Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Jacksonville Animal Rescues Struggling To Adapt With Changes From COVID-19

Two cats, one with a white belly looking at the camera, another cat asleep, with head resting on a brick.
Sylvie Schiller
Froggy's Cat Rescue
While animal rescues are receiving a larger amount of calls during the pandemic, the lack of resources available is outweighing the demand for care.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak erupted in Florida in March, Jacksonville’s Animal Care and Protective Services was already dealing with an outbreak of its own. 

The city facility had a pneumo-virus outbreak that was affecting dogs, so they had to stop accepting stray canines. 

“We were already, here at the Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS), kind of feeling that impact as being the only shelter available for streaming dog intake,” said Lindsay Leyendecker, the assistant development director for the JHS.

When the coronavirus hit Northeast Florida, other counties began closing the doors to their shelters, leaving JHS as one of the only open humane societies in the region.

During the spring months, cats give birth at a higher rate, leaving JHS with an increase in kittens to take care of just as the impact of COVID-19 was beginning to hit hard. 

“It's really impossible for the Jacksonville Humane Society to carry the weight of what would normally be carried by multiple Animal Control agencies in Northeast Florida,” Leyendecker said. 

To adjust to social distancing practices, JHS changed its adoption policies to appointments-only. People interested in adopting can browse the animals available on the JHS website

The shelter has stopped taking new volunteers, and split up current volunteers into two groups, so if one team is potentially exposed, the other can still cover the job.  

Since dogs and cats at the shelter were experiencing less social interaction due to COVID-19, the shelter started to foster out as many of their animals as possible. Leyendecker said they’ve gotten 70% of their animals into foster homes. 

“A lot of people won't foster because they're afraid that they're going to fall in love and end up keeping the pet,” Leyendecker said. “But once they know it's a temporary situation...I think it’s showing a lot of people that fostering is possible.”

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Financially, JHS has received grants and fundraising support, including an annual fundraiser that was made virtual. The event raised over $100,000.

But other animal care services in Jacksonville have more concerns financially. 

The Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida runs a facility on Jacksonville’s Westside. They take in possums, raccoons, deer, rabbits, turtles and other wild animals who are injured and need to be rehabilitated.   

pack of possum in a clear case trying to drink milk out of an orange container
Credit Via Wildlife Coalition of Northeast Florida
Tidwell says since more people have been home throughout the entire week, they've noticed a lot more wild animals on their properties that they want picked up.

Barbara Tidwell, the founder and president of the coalition, said they take in around 2,000 animals for rehabilitation per year.

The coalition runs purely through donations. Tidwell said usually when a person drops off an animal, they’ll leave a donation ranging from $5 to $50 to take care of the animal’s needs. 

“We are getting fewer funds right now because, number one, people not coming to the center,” Tidwell said. “We're trying to get these animals brought in and then people don't have money to donate because they've lost their job.”

The coalition was also planning to build an educational center at Lions Club Park in Arlington with the money from donations and fundraisers. That idea is in flux now, too. 

“I'm not sure when we can have fundraisers again,” Tidwell said.  “To go out and ask the public for money at a time when there’s so many other worthy causes like the coronavirus victims and people that have lost their jobs and don't have money to give to anybody or they're scared that they're not going to have a job.”

And since the coronavirus outbreak has caused more people to stay home for work, Tidwell said the coalition has received more calls for injured animals found on properties. 

“There's more animals coming in, but there are a few people to transport because so many people are isolating, working from home, not going out,” Tidwell said. “So to get the animals to us at the Wildlife Center has been quite a challenge.”

Tidwell said the coalition will still never say no, but it’s becoming harder and harder to meet the demand for transporting and rehabbing animals with costly supplies. 

Sylvie Schiller with Froggy’s Cat Rescue is undergoing similarly difficult circumstances. 

“We don't get free vet care,” Schiller said. “We pay for everything. We get medications, office visits, X-rays. We get a couple bucks off if we're lucky and if we have a vet who works with us, but we have to pay for everything.”

A $4,000 donation in February has helped Froggy’s get supplies, but Schiller said the struggle for funding will continue once that money runs out.

Froggy’s doesn’t keep cats at one specific facility. Instead, it uses a network of foster homes to temporarily house the felines. 

But due to the virus, they’ve lost the ability to take home visits, where people can interact with the cats and potentially adopt them. They’ve also lost a large bulk of their foster homes. 

“Coronavirus basically brought everything down to a screeching halt,” Schiller said. “Adoptions as well as fosters, as well as pretty much everything except medical care.”

And like the Wildlife Coalition, Froggy’s has seen an uptick in calls overall. 

Cat with an injury to their leg on a scratching post laid out on the ground
Credit Via Froggy's Cat Rescue
Froggy's Cat Rescue utilizes foster homes as the main way to house the cats, instead of a shelter facility.

“We get emails every day and phone calls every day about pregnant cats,” Schiller said. “I've had shelters reach out to me through Facebook...without foster homes, that's not happening. I have to say no, and I hate it.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms it has received reports that house cats and dogs can test positive for the coronavirus. The development concerns Schiller. She thinks it might alter people’s decision-making on taking care of, or adopting, a cat.

“You're not going to catch anything from your cat,” Schiller said. “If anything, your cat will catch it from us.” 

Eight lions and tigers at a zoo in the Bronx have tested positive for COVID-19, as well. 

The CDC recommends keeping pets from interacting with people outside the home, and keep cats from going outside. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

Former WJCT News reporter