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Here’s how one Port Richmond deli helped animals during the pandemic

While much of America is finding ways to help people who’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Joanie Thompson, an employee at Hecker’s Deli in Port Richmond, found a way to help many who have been forgotten. Specifically, pets. Pets at the SPCA’s Erie Avenue location, that is.

Bruno, a dog in foster care. | Photo provided by Gillian Kocher.

While much of America is finding ways to help people who’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Joanie Thompson, an employee at Hecker’s Deli in Port Richmond, found a way to help many who have been forgotten. Specifically, pets. Pets at the SPCA’s Erie Avenue location, that is.

From Feb. 26 to April 10, Thompson set up a donation bin inside Hecker’s Deli, where she works part-time. People could donate anything that could be of use to the animals or staff at the SPCA, including blankets, towels, dog and cat food, hand sanitizer, paper towels, doggy pads, grooming materials, leashes, newspapers and hand soap. The center currently isn’t allowing volunteer visitors.

“You just feel so bad for [the animals],” said Thompson, a dog lover (she’s “afraid” of cats, but she’s working on it). “They don’t get all the love and affection.”

In fact, it was actually the second round of donations Thompson conducted, the first being during the holiday season a couple of months prior. 

“Everyone around the holidays is doing this for kids, but some people forget about the pets,” Thompson said. During the most recent donation drive, Thompson said customers donated about a car and a half full of materials. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SPCA’s Philadelphia Veterinary Clinic at Erie Avenue has been open to families by appointment only with curb-side drop off to treat sick, urgent and emergent cases. It has delayed non-emergency surgeries, including spays and neuters, because of a decision by the Veterinary Medical Association, which is leading an effort to conserve supplies, including oxygen and other equipment, should they be needed for human patients. Additionally, vaccine clinics have been canceled until further notice because they tend to draw crowds.

Gillian Kocher, director of public relations at the Pennsylvania SPCA, said that adoptions are still available from foster homes, but prospective owners will typically adopt their future pets virtually. Dogs are also able to be adopted from the shelter, “but everything is done prior to adopters coming here,” Kocher said in an email. The exception to the rule is dog meets, which happen outside of the clinic.

The first carload of donations loaded up and ready to be taken to the SPCA. | Photo courtesy of Joanie Thompson.

Financial support is currently the best way to help the SPCA, Kocher said.

“Right now, funds are greatly important to the organization,” Kocher said. “With the losses of revenue from fundraising events and public-facing services, we are asking the public to donate at this time. Additionally, they can participate in our Good Dog Jog, or donate food items to the shelter, which will then be provided to the community through our outreach program.”

Kocher said the SPCA has luckily had an “immense response” from foster families who have taken on pets.

“[M]any of our animals are spending the quarantine in homes, even if they are only temporary,” she said. “The animals in our shelter don’t realize that anything is different, though they may miss some of their volunteer friends who are not able to visit at this time.”

Kocher said that the dogs in the shelter are being walked, fed and cared for by the SPCA staff as normal. 

“Our behavior team is here as well working with these pups on any challenges they may have,” she said.

Fortunately, the SPCA has yet to have any staff furloughs or layoffs. Kocher said the SPCA is “working closely with staff who may have illnesses in the family, or lack of child care due to school closings.”

For those worried about their pet getting infected with coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it does “not have evidence that companion animals, including pets, can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to people or that they might be a source of infection in the United States.”

(Despite this, a tiger in a New York zoo has been confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, the USDA said. It’s believed that the tiger became infected with the illness when it came in contact with a zoo employee who was shedding the virus, but an investigation is ongoing.)

Despite the lack of evidence linking companion animals and humans, the CDC advises owners to “[t]reat pets as you would human family members.”

“[D]o not let pets interact with people or animals outside the household,” its website says. “If a person inside the household becomes sick, isolate that person from everyone else, including pets.”

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