By TAYLOR HAELTERMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Employees at Preuss Pets in Lansing wear masks and gloves and stand behind a plexiglass shield in the parking lot to test water and sell fish and pet supplies.
It’s a scene that could be mistaken for a set for the next apocalyptic blockbuster. Now it’s daily life for these essential workers in light of COVID-19.
Animal-related organizations across Michigan face new challenges in caring for their critters in the midst of a pandemic.
Humane societies and rescue shelters have had to rely on foster owners. Zoos and aquariums have had to adjust to running without guests. Pet store owners have had to adapt to the 6-foot spacing guideline with curbside service.
And all have had to become more conscious of the health and safety of their employees.
To balance animal care with employee safety, operations have changed in almost every aspect for Preuss Pets, said Kirbay Preuss, whose family owns and operates the store.
“Taking care of our animals is super important,” Preuss said. “But taking care of our staff is also our first priority.” The store sells animals as diverse as corals, pythons, chinchillas and the occasional macaw.
Pet stores are considered essential businesses because they sell food and supplies for animals. During the limited operations, Preuss Pets sells fish and animal supplies only through curbside pickup.
Customers order through text, Facebook Messenger or email. Payment is done outside the building via PayPal or a square reader that scans cards, or connects with Apple Pay or Google Pay.
The Michigan Humane Society has also had to change, taking in animals only in emergencies and delivering supplies to homebound clients to ensure animals are fed, said Anna Chrisman, the group’s media manager.
The organization has suspended adoptions and temporarily closed some of its locations.
“The animals are consolidated at our facility in Westland so we only have staff operating out of two of our locations instead of four, and it’s minimal staffing,” Chrisman said. “It’s the number of folks necessary to ensure that everybody gets the care that they need and nothing beyond that.”
For some animal-related organizations, changes are less drastic.
Michele’s Rescue in Grand Rapids practices social distancing by arranging meetings between potential owners and pets only over the internet, said founder Michele Schaut. Those interested in adoption can now video call to see and get to know the animals in place of an in-person visit before they decide whether to adopt.
Schaut said she hopes people don’t cause unnecessary worry by taking concern for sheltered animals overboard.
“I’ve heard a lot of ‘Oh the shelters are going to suffer,’ but I haven’t seen it,” she said. “We have contact with several shelters and I haven’t seen animals being neglected or left in cages. They are still being cared for.”
Preuss said the new health and safety guidelines are mostly a continuation of practices those working in the industry already used, as they must follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols for working with animals.
For some, there is also concern about another issue regarding animal health — potential impulse- buying of pets while their owners are sheltered in place.
Chrisman warns against getting a pet without considering life after the pandemic.
“The fact that you are home for a couple of weeks actually might make it a really good time to take a pet into your life,” she said. “However, there’s obviously other considerations to take into factor.
“So, should you go back to work in two or three weeks? Does your lifestyle support having a pet?”
If not, but you still want a companion in the interim, fostering may be the solution, Chrisman said. She recommends reaching out to a local shelter to learn more about the process.
The Michigan Humane Society has over 400 animals in foster homes around Metro Detroit, easing the burden on the staff, said Chrisman.
“Our volunteers stepped up in a huge, huge, huge way for us,” she said. “Had we not had so many people being so willing to step in and help, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.”
Community support seems an important factor when it comes to the survival of many animal-related organizations.
For the Humane Society, the support is in foster owners and recognition.
For Michele’s Rescue that support is in the form of foster owners deciding to adopt their pets and local partners helping with supplies.
“Our main supporters have been very helpful getting us supplies,” Schaut said. “Our PetSmart, which is one of our partners, has given us deep discounts for animal food. Basically anything that we need, they make it happen.”
Taylor Haelterman writes for Great Lakes Echo.