COVID-19 Toolkit | PAWS Chicago

PAWS Chicago COVID-19 Toolkit

A comprehensive guide on animals and PAWS Chicago support services

We will continue to update this Toolkit as new information becomes available. Thank you for your continued support of our people, animals and organization during these difficult times.

Please visit our blog for the latest news on PAWS Chicago during COVID-19.

As of Friday May 15, 2020

Check back for regular updates on PAWS Chicago operations as we adjust to the evolving Coronavirus recommendations and mandates.

Like you, we are carefully monitoring the progression of COVID-19 in the greater Chicago community. As you know, this is a fluid situation and our understanding about this virus and its impact changes daily. We'll continue to look to the CDC as well as local and state authorities to help inform our decisions.

Thankfully, PAWS Chicago is well versed in disease management- we do it every day in our shelter environment! As an organization, we are proactively planning for various scenarios that may occur over the coming weeks, ensuring that we are able to meet the needs of all of the animals in our care, while keeping the public, staff, and volunteers as safe as possible.

We have taken several important steps to continue saving the lives of homeless and vulnerable pets safely:

  • We launched a virtual adoption process, allowing prospective adopters to adopt online while sheltering in place. Interested in adopting? View adoptable animals and complete the virtual adoption form. 
  • Our North Shore Adoption Center is temporarily closed, enabling us to focus all of our staff, volunteer and medical resources between our two city locations-the Lincoln Park Adoption Center and our Medical Center on 26th Street.
  • We instituted enhanced social distancing protocols at our Adoption Center, Spay Neuter Clinic and with our Community Outreach team.
  • Our Lurie Clinic is temporarily closed to the public to limit interaction between our staff and clients. During this time, our medical team continues to perform surgeries for internal animals as they move through our adoption program, Community Medicine emergency services, and prioritizing urgent spay/neuter surgeries for Community Outreach pets and feral cats. We will be opening to the public again with new social distancing practices in place on June 7.
  • The PAWS Chicago Training Center is now offering virtual training classes! Now you can train with your dog from the comfort and safety of home.
  • We instituted new Personal Protective Equipment protocols for staff interacting with the public.
  • We temporarily paused new volunteer orientations, but activated an Emergency Volunteer Call Tree. In the event we have a special need for volunteers, we will reach out for support and assistance at our Medical and Adoption Centers.
  • We instituted additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols for our public spaces and commonly touched surfaces after each use.
  • We ordered additional food, cleaning, medical and other essential supplies, ensuring we will be able to maintain operations and care of our animals.
  • We temporarily restricted the flow of in-kind, used donations to the shelter. Examples include items such as used bedding, linens, and towels.
  • We are no longer able to host our Pet Food Pantry events but remain dedicated to the PAWS for Life mission by delivering pet food to those in our program who are in great need.
  • We have created a COVID-19 Crisis Care Foster Initiative for pet owners affected by the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus. If you need help caring for your pet during this time of crisis, please read more here

Please continue to take extra caution and follow CDC recommendations for preventative measures. Links to helpful tips can be found here:

We continue to ask all staff, volunteers, fosters, and clients to stay home if they have any symptoms that could indicate an illness, including a fever and/or a cough. ​If you have traveled recently to a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice, please follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's public health recommendations.

You are integral to the work being done every day at PAWS Chicago, and we're so thankful to you for continuing to support our lifesaving mission during this time. We'll continue to share updates with you as the situation evolves.

Thank you very much,

PAWS Chicago

Question: Can dogs and cats transmit COVID-19?

Answer: According to the World Health Organization: "There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly."

According to the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine, "The greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure to staff, volunteers and the public at animal shelters comes not from animals, but from other humans. Interventions to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection are the same at an animal shelter as in other aspects of daily life."



Question: Social distancing with animals: What do I need to know?

Answer: Be sure to follow your city and state guidelines that might be unique, but you should still be able to take your dogs on walks and runs. According to the New York Times experts, "The point is not to remain indoors, but to avoid being in close contact with people." The CDC recommends:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.



Question: If I have tested positive for COVID-19 or if I am sick and think I might have it, should I limit contact with my pet?

Answer: According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed by a test), restrict contact with your pets and other animals, just like you would around other people.

  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your pets while you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food or bedding.
  • If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Similarly, the OIE states:
"Currently, there is no evidence that companion animals are playing a significant epidemiological role in this human disease. However, because animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic diseases), it is still recommended that people who are sick with COVID-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus.
When handling and caring for animals, basic hygiene measures should always be implemented. This includes hand washing before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies, as well as avoiding kissing, licking or sharing food.
When possible, people who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid close contact with their pets and have another member of their household care for their animals. If they must look after their pet, they should maintain good hygiene practices and wear a face mask if possible. Animals belonging to owners infected with COVID-19 should be kept indoors as much as possible and contact with those pets should be avoided as much as possible."


Question: Do we have to worry if a pet was exposed to COVID-19?

Answer: According to the University of Wisconsin, "At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread COVID-19." 

Furthermore, the OIE states: "The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals have spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.
Some examples of animal infections have been reported to the OIE... So far, these appear to be isolated cases, and there is no evidence that dogs or cats are playing a role in the spread of this human disease. Further studies are underway to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19 virus. The OIE will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available."



