Animal Advocates Are Helping Pets Left Behind By Owners Sick With COVID

by Valerie Williams
A member of staff health checks an abandoned kitten at RSPCA Leybourne Animal Centre in south-east E...

Animal specialists are stepping in to take care of pets left behind when their owner was hospitalized with coronavirus

As the novel coronavirus devastated New York City, the focus was on the people who were dying or spending long stints in the hospital recovering. What the news probably didn’t mention is that many of those patients had pets at home and no one to help take care of them in their owner’s sudden absence. That’s where a group of animal-loving heroes stepped in to make sure those innocent creatures weren’t left behind.

The New York Times reports that Dr. Robin Brennen, a veterinarian at Animal Care Centers of NYC, is one of the animal specialists to step in and try to help rescue and care for these abandoned pets while their owners are unable to be at home. The Times reports that Brennen is a trained disaster responder, so she knew exactly how to stay safe when entering the residences of people who had fallen ill from the highly contagious virus.

The specialists enter those homes in full protective gear to care for and feed the lonely pets, sometimes even taking custody of pets whose owners never return home. According to Animal Care Centers of NYC, at least one dog died of starvation before anyone checked their hospitalized owner’s residence.

Cats carry a slightly greater risk when it comes to these visits as they’re susceptible to catching coronavirus (it’s still unproven whether cats can pass the virus to people). The city has taken to quarantining the cats in their homes for 14 days, monitored by the animal specialists, before they can be removed.

Sometimes residents in a sick person’s building are the ones alerting Dr. Brennen to a pet in need, as was the case with a pair of cats left behind by a woman who dearly loved them. Brennen fed them twice a week while their owner was in the hospital. “I knew how much she wanted those cats and loved them,” Brennen said. “And I wanted them to be there for her when she got home.”

Sadly, the woman died from the virus. A neighbor later adopted the cats. “They don’t have her, but they had people willing to help her,” said Brennen. “And that is something.”

The Times reports that some patients who are intubated haven’t been able to tell anyone that they have pets at home with no one else to care for them, so neighbors overhearing them was the only hope they’d be discovered. In April, New York City’s emergency management and animal welfare offices rolled out a hotline for owners struggling to properly care for their animals during the virus. So far, around 117 pets have been surrendered via the hotline in hopes that they’d find a better home.

As the pandemic continues, it’s clear that human lives are the first priority — but thankfully, there are those like Brennen who focus on these innocent creatures so they’re not left behind when their owners face the heartbreaking unthinkable.