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With dip in lost dog cases, shelters are preparing to take in pets from sick residents

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Dozer, an American Pit Bull mix, gets some play time at the Multnomah County Animal Services shelter in Troutdale. With more people staying home, the number of lost and abandoned animals across the Portland area is dropping, according to regional animal shelters.

Randy Covey, animal services manager for Washington County, said it was one of the few "silver linings" to come out of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has swept across the globe.

"People are turning to their animals for comfort right now," said Covey, who runs Washington County's Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter in Hillsboro. "That's fantastic. And with people spending more time at home, animals are less likely to escape and roam."

Multnomah County Animal Services shelter in Troutdale has seem a similar drop in lost pets, though Director Wade Sadler said he doesn't expect things to stay that way. "We're still in the early stages of this," he said. "Layoffs are still happening."

During the Great Recession on 2009, mass layoffs meant many families were unable to care for their pets. Many opted to give up their pets, or abandon them.

Covey said animal shelters have worked hard in the past decade to educate the public. But as shelter-in-place restrictions continue and the number of layoffs and business closures rise, Covey said the situation could change.

The Multnomah County shelter is taking steps to temporarily board pets belonging to hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Sadler said. "We're making sure we have the capacity to provide emergency shelter for those critically hit and hospitalized. If their pets have no place to go, we'll look after them."

So far, none of the COVID-19 patients in Multnomah County have taken the shelter up on the offer, but Sadler said the shelter will be ready, if and when they are asked to step up.

Sadler said requests should come from patients and Multnomah County will work with hospital caseworkers to fulfill the requests. The hope, Sadler and Covey agree, is that families won't feel forced to give up their pets. "The best place for any pet is to be with their families," Sadler said. "There's a lot of emotional strife involved in giving up a pet."

Animal shelters across the region are working together to provide support to local pet food banks, and Covey said discussions are underway to open new pet food banks for families in need of help.

"These are times of anxiety and there's a lot of fear floating around," Sadler said. "Right now, a pet can be a very good source of therapy."

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