Change and innovation can be very exciting. Even so, it’s certain that most of us would prefer to meet new challenges on our own terms, rather than having a global pandemic thrust change upon us.

Last March, the Monadnock Humane Society (MHS) recognized the significant challenges they faced that would require them to adapt their operating and safety protocols in response to COVID-19. This health crisis impacted everyone, including the entire animal welfare industry.

According to Shelter Animals Count (shelteranimalscount.org), 500,000 fewer animals entered shelters as the pandemic curtailed travel and kept pet owners home. And the number of adoptions and new foster families skyrocketed. Tens of millions of pounds of pet food were distributed to pet owners in need, notes the Humane Society of the United States (humanesociety.org), and spay/neuter clinics were postponed to provide personal protective equipment for human medicine.

MHS took a proactive approach, implementing a Continuity of Operations Plan, with great efficiency and positive results. There has been increased emphasis on staff safety, while ensuring they could still deliver critical care and essential services to the community. They worked quickly to transfer their animal population in the shelter to foster families and actually increased their foster family pool by more than 30 percent.

There were other considerations as well. MHS has provided curbside delivery of over 2,000 pounds of pet food to local food pantries across the region and put a hold on spay/neuter clinics to preserve PPE for local hospitals. MHS temporarily suspended transports from southern shelters as virus transmission from states with high numbers of COVID-19 cases became a concern. Adoption rates exploded as people began working from home; families took this opportunity to bring a new furry loved one into their lives. Local stray and surrender populations became almost nonexistent, likely due to pet owners spending more time at home or having more time to devote to their pets.

Planning for their largest, in-person fundraiser — the MHS Hair Ball — was already well underway and scheduled for June 6. With the March shutdown, however, MHS responded with an alternative plan… it was the first organization in the Monadnock region to hold a virtual event. The Hair Ball was wildly successful, netting over $100,000, thanks to their sponsors and the generous support of the community.

Early preparation, continued optimism and adaptability allowed MHS to remain focused on their mission: to strengthen the animal-human bond by promoting and providing for the wellbeing of animals. They learned that proactively utilizing foster families allowed them to ensure that animals that might need more long-term behavioral or medical care did not have to stay in the shelter environment longer than necessary.

By conducting one-on-one animal adoptions by appointment, MHS is now able to spend more time determining the right match; the animal return rate has decreased by 85 percent. The organization continues to partner with local food pantries to provide pet food to those in need. Should an eviction crisis hit the region resulting in increased homelessness, MHS has the resources and capacity to care for any displaced animals through an Animal Safety Net program.

Through this pandemic, at-risk and unfortunate pets continue to come to MHS from many different backgrounds and situations. They inspire everyone by how they overcome their own challenges. Each has a different story. Take Astro, for instance, the dog who arrived on a transport with three legs, and is now running and jumping. Or, Edna, the 19-year-old cat found abandoned in a vacant apartment, emaciated and covered with mats. She is now healthy again, currently being fostered, and will very soon be adopted by a loving family.

Resilience, dedication, persistence, strength… these words resonate loudly as MHS reflects on 2020. The MHS family has continued providing vital services to the animals and people of the 44 towns they serve, and the MHS team never wavered.

For more information about Monadnock Humane Society, to view the recent 2020 MHS virtual annual meeting, or read the most recent annual report, visit monadnockhumanesociety.org.

Wesley H. Wratchford is the Monadnock Humane Society Board chairman. Kathy Collinsworth is executive director of the Monadnock Humane Society.