Iowa City Animal Shelter helps pet owners take care of pets during COVID-19

The Iowa City Animal Shelter collaborated with Leash on Life, a local pet store, to support the shelter’s food bank for owners that cannot buy food due to coronavirus conditions.


Jeff Sigmund

Food and supplies donated by the public line the halls on Tuesday, March 31 at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center.

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

The Iowa City Animal Shelter is providing food and care services for pet owners during the COVID-19 pandemic with the help of the community, offering ways to keep pets happy and healthy.

Iowa City Animal Shelter Director Chris Whitmore said her staff has organized a food bank at the shelter to provide food for dog, cat, and rabbit owners who have potentially lost their jobs due to the coronavirus.

“We always had food here, but with everything going on, we thought we’d increase the amount,” Whitmore said. “We have received lots of donations from the community. Hopefully the demand doesn’t happen, you know. But we are ready for them.”

Whitmore said she felt inspired by all of the people who were willing to help the shelter and how many pet owners have used the food bank.

“People realize now, if they didn’t before, that a pet is part of their family,” Whitmore said. “[The shelter] wants to make sure that the pet is comfortable and a comfort to the [owners].”

Whitmore said that one of the food bank’s main contributors is Leash on Life, a local pet store. Leash on Life owner Laurie Smith said members of the community that want to donate to the animal shelter can call the store to express interest in donating money or food, and the shelter will take care of it.

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“This is a time where both pets and owners are affected by this,” Smith said. “There is no one that is immune to this, right now at least. We have done a lot of things to help the shelter in the past, and we are always supportive of them.”

Smith added that she was impressed with the steady pace donations came in at, and said the shelter deserved all of them.

“We are blessed in this community to have an incredible shelter that works to help the needs of our pets,” she said. “The response from the community has been incredible. We are all one big community, and all of these donations show that.”

Both Smith and Whitmore said the COVID-19 outbreak gives pet owners a unique opportunity to bond with their pets.

“Most owners never have time to see their pets during the day because they are at work,” Smith said. “Now, they can do interactive things with their animals. Doing games and tricks can tire them out mentally and physically.”

Whitmore said that socializing with pets can improve mental health for both owners and their pets, now that people are encouraged to maintain social distancing.

“Spend time with them,” she said. “Get out if you can, and exercise with them, too. They will appreciate seeing you and seeing you take the time to be with them. They can relieve their pent-up energy, and can relieve your stress.”

Whitmore said the animal shelter is still taking in stray animals and owners can call looking for their lost pet and pick them up, or those who found them are instructed to hold onto them until an owner can be reached. She said that in-person adoptions ceased March 24, when the shelter closed.

“When we are up and running again, we are going to need an influx of people ready to adopt, so hopefully this time makes people realize the effect pets can have on a household,” Whitmore said. “Pets are so valuable right now. They are going to help us get through this.”