BY HEATHER GEHRKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EBHS
March 11, 2020, is a date I will always remember. As many national organizations temporarily or indefinitely suspended operations, I found myself wondering what was happening to our world. The next several days and weeks felt like months as our team at Elmbrook Humane Society tried to make sense of what COVID-19 meant for us as a business and all those we serve throughout our community.
Thankfully and rightfully, the State of Wisconsin deemed humane societies as an essential service. Like most businesses, we needed to find a way to operate and continue to serve both the animals and people in our community. We moved to an appointment-based operation, providing support by phone, email and virtual meetings and continued to respond to animal emergencies in our community. We are still continuing to adapt our services, programs and business operations to function safely while still being a community resource for animal needs.
Some critical services have been strongly encouraged to be placed on hold. These are services I believe our industry would never before have imagined halting. For example, given it is next to impossible to achieve the recommended social distancing, spay and neuter services have stopped except for emergencies. Transport has been discouraged due to the amount of contact between staff and volunteers facilitating transport and the potential of spreading COVID-19 amongst states. With both services being essential to saving lives, it is exciting to share that work is being done to create guidelines to resume both.
Visits to veterinarians have moved to curbside with your pet being separated from you. From a human health perspective, we now have to think about how to support our pets through this. Animal welfare is as much about connecting with people and providing education as it is caring and advocating for animals. All community outreach and special events typically done in-person or in group settings have been affected. Spring camps for youth, READ to Me sessions and humane education programs in schools, dog-related training and seminars have had to be canceled. Galas, run/walks, bowl-a-thons and more have had to be rescheduled or canceled. Everyday life as we know it has changed, but there are many good things happening.
We have seen increased community involvement for fostering and adopting. Supporters have been making sure we have the supplies needed to remain safe and healthy to be able to continue providing the best care possible for animals in need. We have witnessed people supporting virtual fundraising and programming. We have learned that operating by appointment allows us to provide more personalized service and develop even stronger relationships with foster volunteers, adopters and our donors. We have learned new ways in which kind, compassionate individuals can continue to provide support to not only Elmbrook Humane Society but to many non-profit organizations.
The world of animal welfare has changed and inevitably will continue to change. COVID-19 has presented many challenges, but it has also caused our industry to pause and rethink how we serve and care for animals and people. As a result, in the weeks and months to come, our organization, along with other humane societies and rescue groups, will be stronger through innovation and working together.
As the saying goes, we are all in this together!