Confined to her house in the midst of a pandemic, Jennifer Highbarger made the decision to foster a litter of nine puppies and their mother, Pepper.

Their meetup was arranged by Second Chance, a private animal rescue organization based in Columbia.

“During this time of, you know, panic and unknowing, it’s just really nice to be able to go in and sit with them and look at them,” Highbarger said.

As people transition to a strict home environment, animal shelters are seeing an encouraging uptick in both fostering and adopting abandoned pets.

Second Chance received more than 30 applications in the last week, according to Giulia Hall, operations director.

“This is phenomenal, as our average is about one application a week, sometimes less frequent,” she said. “We are blown away by the support.”

In a rather bleak period of social isolation, it’s a win-win, Hall said.

“I think it benefits both ways. It benefits us that they’re wanting to help, and it benefits them, I think, their morale, kind of, during all of this,” she said.

Other shelters, including the Central Missouri Humane Society, Unchained Melodies Dog Rescue and Boone County Animal Care, are seeing a similar trend.

“We’ve gotten over 100 foster applications just in the last week,” said Michelle Casey of the Central Missouri Humane Society. “We’ve gotten quite a few adoption applications as well.”

A plea on social media for more foster caretakers also received a positive response from Unchained Melodies Dog Rescue in Columbia.

“If people can’t afford to donate regularly, then the next best thing is to foster or adopt because we are still taking dogs in,” said founder Melody Whitworth.

As a Columbia Public Schools employee, Highbarger said she usually only has time for her own two dogs. She’s now home with a college-age son and daughter, who are helping care for the 3-week-old puppies until more permanent families can be found.

Highbarger posts puppy pictures on Facebook, which have gained a steady fan following. And she has found support in a text group with a veterinarian and an experienced puppy foster mom, all willing to answer her questions.

Similarly, Karen Washer, a screening program coordinator at MU, adopted two kittens from Second Chance. Her family has named them Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson.

“We thought, ‘Well, this will be great. We will all be home to give them lots of attention and be able to enjoy them,’” she said about the decision to adopt the brothers.

Having a pet around is also helping people cope with the loneliness of limited social contact.

“I’m kind of lonely by myself working from home, and I have a compromised immune system, so I can’t really get out and about a whole lot,” said Morgan Hickam, who lives in Boonville.

“So I thought, what better way than to help a dog and help myself?”

Hickam is completing the legal paperwork to be the foster caretaker of Buddy, a white Great Pyrenees, currently sheltering at the Unchained Melodies Dog Rescue.

Tricia Donovan adopted Banksy, a 2½-year-old male tabby, a few weeks ago through Boone County Animal Care.

“I think it would have been hard to be at my house by myself, all the time,” she said.

Donovan said the most intriguing aspect of understanding her new cat’s behavior is figuring out his favorite playthings.

“I dropped a water bottle cap on the floor, and he kicked it all the way across the living room, and his eyes lit up,” Donovan said with a laugh.

For Holly Lynn Mulligan, her husband and toddler, their relationship with a black Labrador mix named Patrick has been sweet but short. They’ve fostered him for just a week, but now need to let him go.

“We thought while we were home quarantined, this would be a perfect opportunity to help out,” Mulligan said via Facebook Messenger. “My little girl was also needing a friend.”

However, on Wednesday, the Central Missouri Humane Society told Mulligan that someone had filled out an application to adopt the dog.

“We really enjoyed having him, so we’re feeling very bittersweet,” she said.

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Community reporter, spring 2020. I'm a graduate student studying magazine editing and writing. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • As managing editor, I work with the staff to put together a daily report that reflects what happens in the community, what people are talking about and what issues engage them. Email:; phone: 573-882-4164.

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