There's never been a better time to foster a shelter animal

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The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives, creating a tenuous future for not only us humans, but our four-legged friends who can't even contract it, too. Because of social distancing measures aimed at slowing the virus’s spread, some animal shelters have cancelled events or shut their doors to visitors, which means fewer adoptions — all while animals keep streaming in, Huffington Post reports. As a result, shelters across the country are urging people to foster. Now is a great time; relieving overwhelmed shelters by temporarily taking in a fur baby can provide not only much-needed companionship as we wait out the pandemic at home, but also a sense of purpose.

Morris Animal Refuge in Philadelphia, now closed to the public, recently put out a call for foster parents. Animal shelters in Chicago have an urgent need for emergency foster parents, too, according to Block Club Chicago, which has posted links where you can sign up to be one. The same goes for five animal shelters in the Houston area, KHOU 11 reports. Animal Welfare in Albuquerque has started an emergency foster program, per KRQE, which you can learn more about here.

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Opting to foster right now isn't just a good deed — it could help us all feel a little better during trying times. A bunch of research suggests pets can alleviate loneliness, something all of us will likely grapple with the longer we stay isolated from each other, once the novelty of livestream get-togethers wears off. In a 2019 study, participants reported reduced loneliness a mere three months after getting a pupper. An earlier study found that rural adolescents who owned pets reported lower levels of loneliness than those who didn’t own pets. Meanwhile, studies in older adults have shown that pet ownership may decrease loneliness, buffer the psychological impacts arising from the death of a spouse or other forms of social loss, and instill a sense of purpose .

And again, despite what you might’ve read on social media, there’s no evidence that dogs can contract or transmit COVID-19, as Mic recently reported. Although a Pomeranian in Hong Kong recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, only a low amount of virus particles were detected, and the doggo showed no symptoms Science reports. It was a true aberration in the form of one case.

If you’re not in a position to foster at the moment, consider making a donation to your local shelter in the form of money, food, or supplies. Many shelters could use the financial help after having to cancel fundraising events in an effort to practice social distancing. Contact the shelter before donating food or supplies; to avoid transmitting COVID-19, some shelters are accepting only unused, unopened items, and others only Amazon orders.

Fostering right now, if you can swing it, is a win all-around — not only for you, but also for struggling shelters, and, of course, your new furry friend.