I think it would be an additional disaster if we were forced to close our doors and not be able to help people help animals."

Information about how to donate can be found on the organizations' respective websites or on Facebook.

Staff writer Meghan Mangrum contributed to this story.

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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