Latin America animal lovers rush to aid pets abandoned amid coronavirus

Workers from the Mayor's Animal Care Unit office pose for a photo with the dogs they care for, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bogota, Colombia April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA/LA PAZ (Reuters) – Activists in Latin America are scrambling to house and feed animals abandoned by owners who misguidedly fear their pets will infect them with the coronavirus or who are unable to feed animals amid lockdowns that have caused increased unemployment.

Latin American governments have moved aggressively to contain the virus by closing borders and imposing quarantines.

Animal advocates in Colombia say the national quarantine that started in March and will run until April 27 is sparking pet desertions.

“Due to fake news and panic caused by misinformation, there are people who are abandoning their pets,” said Andrea Padilla, who was elected as the councillor for animal rights in Bogota.

Some social media users circulated rumors that pets can infect humans with COVID-19, prompting Colombia’s health ministry to say there is not sufficient evidence for the claims.

“Right now I am responding to more or less 150 WhatsApp messages a day,” Padilla said. Requests for animal food and reports of abandonment have doubled during the quarantine, she added.

Blanca Rodriguez, who runs an animal shelter in the city’s Usme neighborhood, is now caring for two dozen cats and up to 60 dogs after taking in an additional 10 animals since the quarantine began.

“In my area I have seen an explosion of abandoned animals,” Rodriguez said over a cacophony of barking. “They have raised the price of pet food too much. You can still get hold of it, but now it is more difficult.”

Rodriguez – who usually feeds her animals with a combination of donations and money she receives from adoptions – received 43 kilograms (95 lbs) of pet food via a private initiative run by Padilla.

“At least I’m going to sleep well tonight because I know I have food to give them tomorrow,” she said.

In Bolivia, Sergio Flores, who owns an animal shelter just outside of La Paz, says the quarantine is bringing “animals from all over the place.”

Advocates are now taking to the streets to feed strays that generally depend on scraps, said Maria Luz Menacho, an animal rescuer in La Paz.

“If we don’t come to look after them, to feed them, give them water and make sure they are OK, nobody else is going to do it,” she said.

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