As COVID-19 sweeps the U.S., animal shelters have seen an upswing of interest as more animal lovers adopt or foster pets. While some people don’t want to add to the chaos of a quarantined household, others recognize this as a perfect time to bring home a furry friend.

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“I think it’s particularly timely because of the isolation of people,” said Nat Hardy, founding dean of Arts & Humanities at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. He recently adopted Buddy Twain from a Hannibal, Missouri shelter. Buddy’s surname honors Mark Twain, also from Hannibal. “Being closed in, you’ve got the time to bond. You have more patience and the time to do it.”

Related: 7 ways to be a sustainable pet owner

The pandemic has caused a spike in both animal adoptions and fosters, in part due to shelters sending out desperate emails asking people to step up and help these homeless pets. And the public responded. A recent call for emergency fosters by the Animal Care Centers of New York City received more 3,500 applications.

The Humane Society of the U.S. has asked that states declare animal shelters essential services, but governmental response has varied and many shelters have temporarily closed. Others have drastically scaled back on services. Some employees have even made emergency plans to shelter in place inside the animal shelters, if necessary, for up to a month, to care for the pets. So every animal safely placed in a private home is one fewer for shelter workers to worry about.

small white and brown dog in a green yard

Adopting vs. fostering

While adopting is forever, fostering means providing a temporary home for a shelter animal. “Fostering helps animals who are not yet ready for adoption have a home environment to heal and grow,” said Laura Klink, public information manager at the Oregon Humane Society. “During the current pandemic, fostering is even more critical as many shelters have stopped adoptions and have limited staff to care for the animals. At OHS, foster parents are helping some of our pets who need medical care, behavior help and to free up space in the shelter so we can be ready to respond to our community’s needs.”

For people suddenly quarantined at home, fostering can be a wonderful way to help give stressed animals a break from noisy shelters. It makes sense to foster rather than adopt if the pandemic has brought your life to a sudden halt. Those who usually work 12-hour days in an office might be suited to fostering while working at home. If you can’t commit long-term, consider fostering rather than adopting; shelters don’t want to see a huge surge in post-pandemic returns of adopted pets.

What does it take to be a good foster parent? Klink explained it is important to consider your environment. “Do you have other pets in the home?” she asked. “Are there young children in the home? Do you have a spare bedroom or bathroom where you can separate your foster pets?” You also need to ask yourself how comfortable you are managing medical and behavioral issues.

person petting a black, white and orange cat

Adoption by appointment

Gone are the days — at least for now — of stopping by shelters and spending unhurried time with possible candidates for your new pet. Now, the shelters that remain open offer adoption by appointment. It’s more of a gamble to peruse online listings, pick a pet and make that fateful appointment, but sometimes it turns out to be a perfect match.

Hardy had been thinking about adopting a dog anyway, since Stephens is such a pet-friendly campus, where both students and faculty bring their pets to school. With the quarantine looming, the emails from rescue shelters spurred him to action. He started looking online. “I finally found Buddy in a Hannibal Missouri rescue shelter. I saw his mug shot from the shelter, and he looked like quite a character.” He applied to adopt the orange dog — who he guesses might be a year or two old, and possibly a retriever/Irish setter mix — and made the 90-minute drive to Hannibal. “We’ve been together ever since. He doesn’t like me leaving out of his sight. I think he was in the shelter a long time. So now he’s totally living the dream.”

person holding a small white, black and orange dog

Resources for fostering and adopting

Foster families and individuals should have some experience with pet care. But even if you’ve had dogs and cats all of your life, you might need help. “Fostering is very rewarding but can also be challenging and stressful,” Klink said. “It’s important to ask for help and advice since you don’t know these animals like you know your own pets. Foster parents are truly a lifeline for shelter pets.”

Whether you’re fostering or adopting a new pet into its forever home, you can find resources online. Petco Foundation, a national nonprofit animal welfare organization, offers educational livestreams from a team of experts. You can virtually attend a cat and kitten Q&A session, or help your new canine get into a happy routine with positive dog training. Petco Foundation even suggestions fashionable fosters to follow on Instagram. The ASPCA is another digital treasure trove with many pet care articles.

Images via Tatiane Vasconcelos Taty, Fuzzy Rescue, Madeline Hardy and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat