Animal Advocates in Philly Respond to COVID-19

vet tech Molly with clinic patient Charlie
PAWS vet tech Molly Lawton holds patient Charlie. (Courtesy of Melissa Levy)

Cantor Scott Borsky’s car is so full of pet supplies he can barely see out the back.

“I’m like a mobile pet store,” he said.

Borsky runs Cantor Scott’s Animal Rescue Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The nonprofit normally provides food and rescue for stray and feral cats, with Borsky handling feedings and Corine Weinstein in charge of rehabilitation.

However, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he has also started delivering dog and cat food to pet owners in need. Many of them are elderly and staying inside due to health concerns, and many have recently lost their jobs.

Borsky has delivered pet supplies to food pantries since before the pandemic began.

“We started a project where I went around to as many food pantries in the area and asked if they had pet food — they always said no,” he said. “The great majority of folks who come in to the pantries for themselves and their families also have pets. If they can’t afford food for themselves, do you think they can feed their pets?”

He has witnessed increased demand for foster cats due to social distancing.

“There has been a rise in people contacting me to say, ‘I’m home and have nothing to do, do you have any kittens that need to be bottle fed?’ And that has been a blessing,” he said.   

Lori Sherman, a volunteer for Project MEOW in West Philadelphia, has also seen a rise in demand for foster cats.

“We’re usually scrambling to find fosters for friendly cats and now the reverse is true — we’re scrambling to find cats for people interested in fostering,” she said.

Project MEOW usually focuses on trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats, as well as rehabilitating friendly ones so they can be kept as pets. They have also been providing food to low income and elderly pet owners during the pandemic.

Sherman is not concerned about the availability of fosters, but she said the coronavirus has caused other issues, including a reduction in spay and neuter surgeries that could lead to an explosion of kittens later in the year.

She has also had to stop all volunteer activities that require in-person interactions due to her work as a midwife.

“I’m a health care provider and I’m on the front lines, and I would never want to jeopardize the well-being of a person,” she said. “If someone needs in-person assistance for an animal, I have to pass that along to someone else.”

The threat of spreading the virus through social interaction is also causing problems for the pet foster nonprofit PACT for Animals. The organization usually provides temporary foster homes for the pets of members of the armed forces and hospitalized patients, but this has become impossible.

“The problem is in the last month is we’ve had increasing numbers of people who had the virus who need someone to take care of their pets,” said People Animals Companions Together founder and President Melvin “Buzz” Miller.  “We don’t know how, right now, to solve this problem. We can’t let our volunteers take the chance.”

Miller also said that while social isolation is motivating more people to foster and adopt shelter animals, animal welfare organizations are hurting because they’re not getting the financial contributions they need to pay for food and veterinary care.

Cantor Scott Borsky delivers pet food and supplies to owners in need due to COVID-19.
Cantor Scott Borsky delivers pet food and supplies to owners in need due to COVID-19. (Courtesy of Cantor Scott Borsky)

PACT has already postponed a fundraising campaign that was originally scheduled for Memorial Day to July 4.

“You can’t do a dog walk if you can’t have people together,” he said.

PACT is planning to reunite animals currently in their custody with their owners following a quarantine period of two weeks.

Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society is still providing urgent rescue and veterinary services.

“We have been committed from the very start of this crisis to continuing to rescue animals who need us and serving pet owners in the community,” said PAWS Executive Director Melissa Levy.

She said staff have limited the number of people in the building by having pet owners wait outside while animals receive treatment and conducting all foster and adoption meetings by appointment only.

Volunteers are scheduled one or two at a time for each physical area in the building so they can observe social distancing guidelines.

Levy said it would be possible for shelters to become overwhelmed if the pandemic worsens and people are forced to leave their pets behind when they go to the hospital.

“With this crisis, there’s just no telling how it might be even worse when people become sick or have to care for loved ones or have financial hardship,” she said. “We are doing everything possible to be prepared for this.”

The dramatic increase in fosters and adoptions has helped.

“The response from the community has been tremendous. We’re able to place animals into foster care almost as fast as we’re rescuing them, which allows us to keep the building relatively empty in case there is an influx of animals that need us in coming months,” she said.

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