All four Riverside County animal shelters were closed to the public Thursday for an indefinite period because of the coronavirus emergency and the need to promote containment measures — but adoptions will continue with fee waivers, according to the Department of Animal Services.
"Although the shelters are closed to the public, we're still at the shelter caring and providing for the animals, and our animal control officers are in the field protecting our constituents and animals," agency Director Julie Bank said.
The Blythe shelter, San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus, Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms and the Western Riverside County Animal Shelter in Jurupa Valley all fall under Bank's closure order.
The facilities underwent operational changes on March 17 in response to the countywide local health emergency tied to COVID-19, and only a limited number of visitors had been allowed into the shelters at a given time to maintain social distancing. The widely popular free pet vaccination clinics were also stopped because of crowding.
Now all visitations will be denied. However, Bank said programs will continue under modified conditions that minimize person-to-person contact.
"We have already been successful in placing more than 1,660 animals in March, and we are still coordinating adoptions, fostering and pet reunions, but these services will have a unique look," she said.
Prospective adopters and foster care volunteers will be able to view all impounded canines and felines via the Department of Animal Services' web portal, where they can select which pets they would like to take.
"We'll still do our official adoption process and proper vetting," Bank said. "But with strong social distancing still practiced. Also, if the pet does not make for a perfect fit, there is no pressure on the adopter to complete the application."
To encourage adoptions, the agency is waiving all adoption fees — including microchipping and spay/neuter costs — during the shutdown, according to agency spokesman John Welsh. He noted that dog license charges will continue because that's a state requirement, and the cost of a license is about $20 per canine.
Animals that are selected for adoption or foster care will be delivered directly to the qualifying recipients' homes, similar to an Uber or Instacart drop-off, Welsh said.
Foster applications are available at the department's website. Prospective adopters were encouraged to call the department at 951-358-7387 for more information, or send an email with the desired pet's identification number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We are monitoring what our county health officials say, and at this point, we do not have a definite date for reopening shelters to the public," Welsh told City News Service. "This is a whole new experience."
He said field operations are continuing without interruption, with animal control officers investigating neglect and abuse calls, impounding strays and performing other public safety functions.