When disaster strikes New York City, the Animal Planning Task Force (APTF) of NYC Emergency Management is on the front line to help pets and pet owners weather the storm. These days, that storm is the COVID-19 pandemic, and with New York at its epicenter, the APTF has been hard at work to help pet owners cope with extraordinary challenges posed by this unprecedented global crisis.
The Task Force is a partnership between City agencies and nonprofit organizations, including the American Red Cross, Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), Animal Haven, ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, Bideawee, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, New York City Veterinary Emergency Response Team (NYC VERT), New York State Animal Protection Federation (NYSAPF), and PAWS NY.
As a longtime member of the APTF, the Alliance is working with our nonprofit and government partners — including the recently created Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare — to develop responses to assist pet owners in need of current, accurate information, pet food and supplies, and support services, including care of pets whose caretakers become ill or succumb to COVID-19.
Dealing with a crisis that literally affects everyone on the planet is a far cry from responding to a local or regional emergency, such as a hurricane. New York City’s Disaster Animal Response Plan (DARP), which was created by the APTF working under the guidance of NYC’s Emergency Management, provided a blueprint for responding to Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. But the scope and physical nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a new set of plans and responses, and so an alternate plan — the COVID-19 Pet Response Plan — has been developed, under the leadership of Christine Kim, Senior Community Liaison for Animal Welfare with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare. NYC’s COVID-19 Pet Response Plan is the first of its kind in the country.
The plan details responses to the most pressing needs of NYC pet owners during this crisis. Among its components:
- NYC COVID-19 Pet Hotline: NYC Emergency Management and the Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare announced the launch of the NYC COVID-19 Pet Hotline on April 28. The hotline, staffed by ASPCA employees, serves as an information, planning, referral, and service coordination hub for NYC residents who need support for their pets during the pandemic. Hotline operators can be reached at 877-204-8821, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily.
The Hotline has fielded hundreds of calls since its launch. Hotline operators help mitigate people’s questions and concerns about keeping their pets during the COVID-19 crisis, help callers identify solutions to meet their own individual needs, and connect callers to pet relief resources, such as subsidized emergency veterinary care and pet food and supply distribution services.
For NYC residents with pets requiring a higher level of care, cases are escalated to a second tier resource desk, collaboratively managed by Animal Haven, ACC, and HSUS, for coordination of temporary placement or supplemental care of their pets. This level of coordination is particularly important for pet owners who are hospitalized and have no personal resources to care for their pets in their absence.
- Public Messaging: A COVID-19 and Animals FAQ informational factsheet available in multiple languages was developed to answer pet owners’ questions concerning COVID-19 pet-related issues. APTF member organizations have promoted the factsheet via their promotional channels, including social media platforms. Additionally, flyers promoting the NYC COVID-19 Pet Hotline are being distributed on social media, and physical flyers are available at numerous locations throughout the city, especially in the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods.
- Free Pet Food Distribution: In March, the ASPCA established a free pet food distribution network to serve residents of all five boroughs. Food pickup at designated locations is available by appointment. In some areas, curbside delivery is available. Social distancing restrictions and guidelines are in place to protect the health and safety of ASPCA employees and their clients. Pet owners looking to access free pet food should call the NYC COVID-19 Pet Hotline at (877) 204-8821.
- Pet Care: Through the collaborative efforts of ACC, ASPCA, HSUS, and the NYSAPF, protocols are in place to respond in cases where a pet owner is hospitalized and unable to arrange for feeding and care for their pets who have been left alone at home or in cases in which a pet owner has died without having a plan in place for caring for their pets. These protocols provide for feeding cats in place in their home until the owner returns, placing dogs in temporary boarding, or, sadly, if the owner dies, placing the pets for adoption.
As we continue to collaborate with the City and work alongside our partners on the APTF, we will develop new resources to meet the evolving needs of NYC’s pets and their people. While we strongly urge pet owners to plan ahead for their pets’ care in the event of their temporary absence or death, the City’s COVID-19 Pet Response Plan provides a safety net to ensure the best possible outcome for every NYC pet who needs assistance.
For information or assistance, call the NYC COVID-19 Pet Hotline: (877) 204-8821, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily.