Matthew Fleming decided to make Barkley a full-time member of the family after originally fostering him.
Matthew Fleming decided to make Barkley a full-time member of the family after originally fostering him.

Thanks to Michiganders, local shelters say they’ve gotten “overwhelming support” during coronavirus pandemic with the lowest occupancy rates in years.

DEARBORN, MIMichiganders everywhere are staying home and staying safe, and so are their new pets, many of whom are also becoming their new best friends as shelters across the state experience heavy traffic during the lockdown.

Matthew Fleming, a volunteer for FAMD, was told to work at home by his employer, Ford Motor Company, following Governor Whitmer’s order. He decided that if he was going to stay home, he may as well foster a dog.

Fleming started out as a foster dad for Barkley but couldn’t let him go, ending up as his “foster forever” when it was all said and done.

“My family has been wanting to adopt a dog, but we were unsure if we were ready to jump in with both feet,” Fleming said.

But now, he’s hooked, and he’s asking his co-workers to join the fun by fostering animals of their own.

Other Michiganders including 32-year-old Mysti Baker of Hillsdale, have heeded the call to rescue and care for fosters, sometimes in life-saving fashion. Baker adopted five-year-old Da Vinci after he was facing euthanasia in New York state on March 21st, 10 days after Whitmer’s order.

“He was feline leukemia positive and shelters generally put those cats to sleep,” she said. “This cat was going to be put to sleep, but the rescue centers, they allow you to save them.”

Rescue communities in New York state, Pennsylvania, and Ohio worked together, as they often do, to deliver Da Vinci to his new foster home in Michigan, passing him across state lines and taking good care of him along the way.

Da Vinci is considerably more shy than Baker’s other pets because of what he’s been through, but that’s just part of his appeal as the Bakers’ new best friend.

While sharing the house with the family the Bakers’ three dogs and three cats, he is adjusting and awaiting treatment, settling in for a longer stay.

“He is still scared, but he isn’t huddled in a corner anymore and looks at us when we talk to him instead of hiding his face,” she said.

“I’ve always wanted to help with rescue, I’ve never fostered before,” Baker added.

While Baker’s three boys enjoy chasing their other animals around the house, fostering Da Vinci has taught them patience as they have learned to be more gentle with him.

“I know this isn’t our cat but we’re helping him,” Baker said. “We talk to the boys about being calm and kind because he’s so afraid.”

Baker’s story is just one of many highlighting the immense difference being made by people willing to step in and lend a helping hand to animals in need.

Trish O’Donnell of Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit (FAMD) told The Gander recently that she’s been “going through tons of applications on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, Detroit Animal Care and Control reported earlier this month that it was operating at “the lowest occupancy it’s been at in years.”

And according to a report from NBC News, shelters and animal advocacy organizations across 11 states including Michigan have reported an overwhelming outpouring of community support in caring for animals most in need.

This “emptying of the shelters” has been a silver lining as Michiganders adjust to life on lockdown and many prepare to head back to work in the coming weeks.

The warm, fuzzy feeling has extended from new foster parents to shelter employees, who have been heartened by the outpouring of support.

“We’re so incredibly thankful for the fosters who have stepped up to provide loving temporary homes for our shelter animals,” said Sarah Rood, FAMD Events & Marketing Manager.

“We quite literally could not do it without them. Placing animals in loving foster homes also allows for more room at the shelter, should we need to care for animals whose owners have become sick due to COVID and can no longer care for them.”