Finding homes for furry friends during pandemic

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Honey, left, and Jen roll around together during playtime last week at the Hawaii Island Humane Society in Keaau.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Alexis Anzai lifts Gemma while playing with dogs last week at the Hawaii Island Humane Society in Keaau.

The Hawaii Island Humane Society continues to serve animals and would-be pet owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because coronavirus cases throughout the state have increased, the humane society has chosen to remain closed to the public, but the nonprofit is continuing its foster-to-adopt program online and by appointment.


“The foster-to-adopt program has shown to be very successful so far,” said Lauren Nickerson, community programs director for the HIHS.

Nickerson said that about 90% of animals in the foster-to-adopt program get adopted at the end of the trial run.

Since the program began in March, 527 pets have been adopted, with 83 currently residing in foster-to-adopt homes.

“Many of our foster parents don’t even wait a whole week before deciding to adopt,” Nickerson said.

Individuals and families interested in adoption or fostering can browse through pictures of dogs, cats and other animals on the humane society’s website and apply for the program.

“We are dedicated to getting animals into homes, but with a lack of volunteers working here, it can take up to 72 hours to get back to some people,” Nickerson said.

Although there is a demand for adopting animals everyday, the humane society is encouraging people to consider getting an adult dog or cat.

“We’re so happy that there is a demand out there, but we need more help finding homes for adult dogs,” Nickerson said. “After a couple days, you can really get to know an adult dog’s personality, and they won’t stray from that too often.”

Gemma and Jen are two young, adult dogs that are ready to be adopted or fostered. Last Tuesday, they played together in a yard at the Keaau shelter to get some exercise.

Gemma was thin and nearly bald when she came to the humane society, but has since grown into a happy girl that loves other dogs.

One of Jen’s back legs had to be amputated, but she has healed well and is ready to be adopted.

“Gemma and Jen are two examples of the many adult dogs we have,” Nickerson said. “It’s so rewarding to see older dogs become comfortable for the first time and adapt in a loving home.”

The employees at the Keaau, Waimea and Kona shelters have been pulling triple-duty since the humane society closed to volunteers at the end of March.

Staffs are working on the foster-to-adopt program online, ensuring foster parents have everything they need for their animals and making sure adoptions are done correctly, all while taking care of the animals at the shelters.

“We have a limited staff, and the phones never stop ringing. It has been constant work,” Nickerson said. “Once one kennel empties, it is filled once again.”

To help foster parents, the humane society has been covering medical support and has helped provide equipment and food as donations allow.

They also are working with three trainers who can provide behavioral support, give advice and help new foster parents with their first-time experience.

“Our goal is to have pets stay in the home,” Nickerson said. “If we can help new owners tackle issues that can be solved, then that means less animals will be taken back to the shelter.”

There are about 400 foster individuals who have volunteered to take dogs and cats in, which has expanded what the staffs at the three shelters can accomplish during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can continue to stay alive because of our fosters,” Nickerson said. “They donate their time, money and have saved a countless amount of animals.”

Although the humane society cannot involve volunteers at the facilities presently, Nickerson is encouraging interested people to reach out and look into becoming a volunteer in the future.

“We’ve been working on a volunteer program that can give opportunities to everyone that wants to help,” Nickerson said. “We’ll be able to place people in jobs where they can thrive and help alleviate the work of our staff.”

Shelter staffs have been brainstorming more ways to help pet owners and their animals while the shelters remain closed to the public.

Keaau shelter employee Alexis Anzai has spearheaded a Community Pet Pantry to help pet owners who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualifying individuals can apply to the program to receive two weeks worth of pet food based on the total weight of the animals. The program has been able to accumulate and distribute about 7 tons of food islandwide so far.


All three shelters will continue to accept new, unopened bags of dry cat, dog, kitten and puppy food during business hours. Anyone interested adoption can find more information on the foster-to-adopt program at

Email Kelsey Walling at

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