Sacramento helps Strays during Shelter-in-Place

Community steps up for the animals

By Cathryn Rakich
May 2020

The sign posted at the entrance of Sacramento County’s Bradshaw Animal Shelter reads, “The shelter is closed to public access until further notice.”

It’s late March, three weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency and ordered Californians to stay home to help combat the spread of COVID-19. As a result, Sacramento animal shelters have shut their doors to the public.

With skeleton crews and volunteers directed to stay home, shelters do not have the resources to care for all the animals. But homeless dogs and cats living in kennels and cages don’t know that. They still need a safe place to lay their heads, eat and receive care.

That’s when the community stepped up. With so many people sheltering in place and working from home—with extra time on their hands—companion-animal fostering has moved up on the list of volunteer opportunities.

“Happy Tails has seen an unprecedented influx in requests to foster dogs over the past two weeks,” says Kelly Cunningham, dog foster coordinator for Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary in East Sacramento. “In one week, Happy Tails was able to assist the local shelters in moving 13 dogs into private homes”—including the Midtown home of Cynthia Page and her partner Levi Bohon.

“Levi and I made the decision to foster because we knew we had more than enough space in our home and our hearts to provide a safe, loving place for a dog needing a forever family,” Page says. “Upon hearing of the shelters closing, we knew it was time to step up.”

Inside the Bradshaw shelter, which is typically bustling with visitors, staff and volunteers, the atmosphere is subdued as personnel work diligently to match pets with emergency foster homes and local rescue groups.

After sending out a plea for foster homes, the city’s Front Street Animal Shelter reports that more than 100 pets were transferred into emergency foster homes and the shelter is practically empty.

The Sacramento SPCA on Florin-Perkins Road moved out nearly 200 animals through adoptions and fostering, greatly reducing its population so employees can focus on sick and injured left behind for medical care.

“We have a much smaller population at the shelter being cared for by our staff,” says Dawn Foster, director of marketing and communications at the SSPCA. “This enables us to focus on the emerging needs of our community’s pets.”

As the public reached out to help, shelters and rescue groups kicked into high gear. People interested in taking in an animal on a temporary basis were interviewed to ensure fostering was a good fit for person and pet. Shelter staff and rescue group representatives maintained social distancing while meeting with new foster parents, and transferring pets into their temporary residences.

All three shelters are now closed to the public and have suspended adoptions. The Bradshaw and Front Street shelters are still assisting people who have lost their pets, as well as with online licensing. The SSPCA is accepting owner-surrendered animals by appointment only, but only sick and injured pets.

With the shelters closed, what should community members do if they find a stray animal? “We are not accepting strays at this time unless they are sick or injured,” says David Dickinson, director of the Bradshaw shelter. If people do pick up a stray, “they should be willing to hold it and can go online to the appropriate neighborhood app and post flyers at nearby grocery stores and on posts near intersections.”

Dickinson also emphasizes the importance of ensuring all pets have an identification tag with at least one current phone number, as well as a microchip, so lost pets can be returned to their owners immediately.

In addition, “animal owners need to arrange for emergency caregivers to take in their animals if needed due to COVID-19,” Dickinson says. “They should make plans now with neighbors, family and friends to assist so shelters are not impacted.” RedRover, a national nonprofit helping animals in disasters, offers resources, including emergency-boarding grants. Go to

Despite the enormous impact on people and pets during this unprecedented pandemic, what’s important is that Sacramento animal lovers are coming forward to help. “The crisis has impacted our community in so many ways, and it is encouraging that animals in need are being considered in our shelter-in-place plans,” Cunningham says.

“So many community members are asking how they can help,” Foster says. “With the closing of our public programs, the revenue that provides a significant part of our income disappeared. That is why we are asking the community to make a monetary donation to ensure that we are here for whenever and however we are needed.”

For information on donating and the status of operations, visit each shelter’s website: Bradshaw Animal Shelter at; Front Street Animal Shelter at; or the SSPCA at

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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