Remaining paw-sitive

By Michelle Talsma Everson, August 2020 issue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone, including our furry, four-legged friends and the nonprofits that help them.

“Animal shelters rely on their communities to keep their doors open and provide care for their animals,” says Michael Morefield, marketing and communications director for Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL). “Supplies, donations, adoptions to allow the rescue of more animals; the fear was palpable as the world was engulfed in a worldwide pandemic. Would people continue their support when the fear of job loss, empty shelves, and the drastic change to their daily life hovered over their every move?”

Please note: This is not a complete list of all animal shelters and nonprofits in Arizona, but a good starting point. To find one that resonates with you, search online, on social media, or visit

AAWL ( is Arizona’s largest and oldest no-kill shelter, according to the organization, with multiple locations in the Phoenix metro area. The organization is just one of many local animal-based nonprofits that have been impacted by the pandemic.

“It became abundantly clear; no matter the hardships they suffered, the community would stand for their shelters,” Morefield continues. “Adoption appointments were booked within hours of being posted, ‘longtime’ residents were measured in weeks and not months, while the lobby filled with donations we desperately needed to help our mission. The most common question asked of our staff was not about adorable puppies or rambunctious kittens, it was, ‘How can I help?’ It was powerful and humbling; the community has provided the support needed to weather the most difficult of times. Whether it is items on their wish list like toys or blankets, monetary donations [no donation is too small], or spreading their message, please support your local shelter.”

AAWL continues to feel the impact of COVID-19, so donations are still welcome, as are adoptions by appointment-only. In addition to AAWL, here are some more local nonprofits that give back to our furry friends.

Arizona Humane Society (AHS)

“For the Arizona Humane Society, saving the sick, injured and abused pets of the Valley has been its mission for more than 60 years,” says Bretta Nelson, PR manager. “It is a mission that is essential even when a global pandemic hits and is made possible due to a variety of program modifications, many of which will likely outlast the pandemic.”

Nelson shares that AHS acted fast to shift many of its operations to fit pandemic restrictions. Changes include a Virtual Adoption Matchmaking program, updates to its foster program, moving services as much as possible to online and curb-side, and coordinating adoptions to just be in one location. They also added a social worker to help pets stay in their homes even as their families faced challenges.

“We have become versed rather quickly in this new virtual world, but as a nonprofit organization, we recognize the impact that COVID-19 will have on our fundraising efforts,” Nelson says. “AHS is forecasting a $1.35 million net shortfall between lost fundraising revenue and lost service revenue from areas such as our vaccine clinics and public spay/neuter services and are carefully managing expenses to keep this deficit as small as possible.”

Better Days Rescue

Better Days Rescue promotes responsible dog ownership by educating the public in the selection, care, and training of dogs, according to the organization. This nonprofit has no shelter location; all dogs live in foster homes or private boarding accommodations.

“COVID’s impact on the economy is resulting in an increase in surrendered and abandoned pets as unemployment climbs and more people become displaced,” shares Hannah Romberg, manager of Better Days Rescue. “The weakened economy also naturally dampens BDR’s ability to fundraise. Another COVID-related difficulty for us in the rescue world is that it forced the closure of Maricopa County’s East Valley shelter, leaving only the West campus open. Navigating county requirements including even the basic paperwork required to accomplish licensing, transfers, and connecting a dog’s microchip number to its county record gets protracted because the West shelter, with limited staff, is now twice as busy.”

One positive that has come from the pandemic, says Romberg, is a renewed interest in adoption of their dogs and a speedier adoption process as many pet parents are home.

“We have more foster and adopter interest than ever before as people shelter in place with newfound time to spend with animals.”

Heidi’s Village

One nonprofit that opened during the pandemic is Heidi’s Village, an animal shelter, rescue and safe haven for animals in need. “Our first-of-its kind space opens at a precarious time. We have dramatically altered our initial planned daily operations protocols to ensure the safety and health of both our staff and animals,” says Lisa Evans Johnson of Heidi’s Village, noting they ensured social distancing, helped get team members trained virtually, and implemented procedures for regular sanitization of all surfaces throughout the process of intake, housing, grooming and health assessment as well as operations.

While the building was covered by donations, Heidi’s Village is seeking donations and volunteers to keep their mission going.

