Monday, December 21, 2020

Rising to the Task: SVPP CEO Describes Rescue in the Midst of a Pandemic

By all accounts, 2020 was an unprecedented year.  To find out how SVPP managed, against all odds, to rescue more pets than ever, we talked with SVPP Co-Founder and CEO Melissa Lisbon.

SVPP CEO Melissa Lisbon with Greta at a pre-pandemic fundraiser.

What was 2020 like for rescue and SVPP during the pandemic?
I think we will look back on 2020 and reflect on the incredible challenges we faced in animal rescue. The normal framework in which we operate was literally upside down! The shelters were closed so we could not assess the animals in person that needed rescue, vet clinics were having to reinvent their operations to keep the public safe and their services for rescues were limited. Both of these issues created complexity to our programs and greatly extended our timelines in providing necessary care for our rescued pets. In addition, we were inundated with inquiries about fostering pets in need and adoption applications were through the roof! It was exhausting!

With new protocols in place, the Wyrick family
adopted Raja (who is the only one without a mask!).
What were some of the big pivots you had to make?
We made a huge pivot from in person adoption events for dogs and kittens, to virtual meet and greets using Zoom or Google Meet. Initially, we thought this would be a really hard change, but fortunately it has worked out surprisingly well. We likely will
incorporate this option even when we can have in-person adoption events. Some of our felines and scared or shy dogs actually do better in Zoom meet and greets than in person! They can feel more at ease in their foster environment and not be expected to “turn it on” at an adoption event!

We had to make some other big pivots “behind the scenes.”  For example,  we had to create a foster-to-adopt program for our kittens, since we could not get our kittens spayed and neutered in the normal time frame we were used to before the pandemic. We had to modify our process and provide additional kitten care education to prospective adopters.

Wendi, at VCA Blossom Hill, took special care
 of (and fostered!) Xena, a kitten who had injuries
from being hit by a car.A work colleague of
Wendi's adopted this special rescue!
We also shifted resources in an attempt to respond to the large volume of applicants who wanted to foster a pet in need. We were grateful for the uptick in interest, however, it was challenging to deal with this volume and to educate applicants that fostering a pet in need is more than playing with a puppy. Many of our pets require a lot of medical care and close supervision. Ultimately, we feel like this opportunity to educate people about the realities of fostering was a benefit and we did onboard some great new foster parents!

What were some of the "ah ha" moments?
For me personally, one of the “ah ha” moments during the initial phases of the pandemic was the realization that people wanted and needed pets during this time more than ever. As a result, it was a great time for shelters and rescue organizations to demonstrate how they work together and a prime opportunity to involve the community in a process that often is misunderstood or "behind the scenes." 

What were a few of the major milestones accomplished this year?
I’m proud to say that we rescued more animals this year than in years past despite the obstacles we faced. This is a tribute to the compassion and power of our community, especially our talented volunteers who found the time to support our rescue efforts in a tremendous way throughout the pandemic and California’s fire season. 

What do you expect will be different in 2021?
I'm hoping that we will eventually get back to some normalcy where we can personally evaluate the pets we rescue at the shelter, vet clinics will return to having their normal capacity for medical services, and we can come together as a community in person at adoption and other events where the pet-loving community can celebrate the bond we have with our pets again! At the very least, I think everyone will have a greater appreciation for our essential workers and a renewed sense of the importance of a kind and compassionate community.