The Valley Humane Society, which serves Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton, has seen an increase in adoptions and has leaned heavily on its fosters to keep pets in loving homes during the pandemic. (Photos courtesy of Valley Humane Society)

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As COVID-19 keeps most residents sheltering in place, staff and volunteers at Valley Humane Society are doubling their efforts to make sure homeless animals continue to be cared for, even as the organization’s shelter remains closed.

For hundreds of dogs, cats, kittens and puppies, that means sheltering out of place in private homes, where foster volunteers keep them safe and socialized until they’re adopted.

Valley Humane, which serves Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin, has always depended on its team of 75 fosters to take animals out of its shelter, making room for the continual flow of at-risk dogs and cats the organization rescues from overwhelmed public shelters. With its building temporarily closed due to the pandemic, however, foster care is the only housing option for all these animals, and their numbers keep growing. 

Between March 17 and June 1 of this year, 210 animals came to Valley Humane — 28 percent more by this time last year — and all those animals were placed into foster care, resulting in a 21-percent increase from 2019. In addition, adoptions are up 31 percent, from 119 to 156, as many people who planned to adopt during summer move up their timeline to take advantage of being at home.

For now, that means more animals than ever are receiving the benefits of foster care — a chance to decompress and become more adoptable away from the tight and noisy confines of a shelter. 

“Animals are much less stressed in a true home environment than they are in the shelter, and in a home they can be exposed to the realistic routine of housebreaking and training,” said Emily Scholz, Valley Humane’s foster program coordinator. “It’s important for someone to take the time to sit and be together with the animal; to cuddle with them. Socialization is key. Both dogs and cats need to get used to new people and learn to trust people. It’s a much better start to becoming a good canine or feline citizen.”

AnneMarie Engelhardt of Livermore has cared for 90 cats, kittens and puppies in her three years as a Valley Humane foster, and is seeing no slowdown during the COVID-19 crisis. She has cared for a range of animals since the virus took hold, including a litter of tiny, dangerously sick stray kittens who needed multiple medications given throughout the day, and a second litter that included two kittens with a congenital neurological disease. After being stabilized by Valley Humane medical staff and placed into her care for weeks, all recovered and found new homes.

“This is just the most rewarding thing I can do with my life,” Engelhardt said. “Seeing these little ones grow up, seeing the shy ones come out of their shells, seeing the sick ones recover and witnessing the joy when they find their forever homes — it’s the best thing in the world.”

Lori Frost adopted a terrier mix named Chelsea from Valley Humane and the two have been inseparable ever since.

Another beneficiary of foster care is Chelsea, a scruffy little terrier mix who recently arrived at Valley Humane after being removed from a hoarder’s home. Unsocialized, terrified and nippy, she wouldn’t allow anyone to come near her and was a poor prospect for adoption. After spending a few days at a foster home, she was introduced to Pleasanton resident and prospective adopter Lori Frost. 

Their first encounter wasn’t perfect as the skittish terrier avoided her and kept returning to her foster parent. But seeing that spark of connection convinced Frost that Chelsea was capable of bonding.

“I could see that she’d become attached to him, that the fostering had helped her adjust,” she said. “If she’d been kept at the shelter, she might only have cowered, and I might have passed her by. But I could see that she just needed love and attention.”

The two became attached more quickly than anyone — including Frost — expected, and today the little dog who couldn’t stand to be touched begs for belly rubs and sleeps next to her new friend’s head each night.

“She loves attention, and I give it to her because she deserves it,” Frost says. “I was meant to have her, and I’m spoiling her rotten.”

During shelter-in-place, animals available for adoption through Valley Humane Society may be viewed online at valleyhumane.org, adoptapet.com and petfinder.com. Potential adopters may contact Valley Humane Society via email at info@valleyhumane.org, or at 925-426-8656.