Four-year-old Indonesian pitbull Gledis was home alone for two days without food when a group of volunteers found her. She is among many pets left behind when their owners tested positive for COVID-19 and were hospitalised or placed in isolation.
With more than 3.7 million confirmed cases and over 100,000 deaths, Indonesia is battling one of the worst coronavirus epidemics in Asia. The "AD-19 programme" launched last month by rights group Animal Defender helps pets left in limbo while their owners deal with coronavirus infections. The pets picked up by Animal Defender usually get a checkup before going to an existing animal shelter. The AD-19 programme has, in the past month, added 40 dogs and four cats to more than 160 guests already at the shelter.
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Founder Doni Herdaru Tona has been selling homemade food and clothes for cats and dogs to raise cash for the care of unsupervised pets. His shelter costs about 120 million rupiah ($8,340) to run each month. No donations or payments are accepted from owners.
Concerns about virus transmission from animal to human also complicated the situation and meant many pets were abandoned, Doni said. However, veterinarian Magda Rumawas said people should not be overly worried and recommends COVID-19 patients in self-isolation keep pets by their side to ease anxiety. "They can keep people entertained, and they can help to reduce stress, which is good. But my advice is, do not hug and kiss the dogs," Magda said.
The AD-19 rescue mission is tailored to the needs of pet owners and includes bathing, feeding, and cleaning cages. "We will do everything according to the owner's request," said Doni. Usually, pets are returned to their owners upon their recovery. But in some cases, owners do not return."The scariest part is our mobile phone is mostly filled by reports of owners who had passed away, and their pets are abandoned," said Doni.
(Reporting by Heru Asprihanto; Writing by Angie Teo; Editing by Martin Petty and Tom Hogue)