Question: How can pet ownership benefit us during this time of social isolation?

Answer: Pets are scientifically proven to improve health, especially emotional, social, and mental health. Benefits include but are not limited to: better sleep, lower anxiety, increased social support, increased self-esteem, decreased muscle tension, decreased fear levels, decreased stress levels, decreased feelings of loneliness, increased immunity, and prevention of certain sicknesses.



Question: Would it be a prudent time to adopt?

Answer: With the virus impacting operations of all businesses and nonprofits, animal shelters are no exception. The need for foster and adoptive families is greater than ever. And because more and more workers will be at home for the next few weeks, it just might be the perfect time to bring home a new canine or feline family member. That being said, potential owners must be aware of the possible obstacles of adopting during a pandemic, like limited business hours and restricted socialization opportunities.

What will happen to your pets if you get sick?

The best time to create a plan is before you need one! We advise all pet owners plan for their pet care in the event they are unable to do so. This includes purchasing a month of food and medications, as well as a copy of your pets' medical records, on hand.

The Best Option for Your Pet: You

The best possible option is for your pet is to stay with you.  If you are ill but still able to care for your pets, take the precautions in the FAQ's above, including washing your hands, avoiding extensive contact with your pets and wearing a facemask around them. Even though there is no evidence that pets transmit COVID-19, it is best to be cautious while we learn more about this new virus.

Second Best Option for Your Pet: Friends and Family

In the event you cannot care for your pet, the second-best alternative is to find your pet a home with a friend or family member who knows your pet well.  You can continue to see your pet, so they don't feel abandoned.  

Next Best - No Kill Shelters

The best option is for your pet to stay with you, your family or friends. Shelters are a stressful place for pets. Even state-of-the-art shelters like PAWS that are designed to mirror a home environment have nonstop activity of strange people and pets moving about. It's anxiety-inducing for animals who thrive in the comfort of family and home. However, we know that life doesn't always go according to plan and disaster can strike.

At PAWS Chicago, we are working on initiating our Crisis Care Foster to provide temporary foster families for people infected who cannot care for their pets. More information will be available in the coming days.

Be prudent and ask questions when considering surrendering your pet to a shelter, or participating in a temporary foster program. What medical care will be provided? Under what circumstances might an organization consider euthanizing your pet?  All shelters are committed to helping animals, but there is a wide range of euthanasia policies. PAWS Chicago is committed to the highest No Kill standards, as evidenced by our 98% save rate. 

Other Alternatives

We are working with our community to compile a list of temporary support alternatives  for pets of people impacted by COVID-19.

Be very careful when handing your pet over to a stranger you have met online or through acquaintances. Check references to ensure the person is responsible and ask that they reach back out to you in the event that they can no longer care for your pet.  In fact, it is best to document those stipulations in a contract to show your seriousness.  

Giving Your Pet to a Shelter or Stranger Should Be a Last Resort-especially shelters who do not call themselves No Kill.

Taking in our alums during crisis

Adopting from PAWS Chicago guarantees your pet's life. Founded with the No Kill mission at heart, we are committed to each and every PAWS Chicago pet...for the entirety of their lives.  If anything should happen where our adopters can no longer care for their PAWS pets, we ask that they be returned to us.

That's why we at PAWS Chicago are always here for our animals. PAWS Adopters are also immediately at the top of our list for temporary Crisis Care Foster home so you can be reunited once you are healthy.

Did you adopt your pet from PAWS Chicago?  If so, please contact us at 773-328-2230 or for information on Crisis Care or surrendering your pet. 

PAWS Chicago provides a lifetime guarantee for every cat and dog in our program. Euthanasia is only reserved for pets who are irremediably suffering, where medical treatment cannot alleviate the condition, or for dangerous dogs who possess a threat to the public, as determined by behavior experts. Our save rate is an industry leading 97.9%, despite taking in a very high-risk population of pets.

What you can do to help PAWS Chicago and our Homeless Pets 

  • Supplies: We will continue to accept sealed food/treats and NEW animal supplies in packaging. We will no longer be accepting any household items (towels, sheets etc) or any used animal items with the exception of crates. We greatly appreciate your support.
  • Foster: Make a Difference When It's Needed Most - Foster families are needed now more than ever. In the case that we have to limit our large-scale operation, we will need to find temporary homes for over 200 homeless pets. If you have any room to spare in your heart and home, our staff and animals will forever thank you. Please, become an Emergency Foster Responder today!
  • Financial Support: So many individuals, businesses and charities are facing economic difficulties during these challenging times. PAWS Chicago and our homeless animals are no exception. We appreciate any financial support you can provide.

Absolutely! Pets are scientifically proven to improve health.

Benefits include but are not limited to: better sleep, lower anxiety, decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, decreased triglyceride levels, lower heart rate, decreased feelings of loneliness, increased social support, decreased stress levels, increased immunity and prevention of certain sicknesses.

You can read more with these references:

Advice for helping your neighbors care for their pets during a medical crisis

We're all in this together. If you're physically, mentally, and emotionally able, consider volunteering your time to your elderly, immuno-compromised, and chronically ill neighbors who may be having trouble caring for their pets right now. Offering to take dogs on walks and runs could make a huge difference to compromised individuals who may not feel comfortable reaching out for help.