What the Gov: Can People Still Transport Dogs and Cats for Fostering or Adoption in Illinois?

Despite the coronavirus, animal rescues are still happening across the U.S. What restrictions are there, especially in states like Illinois where a “stay at home” order remains in place?

Justin German/BGA

This article is part of a series called What the Gov?, where the BGA takes reader questions and tracks down the answers. We are devoting resources to covering how local and state governments are responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We are committed to reporting on what you want to know. Ask your questions here.

Across the U.S., animal shelters are working to move as many dogs, cats and other animals as possible into foster or adoptive homes, a constant problem only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. And Illinois — especially the Chicago region — has long been a popular locale for transporting animals because adoptions are more frequent and foster homes are more plentiful here.

But with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay at home” order following the coronavirus outbreak, shelter officials, veterinarians and animal advocates have been left with lingering questions. They want to know whether their work is deemed “essential” by the state and therefore exempt from the order and whether there are any rules or regulations in place about transporting animals to and from Illinois.

We got just such a question from a Kentucky volunteer for multiple rescue organizations who wanted to know if animal rescue transports from outside Illinois were allowed under Pritzker’s order. The Better Government Association is taking questions from readers as part of a new effort to bring clarity to confusion out there amid COVID-19 — especially about how cities, counties and the Illinois government are handling the pandemic.

“A number of us are concerned about safety and passing the virus. We know that dog crates, leashes, collars, supplies, fur can carry the virus,” said Leslie King. “A number of rescues have stopped transporting, more are still doing this.”

The situation is a dichotomy for many animal rescue organizations. Transferring animals around the nation is integral to the animal adoption ecosystem and saves lives. But the process also involves significant human interaction — literally traveling and meeting people and then handing dogs and cats off to each other — something we should be doing less of these days.

The governor’s office didn’t answer questions directly about whether interstate animal transport is allowed, first saying “roads are not closed” and then later pointing to the governor’s executive order for answers about what is deemed essential. The office also said people with questions about what businesses and operations are considered essential should call a toll free number (800-252-2923) or use a special email address (CEO.support@illinois.gov), information that was repeated by a spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

To be clear, the executive order allows for “veterinary care” as well as transporting “family members, friends, or pets.” It also states that, “businesses that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for animals, including animal shelters, rescues, shelters, kennels, and adoption facilities” are considered “essential” and should continue to operate.

Still, there was some confusion specifically about transfers, so we got some guidance from Marc Ayers, the Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Ayers said that through communications with the state and other experts, there appears to be nothing forbidding transports from taking place but that veterinary experts — and the Humane Society of the United States itself — are recommending transports be halted for the time being.

The opinion follows the advice of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which said allowing animal transports is too risky because decreasing social distancing puts everyone at greater risk.

“While this type of animal movement has been an important approach to lifesaving for many organizations, continuing to transport animals increases the risk to human lives,” the University of Wisconsin recommendations read.

The University of Wisconsin also notes that just as non-emergency intake should be suspended to limit numerous risks within every community, travel for routine transport outside the immediate community of each shelter should also be discontinued.

“As an alternative, transfer between shelters in the same community and delivery for foster care or adoption is encouraged because it promotes live releases while maintaining recommended social distancing guidelines,” it reads.