KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KC Pet Project has launched a new program aimed at helping families keep their pets while dealing with times of crisis.
It's called "Home Away from Home," and it gives families the chance to temporarily place their pets in a foster home until they can get back on their feet.
For MariAnn McCurry, the program helped keep her family together.
She has had her Jack Russell Terrier, Sophia, by her side for seven years.
But then 2020 hit, bringing one crisis after another. First, she and her 3-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19.
"I couldn't walk, I couldn't get up, I couldn't do anything on my own," she said.
That same month, McCurry lost her job.
"My life felt like it was literally spinning and falling apart," McCurry said.
In the midst of the chaos, caring for Sophia became too difficult. McCurry said she wanted her dog to have the love and care she deserved, so she made the heartbreaking decision to return her to KC Pet Project, where she adopted her seven years earlier.
That's when the shelter told her about the new program, "Home Away from Home."
Tori Fuguate, chief communications officer with KC Pet Project, said McCurry's situation was one they had seen countless times, especially in the past year.
"There were a lot of people that were coming to us saying that they needed to give up their animals for a variety of reasons, a lot of which had to do with the COVID pandemic," Fugate said.
So they launched an initiative called "Keep 'Em Together, KC," focused on expanding services to help families keep their pets. One part of that initiative was the "Home Away from Home" program.
"In the past, we would have said, you know, 'unfortunately, this is the last option, we will have to take in your animal and then find it a new home'," Fugate said. "And then one day we were like, 'Why? Why have we always done it this way? Let's try this way instead.'"
The program is meant for pet owners going through a crisis, like eviction, domestic violence, or illness. Owners can enroll up to four pets in the program for a maximum of 90 days.
The shelter keeps in contact with both the pet owners and the foster family so the owners can get updates about how their pets are doing.
KC Pet Project is one of 18 shelters across the country who have launched a program like this, as part of a national pilot program. They will collect data and share it with other shelters, in hopes of expanding these programs to other communities.
Fugate said the program is also rewarding for the families who volunteer to foster.
"There's this great feeling that you have that you're able to help a pet be able to stay with their family, you're just giving them a little bit of time that they need to be able to keep their animal," Fugate said.
Time was all McCurry needed. After 90 days apart, she and Sophia were reunited in February.
"She ran into my arms like she never left and I was just filled with so much joy," McCurry said. "And I was so happy that she remembered who her mommy was."
McCurry said she was never able to meet the foster family that cared for Sophia, but she said she's grateful for all they did for her, including sending photos and videos to keep McCurry up to date.
They even bought all of Sophia's favorite foods, a new bed, clothes and a blanket that she got to keep when she went home.
"I wanted to tell them how grateful and thankful I am," she said. "They have no idea how they brought my family back together. "
To apply for the program, people have to be a Kansas City, Missouri, resident. All of the requirements and the application can be found here.
To be a foster family, people can live anywhere. The shelter can help provide food, equipment, and other necessities to foster families, if necessary. Apply here.
There are also other resources for financial assistance on KC Pet Project's "Keep 'Em Together, KC" website.