Like thousands of people across the region and country, Laurene Johnson is taking this time of physical distancing and enforced time at home to help a homeless animal and the shelter charged with caring for homeless animals.

Her quarantine buddy is Lolli, a cat that came to Maine from Georgia and will spend the duration of the coronavirus public health crisis as a foster cat getting to know Johnson, her husband, Dustin, their five cats, two dachshunds and tankful of fish.

“My husband said, ‘No more animals,'” Johnson said, “but I have I gut feeling this is going to be failed foster.”

Lolli is one of 52 animals now being fostered from the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

That is a sharp increase over a year ago, when only 11 animals were in the care of Augusta’s animal shelter were in foster care. Employees are now caring for 25 animals at the shelter, compared to the typical population of about 75.

“As it became clear that social distancing may become necessary, we made rigorous efforts to get our animals into both adoptive homes and foster homes,” Hillary Roberts, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, wrote in an email last week.

“We did not want any to be in the shelter for longer periods of time due to the pandemic — and much prefer that they are comfy and cozy snoozing on a couch in a home.”

Johnson was one of the people who heard the call.

In the ramp up to the widespread public health directives on physical distancing, and federal, state and local emergency orders to slow the spread of highly contagious coronavirus, Johnson said she had received an email from the animal shelter about the need to find foster homes for animals.

“I was interested in a small animal in a cage, so I wouldn’t have to worry about integrating it,” Johnson said last week from her home in Winthrop.

She and her husband had not set out to host a menagerie in their home, but when they married, she had two cats and he had two cats, and then the dachshunds came to their merged household. Eventually, as older cats died, new cats came to them, bringing the current resident clowder to five.

But small animals in cages are highly adoptable, she learned, and none was available. But two days after her first inquiry, she got a call. A number of cats had just been brought up from the South, and could she take one?

She brought Lolli home March 30.

In the days since, Lolli, who appears to be part Savannah cat, has integrated well with the five Johnson cats, and she is taking well to Dustin. But she is not as fond of the dogs.

“She likes to be up high,” Johnson said.

Under Gov. Janet Mills’ directives, the animal shelter is considered an essential service. Roberts said the Humane Society staff continues to work in the shelter every day, and will continue to place animals permanently with families during the pandemic. Adoptions are by appointment only.

But not everyone can take in a new animal now or even afford to feed and care for their own pets. Public health mandates have closed businesses across the state, and left thousands without an income to pay even the most essential bills, much less care for family pets.

Roberts said the Humane Society has received a few inquiries from people seeking help.

“We consistently have folks that reach out to us in need, but more recently they are specifically looking for help due to the COVID-19 crisis,” she said. “Folks are looking for things, like access to pet food or may need to surrender their pet. We are able to help them with either of those things, and our doors remain open for animals in need every day.”

Roberts said the Humane Society is now looking for donations of canned cat and dog food and cat litter. The Humane Society will also accept cash donations to support its mission to care for animals even with the increase in community fundraising operations and adoptions.

“We need our community as much as ever,” Roberts said, “and are grateful for their support for KVHS and the animals we serve.”

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