COVID-19 Puts Global Animal Shelters in Crisis
By Meredith Ayan
While pet foster and adoption rates have soared in New York and many parts of the United States, globally, the situation is much direr.
In the face of COVID-19, these shelters are continually facing critical challenges, including food shortages, spikes in pet abandonment with a plummeting and near-zero rate of adoptions, overcrowding, and fears of culling. Thanks to our work with partners all over the world, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) International has a direct line of communication with these international shelters and a unique insight into their experiences during the pandemic. What we've been hearing is harrowing.
Under lockdown in China, animal organizations reached out to our team early this year reporting animals abandoned in apartments, on the streets, and in shelters as their owners passed away or were unable or unwilling to continue caring for their pets. To contend with lockdown policies and lack of access to food, one shelter began to make their own pet kibble with our shelter grant.
In the Dominican Republic, with restaurants and local stores shuttered, shelters have implemented a feeding program for community stray animals that normally rely on businesses or individuals for food.
In Montreal, donations of pet food from New Zealand-based pet food manufacturer Wishbone Pet Food provided a crucial resource as local shelters continued to provide care for animals.
And in Italy, SPCA Italia implemented a program to subsidize the cost of food and vet care for the pets of people who have experienced recent economic hardship so that they don't have to abandon or surrender them to already overburdened shelters.
Normally, shelter needs vary by region and size. Some simply need food or rescue support, others require veterinary materials and vaccines that are difficult to source internationally, and others seek to improve their community education outreach to help house more animals. However, during COVID-19, there has been a striking similarity in the needs and challenges of shelters across the world:
- They need food: Limited resources, lockdowns, and hoarding mean that sourcing kibble is becoming nearly impossible.
- Animals are being abandoned: Unfounded fears of animal to human transmission of the virus has led to spikes in abandonments and overflowing shelters without the staff or resources to care for them.
- When people struggle, so do animals: As communities face loss of income, due to the economic fallout of COVID-19, providing for pets or community animals is increasingly becoming difficult and sometimes, impossible.
The U.S. has a robust shelter and adoption system, but internationally, this is far from the case, particularly in countries with high stray populations and where keeping companion animals is less customary. Even under normal circumstances, international shelters contend with cultural stigma about strays and disease, volunteer-only staff, and limited resources. Many shelters typically export adoptable animals to countries where adoptions are more popular—mostly the U.S.
As COVID-19 continues to strain communities and redefine normal life, these typical challenges are amplified beyond recognition. With the situation changing almost daily across the world, borders in many countries still remain closed for non-essential travel, and exporting animals to the U.S. for adoption has become almost impossible. And whereas U.S. pet stores are considered essential, in other countries, these businesses are shuttered, and resources are at a premium.
The recent explosion at the port of Beirut intensified the effects of a city that was already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and a struggling economy. So many people lost their homes and loved ones in the blink of an eye. Our partners at BETA Lebanon have stepped up in a big way to help the animals and people affected by this disaster. SPCA International committed $20,000 from our disaster relief fund to aid their efforts during this difficult time.
Uncertainty, store closures, delayed shipments, and misinformation has had tragic implications for animals, making the work of these shelters on the ground even more urgent. Now more than ever, they need our support through monetary donations and veterinary supplies, which are readily available here. And, if you can, it's a great time to adopt or foster an animal while you're working from home to lighten the load on domestic shelters.
With the West Coast of the U.S. facing devastating wildfires, people are losing their homes, preparing to evacuate or having to shelter indoors due to the air quality and thick smoke. Similarly, areas in the South have experienced terrible fallout from hurricanes, and face a long season ahead. Displaced families rely on shelters and foster organizations to take care of their animals until they can be reunited. If you can open your home to an animal that needs a temporary place to stay, this can make all the difference for a family in need.
Meredith Ayan is the executive director of SPCA International.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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