• Claudine Wilkins


Updated: Apr 1, 2020

by Claudine Wilkins, Animal Law Expert, Founder of The Animal Protection Society and Animal Law Source

Taking action today, affects how our pets are cared for during the Covid19 Pandemic.

Out of nowhere I hear, “If a dog or cat accidentally pees on you, make sure you wash your skin thoroughly, so you don't get Lepto” my boss informs me. “Lepto, what is Lepto?”, I retorted curiously.

My boss, a seasoned veterinarian of many years, said his friend, a vet colleague, almost lost his mind over a course of a few weeks because his body was going into organ failure after contracting Lepto from an animal he treated at this animal clinic. “Lepto is short for Leptospirosis and it is a zoonotic disease; and it is just one of many” he said.

It was my second day on the job as a young vet assistant. I never heard of “Lepto”, and certainly never heard the word “zoonotic”.

The next day, I headed straight to the library, grabbed a medical dictionary and scoured over books and articles to learn as much as I could about these mysterious zoonotic diseases. It would have been easier to punch the word into a Google search, but back then the internet didn’t exist.

That dialogue took place in 1983 and I was a 16-years-old who was happy to have landed my first job in the field I would eventually dedicate my career to - animals. Although I changed my path of becoming a veterinarian to becoming an expert in animal law, I continue to research zoonotic issues out of sheer fascination.

Zoonotic means a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people or, more specifically, a disease that normally exists in animals but can infect humans. There are multitudes of zoonotic diseases. Recently, I published an article about Georgia State’s required disease reporting on animal related and zoonotic diseases. One of the top zoonotic experts will be a keynote speaker our 22nd Annual Animal Protection Conference and Expo in Alpharetta, GA, September 25 &26, 2020.

Is the Corona Virus a Zoonotic Disease?

Almost thirty years later, here comes the Novel (new) Corona Virus (Covid 19), which is suspected to have originated in the wet market of Wuhan, China from an animal source and is now a disease of people.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory diseases. COVID-19 is in that family of viruses. We have seen similar virus before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “…3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.” These include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, and they infect millions of U.S. citizens every year.

The SARS-CoV-2 is the third pathogenic novel coronavirus to emerge over the past two decades. The first, discovered in 2003 and named SARS-CoV, caused SARS, a serious and atypical pneumonia. The second, MERS-CoV, emerged a decade later in the Middle East and caused a similar respiratory ailment called Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Since its identification, 2,494 cases of MERS-CoV infection and nearly 900 deaths have been documented. The SARS-CoV epidemic proved larger but less deadly, with approximately 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths.

MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV appear to originate in animals, and the same is likely true of SARS-CoV-2. This makes them zoonoses, diseases that can jump between humans and other animals. MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV were originally bat viruses that spread to an intermediate animal (camel and civet cat, respectively), which then exposed humans to the viruses.

Genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 sequences shows that their closest genetic relatives appear to be bat coronaviruses, with the role of intermediate species possibly played by the pangolin, an endangered species trafficked in China for its scales and meat. There are four coronaviruses that cause colds in humans — known as HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 — and these also seem to have zoonotic origins.

What about the Flu?

There is another virus that commonly emerges from animal reservoirs: influenza. Almost all known influenza viruses originate in waterfowl such as ducks, geese, terns, gulls and related species. Many viruses move from birds into other species (including humans). Often, the new species is a dead end; the avian influenza virus can jump from birds to humans, for instance, but not between humans. But occasionally, a novel virus can also spread efficiently among people. We saw this most recently in 2009 with H1N1, a swine virus that spread among humans, eventually causing a pandemic killing over 12,500 people in the U.S alone. And an avian H1N1.

Can my pet catch Covid-19 or give Covid-19 to me?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations, all agree there is no evidence to indicate pets become ill with Covid-19 or that they spread it to other animals or people.

These health organizations include the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organization (WHO), and our national CDC have stated there is no evidence companion animals such as cats and dogs can spread the virus. “Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare,” the OIE said.

However the AVMA said that “out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with Covid-19 “limit contact” with animals until more information is known about the virus. It is also recommended that pet owners use good hygiene practices and avoid “kissing” their pets. All of these organizations recommend that pets stay with their people and that people who are sick or infected limit contact with their pets.

What about farm animals?

COVID-19 strain infects people and has caused a global panic. However, coronaviruses are not new to livestock and poultry producers. Despite its likely animal origin, the current coronavirus causing COVID-19 is not making animals sick, including livestock.

A Pet Plan:

Leaving pets behind is not acceptable and stories emerging of animals being abandoned or dumped at shelters from Europe, China, the U.S. and now Georgia, are disturbing.

Many of our pets offer a calming assurance we will get through this unprecedented change in our daily lives. One of the things we can do now, before the inevitable spike in cases, is have a plan for your pets should you or a family member get sick. Although news reports from China indicate two dogs have tested a “soft” positive for Covid19, it is important to understand the details behind these cases. For more information, read the story.

Key points for pet owners:

  • Having a plan for a trusted person(s) to care for your pet should you become unable to do so is imperative in this current climate. Contact them now instead of waiting for an emergency.

  • Arrange for the care of any animals left at home with family or friends should you be hospitalized.

  • Make sure you have enough pet food, pet medicines and whatever else your pet is accustomed to. Have a backup caretaker in case they are unable to care for your pet. Your caretakers should have access to your pets’ records and veterinarian. Decide if you will give them full access to entering your house if you have to leave abruptly (provide codes to alarms, garaged, keys & alert neighbors that caretakers may come for you pets). Decide if the pet must stay in your home or can be transported to the caretaker’s residence. Is your caretaker willing to come to your house? Make it easy to find all the essentials and any transport cages/crates to care for your pet.

  • If you cannot find anyone willing to step up and you must leave your home for an emergency, after let first responders, 911 dispatchers, emergency medical personnel know about all pets in your home and you veterinarian’s contact. Leave a list of important pet information in a conspicuous place in your home. It cannot hurt to give a copy of this list to your veterinarian.

  • Make sure that cats and dogs are wearing collars and the identification tags that are up to date. The average citizen who finds your pet won't be able to scan for a chip, but they will probably be able to read the tag on the collar so make sure it has your phone number.

  • Check with the AVMA on updates about Covid 19 and pets.

  • Keep your companion animals with you if you self-quarantined.

  • Maintain good hygiene practices, including washing your hands when interacting with their pets. If you are sick refrain from kissing your pets.

  • Use veterinary telemedicine to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, because it allows veterinary patients to be appropriately triaged and monitored with only those veterinary patients that really need to be seen making the trip to the clinic along with their owners.

Pet owners take action today:

Make a list that can be printed, copied, emailed/texted. Give a copy to your pet caretaker & backup and ask your veterinarian to include in your pets’ records. Include the following information:

  1. Pets names, description, indicate if spayed or neutered, medical needs, microchip number, location of pet records, pet essentials (pet food, medicines, leashes, toys, treats, crates), veterinarian’s contact information, pet’s collar w/ I.D. tag (preferably on the pet).

  2. Pet’s routine and any other information you believe is needed to ensure continuity of care for your pet. For example, you may include “Scooby does not like to be fed near our other dog Max” or “Buddy can be aggressive with kids” or “Felix, our gray cat, will only take her medicine if crushed up in food” or “Dolly hides behind the stairwell when she is nervous” or “Billy is very afraid of thunder and the only way to calm him down is hold him tightly”.

  3. A copy of this information should be left in a conspicuous place in your home in case of an emergency and there is no time to communicate.

Animal shelter needs and how you can help:

  • Check with your local shelter as each animal shelter has different needs and most likely have changed their daily operation and priorities as a result of Covid 19. It is best to start by visiting their website.

  • Adoptions may be online during the next few months.

  • Check if your shelter has an Amazon wish list, consider donating at this time of need.

  • Adoptions are down as we practice social distancing and isolate. Some shelters are closed to the public. Some shelters, which partner with individual animal fosters, are asking for help with overflow animals.

  • Anyone coming to the shelter is expected to maintain social distancing in the lobby or parking lot and wait to be greeted by a staff member.

  • Some shelters are experiencing an uptick in owner surrenders. There is no need to surrender your pet for fears of Covid-19 or loss of employment. If you need to surrender for other reasons, please try to re-home your animal and visit

  • In some cases, shelters are not taking in stray animals since many adoptable dogs and cats are staying in shelters and space is very limited or even full.

  • Some animal services are limited to handling only emergency cases. For example, they may respond to cases when an animal is injured, and no human being is available to care of the animal or animal bite cases.

  • Animal services will still rely on law enforcement assistance in high priority cases of animal cruelty, dog attacks and injured or sick animals.

  • Any animal welfare organization offering assistance in resources like food, medical supplies, flea and heart worm preventative is welcome to contact and donate to animal shelters.

  • Anyone engaged in TVNR for community cats should hold off bringing healthy cats to the shelter unless the shelter agrees.