“When it is safe, we will also have volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups,” says Evans Johnson. “Whether you are interested in assisting with administrative duties, cleaning and disinfecting animal areas, socializing animals, or providing enrichment activities for our animals, we rely heavily on the important role of volunteers to help us achieve our mission of fostering a community where animals are treated with respect, dignity and compassion.”

Foothills Animal Rescue

Foothills Animal Rescue has been serving the community for more than 25 years. While they have been closed to the public since the beginning of the pandemic, they continue to offer adoptions by appointment on a limited basis and have been able to place many dogs and cats into loving homes during this time.

“Despite it all, we are happy to be working and caring for our shelter pets. If nothing else, COVID-19 has taught us to be flexible and creative in our approach to animal welfare,” says Melissa Gable, chief engagement officer. “The public has been amazing with their support but we are asking anyone who might be interested in helping our cause to consider doing so by making a tax-deductible donation.”

La Gattara Cat Cafe

La Gattara Cat Cafe has temporarily closed its doors at its popular Tempe location, but still has dozens of feline friends available for adoption who are currently being cared for in foster homes. Melissa Pruitt, its owner, shares that the focus for the organization — which has a nonprofit pending status — is raising funds for a new location to open later this year.

“This new space is a great size, and great shape, and has enough space for everything we would need, but we’ll need to renovate it to account for our new, furry tenants,” says Pruitt. “Together with community support, we believe that La Gattara can provide a new, larger safe-haven for feline care, and begin offering other services, such as feline behavior training and assistance.”

To support La Gattara, locals can donate to their Go Fund Me page at Until the big move, Pruitt is still in need of cat supply donations and financial support to help care for the cats.

Phoenix Zoo

The Phoenix Zoo is one the largest nonprofit zoos in the country with 125 acres and more than 3,000 animals to care for, many which are endangered and threatened, says spokesperson Linda Hardwick.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zoo closed in March, the busiest season of the year. The Zoo furloughed staff, eliminated positions and was operating with less than 40% of employees. With more than 80% of revenue coming from guests visiting the Zoo, this amassed to a total of nearly $6 million lost during the Zoo’s closure.

The Zoo launched Cruise the Zoo in May, a drive-thru experience allowing vehicles to drive the trails of the Zoo to see the animals which has become wildly successful and given the Zoo a much needed revenue stream, although will never make up the significant loses. The Zoo opened to foot traffic in mid-June, but recently closed its doors again given the rise of COVID-19 cases in Arizona and will continue to host Cruise the Zoo to allow for a socially distanced activity for guests to enjoy.

“Although the Zoo is closed again, the work behind the scenes continues; more than 5,000 meals are prepared each week for the animals, routine exams and medical attention are still taking place, the grounds need to be maintained and kept safe and secure and your help is needed.”

Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

Established in 1994 and based in Scottsdale, the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

(SWCC) rescues and rehabilitates wildlife that has been injured, displaced, and orphaned. Once rehabilitated, they are returned to the wild. Sanctuary is provided to animals that cannot be released back to the wild. SWCC also offers educational programs and opportunities in the field of conservation medicine. Wildlife education includes advice on living with wildlife and the importance of native wildlife to healthy ecosystems. 

Like other nonprofits and conservation groups, Southwest Wildlife is challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the economy and our community. Southwest Wildlife operates solely from the public’s support and relies on donations and grants to keep the facility open with trained volunteers and veterinarians caring for the animals 24/7, according to the organization. They are grateful to the public for donations (see a wish list on their website) and sponsorships of animals, according to the organization.

Two Pups Wellness Fund

Two Pups Wellness Fund’s mission “is to provide financial aid from the heart for the care and health of our four-footed friends who give us their hearts.”

“COVID-19 has been a major disruptor to the world at large and Two Pups Wellness Fund is feeling its impact,” says Nancy Silver, founder, and Bip Haley, director of operations in a joint statement. “Due to the need for social distancing and stay-at-home orders, we had to cancel our annual spring fundraising bash, along with other smaller fundraising events. Our work, helping to fund treatments and care for sick and injured animals within our shelters and rescues, has not stopped and demand for medical assistance continues. Two Pups will continue its mission to those animals that need us the most. It is vital for us to look for new and innovative ways to attract donors and continue to build strong partnerships with our community.”

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