Cary Smith already cares for six dogs at home, but when she heard a plea from the Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Fairfax, Virginia, as the coronavirus crisis broke, she knew she just had to step up.

“They sent out a plea for fosters to take in dogs from their adoption center to make room for more dogs they were pulling from shelters,” says Cary, who works for the Humane Society of the United States. “I like dogs. A lot. And there is nothing better than watching a dog come out of his or her shell.”

So Cary brought a dog, Mary Ann, home and, two weeks later, she took in a puppy, Fava, who’d spent the first four months of her life outdoors with seven siblings and a chained mom. “She has already made huge progress in the 24 hours I’ve had her and she is following my other dogs’ leads. One of the silver linings in this distressing moment is that I’m able to help more dogs with the time I now have at home.”

Cary’s not alone in this. Dawn Beatty is fostering a dog, Twinkle Lights, from the Richmond Animal Care & Control in Virginia. She reports that Twinkle Lights, having decompressed from the shelter after a few days, is now right at home. “We’ve really enjoyed having her here and hoping we can find someone to adopt her. She really deserves a loving home!” says Dawn.

Across the nation, animal lovers like Cary and Dawn are going the extra mile to help animal shelters struggling with a new normal, like the rest of the nation. And with most Americans working from home or with reduced work hours, there has never been a better time—or reason—for people to get involved with fostering and adoption.

For animal shelters, which at any time house large numbers of animals in need of daily care and socialization, the COVID-19 crisis presents even more challenges than it does in other social contexts. Kimberley Alboum, HSUS director of shelter outreach and policy engagement, reports that some shelters have no animals at all and are concerned about the possibility of staff layoffs. Others are full because routine transports to other regions have been suspended. Finally, many shelters are concerned that pets from their communities may soon be at risk of relinquishment by families affected by COVID-19.

Despite these challenges, shelters throughout the country are working hard to do the best they can to do right by animals, with expanded foster programs, heightened adoption outreach, and strong public messaging about the virus and what it means for companion animals.

In Virginia, Loudoun Animal Services has created an innovative social distancing adoption program. Taped lines with instructions guide shelter visitors, and staff members report high adoption traffic. The SPCA of Wake County in North Carolina is providing its community with the “Home Adoption Network.” Each day at 2 p.m. the shelter conducts a Facebook Live event to show the community the adoptable pets available. Pick up is by appointment only. Ginny Sims, the director of Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Mississippi, reports that “slumber parties” — overnight trials for potential adopters and the shelter’s animals—are turning into permanent adoptions.

In addition to cats and dogs, shelters have a variety of smaller animals that potential fosters or adopters can take home, depending on their lifestyles, including rabbits, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchilla, ferrets and even fish.

In addition to fostering, Kim Alboum offers these additional tips for people looking to help:

  • Ask the shelters what they need. Many publish a wish list. Check and see what’s on the list and share with friends, family and social groups.
  • Adopt. With “social distancing” adoptions and appointment-only programs, you can visit the shelter without the crowd. Call ahead and schedule a time.
  • Check in with community programs like Meals on Wheels and other human services to reach out to people who may be struggling due to lost wages. With the economy in a precarious situation and unemployment rising, it is more important than ever that we do our best to keep pets with loving families and to keep animal numbers in shelters at manageable levels. Be sure to coordinate your outreach with your local animal shelter if it involves outreach to other organizations in your community.

The work we do here at the Humane Society of the United States to support animals and the people caring for them continues with even greater urgency at this difficult time. Earlier this month, we released the first COVID-19 tool kit to help shelters and rescue groups prepare for the potential impact of the virus, and we continue to support shelters with resources and guidance. Your support helps us do this important work, so please continue to stand by our side. Together we will work through this crisis with kindness and compassion for all.