  • For more resources available to pet owners visit Resources to Benefit Companion Animals in Georgia

  • For those in animal sheltering or anyone who works with animals, you can join podcast related to Covid 19 and animals. Check the “events page” at website.

Animal Control Officers and First Responders.

One of our most popular programs at The Animal Protection Society is our Animal Law Source program which provides online resources for professionals and the public related to animal protection and animal related information.

Recently an Animal Control Director wrote: After listening to Governor Kemp’s press conference this evening regarding COVID-19 I became curious as to the classification of “First Responders” in the state of Georgia.

I am the Director of Animal Control in a Georgia county and we are responding daily to animal related emergencies and are many times first on the scene, at times we are the only public safety responder, depending on the severity and response time.

We are still currently responding to animal emergency calls even with the threat of Covid-19. Please help me to find any criteria or training that would help to ensure that our department is recognized should any future public safety threats need our experience and training to assist. Also to ensure that the employees in my department receive any lifesaving protective equipment or benefits that may be offered for classified First Responders in Georgia, or nationally.


It is essential that Animal Control and Animal Shelter Directors be in communication with her/his local Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director and the State Operations Center (SOC) in their county. Much of the information he/she is requesting can be accessed through the local EMA office.

Below are the CDC websites pertaining to guidance for First Responders:

CDC Guidance for Law Enforcement/First Responders

CDC Guidance for EMS First Responders

Any PPE requirements that they may have should be vetted through the local EMA and/or local Department of Public Health (DPH). DPH should be in the local SOC with the EMA director. If the local officials need resources, they need to file a request for assistance which will move from local EMA/DPH to Georgia Emergency management Agency (GEMA) and then to the various ESF functions that cover that sector.

Right now, PPE resource request are being managed by DPH and GEMA. The most important thing they can do is meet with the local DPH representatives and the local EMA. For more on calling on nation’s governors to classify pet supply, veterinary practices and other businesses needed to sustain animals’ lives as essential, see a recent press release by HSUS .

Animal shelters, animal rescues/foster and similar operations take action:

  1. If you need assistance creating a Crises Preparedness Plan, click here.

  2. Update your social media and websites. Let the public know if you are accepting or in need of the following: Volunteers, fosters, and supporters an update about COVID-19. Issue press releases for the same information. Consider publishing your Crises Preparedness Plan online.

  3. Include resources for pet owners on your social media platforms. Essentials like “Pet Food Distribution” may be a hot topic.

  4. Let your staff and the public know how the shelter/your operation is prepared during the crisis.

  5. Contact your staff with new and mandatory protocols. Outline how priority calls will be handled and any changes for animal case response. Make sure your staff is confident and answer any question they may have. Consul with your local DPH, SOC & EMA about personal protection equipment (PPE) sending animal control officers into a home to retrieve animals who caretaker has tested positive for Covid19.

  6. If an animal is retrieve from someone who has tested positive, the CDC may want to hear about it.

  7. Maintain an open line of communication with staff and volunteers.

  8. If you need volunteers, see Adisa’s program for volunteer engagement, is compiling a growing resource list of useful webinars, articles, and tools to address volunteer engagement issues during the coronavirus crisis.

  9. Have a direct contact and share your Crises Preparedness Plan with the local Public Health Department, Georgia Department of Agriculture Companion Animal Division, State Operations Center (SOC) in your county.

  10. Dedicate a public information officer to release information. Make sure your messaging does not invoke panic, but instead, assures the community that the shelter or your organization is prepared. Remind people to keep animals if they have to be quarantined.

  11. Make sure any of your activities do not conflict with the ever-changing mandates by Federal and State government departments.

  12. Slow down or put on hold elective surgeries.

  13. Consider transporting (if allowed and applicable) overflow animals to shelters with space (including outside of the state).

Much is changing in the world today, but preparedness is key to ensuring the safety of all lives. For more information, contact and become a free member of Georgia’s number one resource for animal law and animal related information.



Join Claudine Wilkins, Animal Law Expert and founder of The Animal Protection Society and renowned Zoonotic and Infectious Disease Expert, Dr. Jay Tischendorf, as they discuss the ever changing Cover-19 virus and it's affect on shelters, rescues and our pets.

Dr. Tischendorf is bringing the latests in "what you need to know". They will also be discussing how Covid-19 is affecting GA Animal Shelters.

Other guest panelists to include metro and rural Georgia Shelter Directors to give their first hand account of challenges they are encountering and solutions working for them. This webinar is FREE and brought to you by The Animal Protection Society.








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