Risa, a nine-year-old Staffordshire terrier, and Sky, a five-year-old tuxedo cat, shared a home for years in Laurelton, Queens, until their caretaker passed away from COVID-19. Sadly, that tragedy is not unusual during this devastating pandemic.
“For people and pets alike, the pandemic has torn apart families,” says Katherine Good, Foster and Placement Manager at the ASPCA.
Katherine encouraged a family member to call the NYC COVID-19 Pet Hotline, a resource for New York City residents needing support for pets during the pandemic. No one in their family could care for the pair, so the two pets were relinquished to Animal Care Centers of NYC in Manhattan. After a quarantine period, Risa and Sky were then transported to the ASPCA on April 27 for placement with a foster caregiver.
“For two beloved pets to lose their family to such terrible circumstances is heartbreaking,” says Molly M., a volunteer with Rescuzilla, a foster-based rescue organization in NYC that’s connected with the ASPCA’s placement partner network. “But part of the silver lining during this pandemic has been the influx of people wanting to foster and adopt. It’s bittersweet and as good as good can be in such terrible times.”
Molly has fostered more than a dozen dogs for Rescuzilla, which places pets directly with adopters. She and her fiancé agreed to foster Risa and find her a home.
“Risa—short for ‘sonrisa’—means ‘smile’ in Spanish, and she always looks like she’s smiling,” says Molly. “She spent a couple of weeks with us and we took her everywhere, even camping. She fit right in and was eager to meet everybody.”
On May 16, Risa was introduced to her future adopters, Phoebe and Marvin S., via a Zoom call first, then in person a few days later.
“We wanted a smaller dog, but there was a nice photo of Risa online—and she looked like she was smiling,” says Phoebe. She and her husband Marvin officially adopted Risa on June 8.
Risa’s age also appealed to the South Orange, New Jersey, couple.
“We’re 68, about the same age as Risa in dog years,” Phoebe says.
“We have a cat, Tory, whom we love, but we’re both now retired and home all day, so we wanted a dog, too,” says Marvin. Risa was the perfect match.
“She has very good table manners,” says Phoebe. “At mealtimes, she knows not to beg, and just lies on the floor in our vicinity. Her favorite part of the meal is when we load the dishwasher—she gets to help ‘rinse’ the dishes.”
The couple’s granddaughters Miriam and Frances love Risa, as does Asa, their two-year-old grandson.
“In addition to having a big smile, Risa’s a big licker,” says Phoebe. “Asa gets a lot of baths.”
A day after Risa went to her foster home with Molly, Sky was also placed in a foster home.
“We had already fostered dogs, so the kids wanted to foster a cat,” says NYPD Sergeant Jeffrey M., who, along with his wife and four children, opened their home to foster Sky.
“These experiences are great for our kids,” Jeffrey says. “Our four-year-old daughter, Samantha, fell in love with Sky and still talks about her. Through fostering, she has learned how to respect animals, care for them and be gentle with them.”
While Sky was shy at first, by the end of six weeks she sought out attention and affection.
“She’s just a real sweetheart,” Jeffrey says.
Sky was adopted on June 25 by Alex S., who is thrilled with her companion’s affectionate nature.
“She’s always at the door when I come home. She sleeps on a pillow next to mine,” says Alex, a recent NYU graduate who lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “In the morning she gives me a kiss on the nose.”
Alex grew up with dogs but thought about adopting a cat as she hunkered down with her parents in Atlanta during the pandemic. When she returned to the city in June, she began her search in earnest.
“I knew I couldn’t give a dog all the attention it would need, but I felt like I could manage a cat,” she says. “I just love having an animal. They’re walking balls of love. It’s so therapeutic.”
Alex completed an online ASPCA survey, then spoke to an ASPCA Matchmaker who introduced her to Sky on a Zoom call with Jeffrey’s family.
“I was taking a bit of a risk because I never lived with cats and didn’t meet her in person first,” says Alex. “But she’s so sweet and reminds me more of a dog. She chases her own tail and loves to play fetch. Sometimes she has insane bursts of energy. She adjusted quickly and responds to her new name, Nora. Even my parents, who met Nora on FaceTime, are in love with her.”
The Good Fortune of Fostering
Across the country, shelters have seen an outpouring of foster care volunteers who provide animals like Risa and Sky with real-life experiences that help them transition quickly to new, loving homes.
“Foster caregivers provide a valuable experience by providing animals the comforts and safety of a loving home environment that also helps prepare them for adoption,” says Eileen Hanavan, Director of Volunteer and Foster Engagement at the ASPCA. “Dogs and cats of all ages benefit from foster care, and we often have a special need for large dog and neonate kitten fosters.”
“We love to foster because we’re doing something positive,” says Jeffrey. “It’s a beneficial life experience for all of us.”
For Molly, who loved Risa but couldn’t care for her permanently, finding Risa a permanent loving home was more satisfying than saddening. She’ll never forget the moment that Phoebe and Marvin picked her up.
“Risa hopped into their car and never looked back,” says Molly. “It was great.”