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Stuck-at-home Chicagoans have rushed to foster animals

Shelters say fostering applications have soared, creating sizable wait lists.

Blep the cat with new foster caretaker Jonathan Corvin-Blackburn. Stuck-at-home Chicagoans have rushed to foster animals for companionship during the COVID-19 crisis.
Blep the cat with new foster caretaker Jonathan Corvin-Blackburn. Stuck-at-home Chicagoans have rushed to foster animals for companionship during the COVID-19 crisis.
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Jonathan Corvin-Blackburn lives alone and hasn’t had much contact with other humans since March 13 because of the coronavirus.

A little over a week ago, after hearing about an urgent plea from animal rescue groups looking for people to foster pets, he applied with The Anti-Cruelty Society and soon had a black-and-white cat nestled in his lap looking up at him.

“Having a buddy to get through this social distancing stuff seemed like a nice idea,” said Corvin-Blackburn, 33, a product designer at Grubhub.

“In some ways, I am more worried about her than me,” he said. “She’s funny, she’s either hiding under my bed or sitting on my lap. It feels nice having someone who’s depending on me in a way that’s not super stressful. I’m not super stressed caring about her.”

Applications to foster pets have skyrocketed in Chicago, a blessing for some nonprofit animal shelters trying to free up space in case they are called on for the short-term care of pets whose owners become hospitalized because of the coronavirus.

“We’re anticipating there might be a need for emergency sheltering,” said Lydia Krupinski, chief programs officer at The Anti-Cruelty Society, which is on the Near North Side.

About 300 kennel spots were open as of Wednesday, she said.

The feat was accomplished by placing four times the regular amount of foster animals in the past two weeks. A total of 152 pets found temporary homes in that time — seven rabbits, 64 dogs and 77 cats. (It would have been 78 cats, but a kitten named Porcupine was returned because it didn’t get along with a blind dog)

First-time foster applicants took in about half of the animals. Foster applications have also increased tenfold in the past two weeks, creating a waiting list of more than 300, Krupinski said.

“I think there’s a lot of city singles who are becoming lonely who maybe had a childhood pet but never had one as an adult. And this is their way of learning how to become a pet parent for the first time,” Krupinski said, noting adoption numbers have held steady.

“Another large portion of foster applicants are people saying ‘Hey, our kids are home from school, and we’d love to teach them how to be a responsible pet owner and give back to the community,” she said.

Two foster dogs — mixed-breed huskies named Sky Blue and Green — went to Erin Wuebben Suelter, who lives in the West Loop.

“My husband has our two dogs out of state at the moment in Omaha, Nebraska. He’s finishing his Ph.D. at Creighton University,” said Wuebben Suelter, 32.

She’s thankful for the temporary companionship.

Erin Wuebben Suelter with Sky Blue, one of two mixed-breed huskies from The Anti-Cruelty Society that she is fostering.
Erin Wuebben Suelter with Sky Blue, one of two mixed-breed huskies from The Anti-Cruelty Society that she is fostering.
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“I figured I wanted to help out, and if I was going to be stuck in an apartment at least this way I’d make sure I got exercise and kept to a regular schedule,” she said.

Nearly every city and suburban shelter had seen a similar spike in foster applications, Krupinski said.

“We’re way up, like way off the charts,” said Paula Fasseas, founder and chair of PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter in Lincoln Park.

Fasseas said the wait list of foster applicants has ballooned to several hundred.

“People are going through trauma themselves,” she said. “People are home, they’re wanting to have a little love in the home in these difficult times.”

Chicago Animal Care and Control partners with a number of rescue shelters to help find homes for the animals it takes in. And they leaned on those partners in recent days to accept as many animals as possible after the city agency, with social distancing in mind, temporarily stopped accepting walk-in visitors looking to take home a pet. They switched to appointment only, which reduced the number of pets going out their doors.