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P.G. Humane Society rises to COVID challenge of finding homes for pets

Donations still the lifeblood of local organization that connects people to animals

It was a Major accomplishment when the Prince George Humane Society found a new home for one its largest canine critters last summer, five months into the pandemic.

Surrendered in February 2020 to the society’s downtown shelter when his owner learned he could not afford his three-year-old pet’s knee surgery, it became a waiting game for the 120-pound bullmastiff named Major.

Within a month of the big pooch’s arrival at the shelter, the COVID outbreak happened and veterinary services all of a sudden became severely restricted by the lockdown that followed. Public health orders forced the shelter to close to the public temporarily, and with that closure the society’s adoption and fostering programs came to a standstill.   

“We actually got him just before COVID hit and because it was not considered emergency surgery we had to hold off on getting that surgery done and he was in foster care for quite an extensive period of time,” said PGHS executive director Angela McLaren. “We couldn’t find him somebody prepared to take him on because he was so big. He was a big goofball, he loved to chase everything, he was so awesome and unfortunately we couldn’t find him a really good home.

”It was quite difficult for us to have to watch, knowing he had to have the surgery but it would have to be put on hold until the veterinary services were back up and running.”

Major did get that knee ligament repaired, a procedure paid for through several Facebook fundraising drives but he still needed a permanent home. He made a quick recovery and soon got back to his playful puppy ways. But with people sticking close to home to limit their human contacts, there seemed to be nobody willing to adopt him. That is, until the society put the word out that Major was available to be transferred. A new owner was found in Edmonton in late August who paid the travel expenses and hotel fee for volunteers Kristy Whitehust and Joni Fuller to drive Major to his new home in Alberta.

“He now lives with two dogs that are his best friends,” said McLaren. “They sent us a Christmas card from his new home. He’s just amazing.”

The pandemic has brought radical changes to how the Prince George Humane Society operates. It had to cancel all of the traditional fundraising events. Dependent on donations to keep operating, cash flow to the society all of a sudden dropped to a trickle.

The society’s humane education programs, which target grade-school students, have been put on hold. Health restrictions rule out visits of school groups to the shelter and society staff aren’t pronging pets to the schools. The pandemic has hampered third-party fundraising for the society in which students organize bake sales or lemonade stands at public events which are temporarily banned because of rules on crowd gatherings. The society’s summer/ winter camps for kids were also cancelled.

In a non-pandemic year, as part of its outreach education mandate, the society travels to First Nations in northern B.C. communities to discuss pet vaccinations, spay/neutering and animal wellness and bylaws, partnering with Spirit’s Mission in a program funded by gaming grants and Pet Smart Charities.

The society did obtain a gaming licence to go online with its biggest current fundraiser, the Paw Draw to the Rescue 50-50 lottery. Tickets are available online at princegeorgehumanesociety.rafflenexus.com and the draw date is July 1st.

 “It was challenge for us but we’ve come up with some successful fundraising events that have really worked for us,” said McLaren. “At the beginning of COVID, we saw a lot of reluctance for people to come out and volunteer and that affected the amount of animals we could take in, but we’ve managed to work around those challenges.

“We have seen a decrease in donations and I think that’s largely due to people don’t know what their future is going to look like with COVID and whether they are or aren’t going to have a job going into the future. We’re still doing the work that we’re doing in spite of COVID. It doesn’t mean we’ve seen less intake of animals, in fact we’ve seen an increase in the amount of animals coming into our care.”

McLaren says the reduced availability of veterinary services and spay/neutering clinics during the initial stages of the pandemic prompted a nationwide spike of people bringing their pets to animal shelters.

“They weren’t moving on veterinary services quick enough in the beginning (of the pandemic) and it was kind of only for emergency services and all spays and neuters were actually cancelled, and that includes the animals in our care,” said McLaren.  “So that meant a lot of females couldn’t get spayed so people were surrendering those animals to us as well as an increase in male cats being surrendered too because they started to spray in the houses and we started seeing those behavioural challenges.”

However, with more people working at home and spending more time close to their homes, they also have had more time to look after pets and the society has noticed more of the animals it cares for are finding temporary or permanent homes.

“We saw a huge increase in adoptions and fostering,” said McLaren. “That’s kind of working in our favour that we’re moving animals quicker than we have in the past.”

The Prince George Humane Society opened in June 2015 and it averages between 1,200 and 1,500 pet adoptions annually. Visitors can come by to see the animals housed at the shelter, at Unit 11 1839 First Ave., but an appointment is required. Call 250-640-7415.

“I just want to remind people, don’t forget about us, we still need the help,” said McLaren. “We’re a 100 per cent donor-funded organization so if people aren’t donating we can’t do the work in the community that we need. If you aren’t able to help with a donation there are other ways to get involved in the organization to make a difference. That could be through volunteering or fostering, just to get us through this tough patch.”