The doors are locked at animal shelters Wisconsin, but the facilities remain operational and their mission remains very much alive.

“We are closed to the public, with the caveat that people can still make appointments for adoption events if they have a completed application on file with us,” Humane Society of Jefferson County Executive Director Jeff Okazaki said.

For the time being, animal shelters are considered an essential business under state guidelines.

With most businesses being closed to the public in advance of the “Safer at Home” edict signed by Gov. Evers on Tuesday, several shelters scrambled late last week to find foster homes for dogs in their care. The Watertown Humane Society reported on Tuesday that it had found foster homes for all of its dogs over the weekend, but had 12 cats remaining in its care.

A statement on the Watertown Humane Society Facebook page said, “During such a time of uncertainty, the one thing we can all be certain of is the unfailing love of a pet! All of us here would like to express the utmost gratitude to our foster homes, established ones who constantly offer to help and so many new fosters who responded so quickly to our pleas for help.”

It also sent “mountains of thanks and love” to the Elmbrook Humane Society, K&R Small Animal Sanctuary, Wisconsin Humane Society, and Center for Avian Rehabilitation and Education (CARE) in Waukesha.

The Wisconsin Humane Society recently took in the majority of what Watertown Humane Society President Cassie Richardson described as “a horde of 30 chihuahuas out of a local situation.”

In the current climate, Richardson said, their facility no longer would be able to accept transports of large numbers of animals from the south, and was limiting adoptions, which generally require close contact between facility workers and potential owners.

Foster care volunteers weren’t needed by the Jefferson County Humane Society, but that shelter was more the exception than the rule.

“We’ve seen that with a number of shelters across the state,” Okazaki said. “We were fortunate enough that we had pending adoptions (set up prior to the closings), and we are down to one dog in the shelter right now. Animals were already adopted instead of needing to find a home. We do have 30 to 40 cats available in the shelter, and we are certainly looking for adoptable (homes). They can be seen on our website ( We are fostering some small animals … a bonded pair of two guinea pigs and a rabbit.”

Having additional capacity could become critical in the coming weeks, should pet owners who contract COVID-19 become incapacitated and determine they are unable to care for their animals and look to shelters for assistance.

“I think we are preparing for all potential situations,” Okazaki said. “We would hope we don’t see any sorts of expansion and that measures that have been put in place will help contain the spread we are seeing. We are taking preparative measures to make sure our shelter is able to handle capacity if we are called on to do so by the county Department of Public Health. We’ve been in touch with them. We want to make ourselves available if that’s needed.”

The Watertown Humane Society also is on alert.

“We are getting prepared,” Richardson said. “We have room if we have to experience temporary (increases). We are here helping out the communities, if they need us. The first option (for foster care of pets) should be family and friends. If people are struggling to feed animals because of COVID-19 or economic struggles, we could help with cat or dog food. That is one of my big concerns: the blowback of the economic impact to our residents.

Richardson also encouraged people to donate bags of cat or dog food to their local food pantry.

“We also work with Watertown All-Breed Community,” Richardson said. “That’s the organization around several years that stopped the pitbull ban. We work with them when we have resources for dog food. We donate to them and they distribute to the food banks. In situations like this, we are definitely happy to help.”

Meanwhile, animal shelters are following guidance from state and federal governments and health departments and are rescheduling upcoming events.

One such event that recently was postponed by the Humane Society of Jefferson County was the Microchip Clinic set for Saturday, April 25.

For a fee of $25 per pet, owners could have their animals fitted with a microchip for tracking purposes, should the animal go missing.

One such microchip recently paid off for a Fort Atkinson resident who lost her cat in 2019. That animal was found and identified and returned to its owner almost a year after going missing.

“Even cats do need microchips because it does really help in identifying where they come from,” Okazaki said.

The Watertown Humane Society announced this week that its First Annual Furry Feud set for Saturday, May 9 in Ixonia, has been postponed.

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