Animals are an integral part of so many of our lives and families.
Amid major crises, organizations are constantly stepping up to ensure the care and safety of so many misplaced and abandoned animals.
The coronavirus pandemic presents a difficult challenge in this arena, however, as every element of animal welfare from rescue, to care, to keeping shelters afloat is in some way affected by social distancing rules and threats of exposure to the virus.
On April 30, Grammy Award winner Rob Thomas and Sidewalk Angels Foundation will team up with the Humane Society of the United States to bring "Rock the House for Animals", a live-stream concert event to help support "critical work for all animals".
Thomas will be joined by famed musicians Chris Daughtry and Jason Mraz alongside other friends in hopes of raising awareness for the difficult but necessary work that needs to be done to ensure animals and the people that love them are properly cared for amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"We’ve been working with the Humane Society for a couple of years and we decided to join together to do this," Thomas tells AOL. "This was just something that we thought we could do to entertain people from our homes, using the only thing that we have in our arsenal, which is playing music … while people are sitting there wrapped and having a good time, we can spread the word about the message that we have and that the Humane Society has."
And that message is simple -- not only do the animals need our help, but so do the people whose livelihoods are devoted to taking care of them.
"It’s harder and harder for the rescue workers that work in these shelters to be able to do the work that they do and try to stay safe —these are people that work in close quarters all the time," Thomas says. "They’re going to be undermanned. People are also tight right now with money because they don’t know when they’re going to go back to work, they’re having medical bills they didn’t expect to have. You’re going to wind up with a ton of animals that are going to end up being homeless or temporarily homeless."
These displacements specifically call to mind people who may live alone with pets or animals and have to suddenly leave their homes to go to the hospital for care amid the coronavirus crisis.
"We have to make sure those animals are taken care of and that they can get safely back to their owners when their owners are back on their feet again," he explains.
Thomas and co-founded the Sidewalk Angels Foundation with his wife Marisol 16 years ago, an organization that's dedicated to making sure animals are not a forgotten part of the conversation when it comes to responding to major crises:
"When we see a catastrophe, we think ‘What is happening to the pets?’" Thomas tells AOL.
"Our job is to bring critically needed funds to grassroots organizations all over the country. We’ve built from the ground up about 9 or 10 shelters and we’ve helped about another 20 get up to a place where they can start to take care of themselves even more. And then we’ve moved out into rescues, we’ve moved into different initiates for spay and neuter, helping people get medical costs taken care of —we try to figure out ways to help these organizations to help themselves ... it’s really expanded out into any way that you can imagine an animal impacts your life — how can we make that easier to the people that are doing the work on the ground."
For Sidewalk Angels, caring for animals is holistic in its nature -- you can't save and care for an animal without also caring for the people that have helped keep that animal alive and loved.
"When we see people in the COVID crisis that are being displaced and having to go to hospitals, having to be separated or maybe not being able to make money to feed their pets, we wonder who’s taking care of the animals," Thomas says. "We want to help not just the owners with their animals, but help out the shelters -- they need this more than ever. [Shelters] need an influx [of aid] so that they can keep their lights on and so that they can keep animals coming in."
Marisol Thomas, President of Sidewalk Angels, echoes her husband's sentiments when reflecting on challenges that the current pandemic has presented:
"One of the shelters that we’ve been working with since the get-go, not only are the working 60+ hours at this point, but they’re doing it with a quarter of their staff, no volunteers. And this is all the shelters and the rescues that we work with across the board. I’ve been reaching out to all of them because that was my first question — What do you need, how are you feeling? What is happening?"
She points out that though it's a "great blessing" that so many people have elected to help shelters by adopting animals during quarantine, people still need to take into consideration that "there is still an influx of animals that are coming in when family members get ill and can’t take care of them. The animals are still at the shelter. [Shelters] are running low on supplies, on food, you name it. They desperately need to stay open and to be there.”
But it's not just abandoned animals (whether temporarily or permanently) that are flooding shelters during quarantine -- painfully, sometimes it's the people that care for them, too:
"Sadly, during this quarantine time, we're finding that a lot of domestic abuse is happening and that entails people and animals," Marisol tells us. "These officers are still being called in to help out. One of the things Sidewalk Angels has done -- I would say especially within the last six years -- is we’ve become very involved with homeless shelters that can help rescue entire families."
"Horrific things that have happened" to people in unsafe homes and households, where "people have had to give their pets up" and worse yet, situations where "people wouldn’t leave their home because they didn’t want to leave their pet behind."
"We’ve reached out to certain homeless shelters that we give grants to so that people can have a safe haven for their pets as well," she says.
The Thomas' are dedicated to raising awareness for the work that needs to be done on all fronts amid this pandemic through Thursday's show.
"We're hoping that people tune in and kind of get an idea of what’s needed," Marisol says.
"I think sometimes people forget that animals play a really big part in the community, and the community needs us, now more than ever."