Ark Valley Humane Society announced late Friday afternoon it would close its doors to the public for an "undetermined period of time" as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Although the news release from the shelter notes a consensus among veterinarians that dogs and cats cannot become ill from or spread the virus, "Our goal is to protect our community of both people and pets from unnecessary exposure to groups of people and to contribute to our county’s efforts to slow transmission by reducing gatherings of people."

The shelter expects that the majority, if not all, of the 20 pets in its care will be placed with foster volunteers until the shelter can reopen, and those that cannot will be cared for by onsite staff.

AVHS released the following message:

"Ark-Valley Humane will be closed to the public starting Saturday, March 14 for an undetermined period of time. This decision came out of an abundance of caution and in response to health officials' recommendation to reduce face-to-face contact to prevent the spread of infectious disease."

"Our commitment to providing essential animal services to Chaffee County residents remains as strong as ever," said Executive Director Amber van Leuken.

"Shelter animals will receive ongoing care and enrichment and many, if not all, will be placed in foster care until we are able to reopen the shelter."

The shelter had been proactively managing its intake to maintain a lower animal population in preparation for such a scenario, and as a result, it expects most — if not all — of the 20 pets currently in its care to be placed within its network of foster volunteers.

Any pet not able to be matched with a foster volunteer will continue to have their needs met by onsite animal care staff. All shelter-based volunteer activities have been cancelled and essential animal care duties will be performed by staff only.

Services and activities that were scheduled to happen within the timeframe of this temporary public closure will be suspended and rescheduled for later dates. Additionally, all staff not required onsite for direct animal care will be encouraged to work remotely.

"Our staff will be available to answer phones, emails, and messages through the Ark-Valley Humane Society Facebook page. We will continue to offer limited services to ensure that stray animals and essential community needs continue to be met," van Leuken said. "Our goal is to protect our community of both people and pets from unnecessary exposure to groups of people and to contribute to our county’s efforts to slow transmission by reducing gatherings of people. We greatly appreciate the community's support as we work to ensure public safety and provide our staff and volunteers with the opportunity to focus on their own health and personal care."

This precautionary measure does not mean that the shelter's animals are in danger of either contracting or transmitting this infection. Veterinary officials worldwide are in agreement that there is no evidence that dogs or cats can become ill from this strain or serve as a carrier of the infection.

"For now, the best way you can protect your pets is by protecting yourself. “Additionally, this is a good opportunity to review your pets' role in your disaster preparedness plan.”

Both Ark-Valley Humane Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pet owners keep on hand the following: a two-week supply of food for each pet in your care, a two-week supply of each pet's medications, and a file that contains each pet's care plan, vaccination and ownership records, microchip information, and a preferred contact in case of emergency.

As this is a fluid situation, the shelter asks that the public monitor its website, https://www.ark-valley.org/services/covid-19updates/, and their social media channels for regular updates, as the closure timeline is subject to change based on guidance received from local and national public health officials.

From our sister paper The Chaffee County Times at www.chaffeecountytimes.com

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