In a time when companionship is sparse, many people are adopting a “pandemic puppy” or “coronavirus cat” while they are sheltering at home to stop the spread of COVID-19. Though there are many reasons, many pet owners and adoption shelters cite time as a driving factor: time to fill, and time to train.
“Now was the perfect time to adopt a puppy for us because we have all this time to put into training them and acquainting themselves with everything. We’ve seen it firsthand,” says Claudia Holden, who adopted an English Pointer mix named Rutabaga from Angels for Animals with her boyfriend, Hugo Christensen, in March.
Hugo, who is originally from Akron, returned to his West Hill home when the pandemic shut down in-person classes at the University of Rochester, where he graduated in the spring. Claudia, a student at Tufts University, joined him in Akron, as her fall classes are currently online.
“It was a mix of craving companionship and just having so much time,” Hugo says. “Especially in those first few months when the stay-at-home order was strictly enforced. For me, because Claudia was still in Boston at the time, it added a lot of structure, which was nice.”
Many new pet-owners crave that structure in a time when everything else is uncertain. Adelle Pociask, a senior at University of Akron, found that her 5-month-old puppy, Summer, has given her motivation to schedule her day during remote classes.
“It put me on a stricter schedule and gave me motivation to get things done,” she says. “Before, I had a day of doing nothing: I could put things off and watch Netflix, but now I have a living breathing baby waiting for me to take care of.”
“We all suffered a loss in a way by losing our social interactions,” she says. In lieu of those human interactions, Adelle adopted Summer, who was 8 weeks old at the time, in June. “I just wanted a solid investment in a friend,” she says, citing her desire to get outside more this summer as a main motivation for adopting a pet.
“I feel like I’m healthier,” she says. “I’m outside more. We’ve checked out a ton of hiking trails. We go to dog parks and meet other pet owners. It’s helped a lot with any pandemic depression. The dog will sit down in the grass and enjoy the sun and I think, well, I guess it’s my turn to do it too.”
Adelle, like many other Akronites, rescued her pet from One of a Kind Pets. Kamelia Fisher, the shelter’s executive director, says that office and school closures have offered people who haven’t had the time to train a new dog before the opportunity to do so.
“What we’ve found during the pandemic is there’s people on the positive side that have more time on their hands working from home or school closed early, so they have plenty of time to bring in a foster or adopt a pet,” Kamelia says.
When the shelter closed its doors for about a month in mid-March, One of a Kind Pets had between 200-300 animals in their care.
“We had a fabulous outpouring of people wanting to foster. It’s an opportunity to do something good with all this extra time,” Kamelia says. Even though the shelter was able to continue animal care as an essential business, some staff members were furloughed at the time, so the foster program helped. Many of those fosters even led to adoptions, Kamelia says.
Adoptions to date are on par with where they were last year, Kamelia says. So far, there have been about 2,100 adoptions from the shelter compared to a total of 4,000 in 2019. Kamelia says the shelter is on target to achieve that same goal, which is better than she expected because adoptions are still by appointment-only during the pandemic.
“What we feared was that we wouldn’t have as many adoptions and not be able to continue our rescue efforts, and that’s not true,” she says. “We have not stopped rescuing.”
At the same time, however, surrenders are on the rise.
“With some other shelters closed, we had a lot more people come to us because their circumstances had changed,” Kamelia says. “Many people are having to surrender their pets because they’ve lost their jobs or fallen on hard times economically or had to move somewhere where they can’t have pets or can’t afford them.”
In addition, the shelter had to temporarily suspend spay and neuter services in the middle of “kitten season” due to a gubernatorial order that restricted nonessential surgeries. That order has since been lifted, though the result of the suspension is a plethora of stray cats roaming the streets and being brought to the shelter.
“We’ve had many more kitten rescues and stray cat and kitten rescues this year,” Kamelia says, citing March through October as peak kitten season. “It’s increased because people aren’t spaying right now, so we’ve got kittens having kittens. There’s side effects like that of things you don’t think about.”
Though Kamelia, Hugo, Claudia and Adelle all recommend adding a furry friend to the family during this time, all agree that new pets — particularly puppies — are a commitment and require hard work even beyond the pandemic.
“Really think it through and take the time to talk to adoption counselors about what your lifestyle is and what your circumstances are so that you can be appropriately matched with one of our pets,” Kamelia advises. “Plan for what happens when things change or the next event. The worse thing to happen to an animal — especially in a shelter environment — is to go home and return to a shelter because it didn’t work out.”
In the end, new pet owners will have companions for years to come. Hugo and Claudia took Rutabaga on a month-long camping trip to the Redwoods and back. Adelle frequents the Summit Metro Parks with Summer.
“She’s taught me to take everything day by day — even hour by hour sometimes — which is what we all need during this time,” Adelle says. “It’s really rewarding when she makes those steps in her growth, and it’s made me appreciative of all the hard work I’ve put in. She’s taught me to be more patient, and even shown me in my own life how consistency is key.”
In a time of uncertainty, Kamelia says, a new pet will provide stability and comfort.
“From what we see, this has been a really hard and stressful time for everyone,” Kamelia says. “The one thing we know is that pets love you regardless. They provide you with a sense of comfort. You may not be able to control other things, but you can give a pet a home.”
One of a Kind Pet Rescue
1929 W Market St., Akron
Abbey Marshall covers economic development for The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.