All Quiet in the Kennels
The rise of pet adoptions during COVID
By Morgan Baker
When the pandemic hit, the last thing I thought of was getting a second dog. I was more concerned with washing my hands and figuring out how I would teach in the fall. But shitty things kept happening. My father-in-law died of Covid, my daughter was dumped by her long-time boyfriend, I worried about teaching in-person, and about my father and step-father’s health. I missed my older daughter and son-in-law on the west coast. I didn’t know when I’d see them again. There wasn’t much to look forward to.
I didn’t want a puppy. They are a ton of work. They are exhausting. I had had my share of them. I had had four. I was done. Even when my husband, Matt, showed me photos of puppies, I stood my ground. No, I said.
Flash forward to mid November. Life was still pretty sucky. I got tired of it. I decided it was time to embrace life, time to live for today and not worry about what might or might not happen when everyone is vaccinated. There were still so many unknowns out there. New variants were discovered. When would vaccines be available? It was time to add a little joy in my life.
So, like many others during the pandemic, I reached out to a breeder I knew of and in mid-February we brought home Lily, our new Portuguese Water Dog, to join our 6-year-old Mayzie.
Rescue or Puppy
I am not alone in looking for joy during the pandemic. A record number of people rescued dogs or brought puppies home during the pandemic. Shelters were emptied and dog trainers were busy. While statistics are constantly in flux depending on location, the ASPCA, says the number of dogs rescued or put into foster homes in March 2020 went up 70% in New York City and Los Angeles compared to the same time frame a year earlier.
According to PetPoint, the estimated national adoption rate went from from 58% at the beginning of March 2020 to 85% at the end of the month.
Breeders, like shelters, have been inundated with requests for puppies. They agree they have had more interested buyers than they have dogs.
Tammy Nunes, the owner of A to Z Dog Training in Kailua, HI, says the shelters and rescue groups in Hawaii are empty. Breeders, like shelters, have been inundated with requests for puppies. They agree they have had more interested buyers than they have dogs.
Laura Nevill, of Laurasans Labs, a long-time breeder of Labradors in Cambridge, had two litters this past summer – one of 8 puppies (4 yellow and 4 black) and one with 5 chocolate. She sold the first eight puppies in three weeks all through word of mouth, she says and already has a list of interested clients for the next litter next summer.
Individuals, like me, who were hesitant about adding a puppy or dog to their family, felt the isolation of the pandemic and realized that not only did a new pet add joy, but companionship as well.
Barbara Leiner Greenstein of Boston, thought she was done with dogs. Her last dog died two years ago. “I was really sad, but I was free,” she says. “My last dog was 19. I loved him, but he was work. He wore a diaper; he was in a stroller.” Greenstein and her husband, planned to travel, be spontaneous, go to New York for weekends. Then the pandemic. “Suddenly, I realized I was alone so much of the time,” says Greenstein, who is a visual artist in Back Bay.
“I haven’t seen a down side,” says Greenstein. “You need joy, love, silliness. There’s more to the world than oneself.”
“I love it,” she says of Petey, her Cavapoo. Dogs are a lot responsibility and that can be scary, she says. And you have to do a lot of training. But in the end, she says, her pup is hilarious. “I haven’t seen a down side,” says Greenstein. “You need joy, love, silliness. There’s more to the world than oneself.”
Heidi Webb of Lincoln, had a similar experience. Her Springer Spaniel died four years ago. Her three kids were gone, and there was time for she and her husband to do some traveling, to feel free. But she too, started to feel the need for more life in her life during the pandemic and decided she wanted a puppy, but she had some criteria. She wanted a dog she and her husband could take for trail hikes but also could take on a plane when they travel again. She also knew she had the time to train while in Covid lockdown. They were put on a 5-6 month waiting list and they ended up with an English Golden Doodle. Her kids were initially offended because they said she had a designer dog, but she has not looked back.
“She’s awesome,” says Webb. “I love having her. She’s small and mighty and super smart.” They named her RBG and they refer to RBG’s crate as her chambers. They have bell trained her for going out and are working on sit and down – stays. She is nippy like most puppies, but Webb isn’t worried.
Julie Engebretson Taylor and her brother Lee Engebretson, from Greenwich CT, rescued a dog through the Sato Project Dog Rescue from Puerto Rico in December. Taylor says, “I totally underestimated the impact the dog would have on me. I also thought what did I get myself into.” Lucia, or Lucy, is a two-year-old red hair mix of Boxer, Shar-pei, Beagle and Chow Chow.
When she arrived, Lucy was “pathetic and heart wrenching,” says Taylor. She slept by the front door, petrified of anything and everything. But through a lot of work by both Taylor and her brother, Lucy is now a happy dog, and the siblings are out walking her. Taylor says, “It has given us the chance to focus on something else. Emotionally and physically. I’m out in the cold, and honestly I can’t wait…She gives back to us. Her antics are so much fun.”
Nevill, of Laurasans Labs, says she is incredibly strict when it comes to who she sells a puppy too. “I have said no to a lot of people,” she says. Before she will sell a puppy she wants to know what the family or individual is going to do with the dog when the owners have to return to work.
Our breeder told me she had more than 200 inquiries and would only talk to those who had previously had a Portuguese Water Dog and/or who came recommended. “I’m terrified animals will be surrendered mainly due to separation anxiety when the owners go back to a new normal,” Nunes says.
Nevill, too, is mostly concerned about separation anxiety once the owners all return to work places and school. These dogs and puppies have grown accustomed to having their humans around them all the time. No one puts their dog in a crate while they go do an errand anymore. No one does errands. Nevill says, practice anyway. Dogs need to get used to being away from you.
I’m fortunate that some of my work regardless of the pandemic has always been at home, so that won’t change. I’m also lucky that I have a great dog walker, who has loved all my dogs. They spend time with other dogs during the day while I’m at school, and are never alone for a long time. But we will practice leaving Lily in a crate for different amounts of time.
Trainers and breeders agree that practicing with your new pet before you go back to work is key. Nunes says, “Give your dog alone time. I can’t express this enough. Crate training is fantastic.”
If your dog or puppy doesn’t get used to the crate or being left alone, they could cry for a long time in the crate when you do finally leave them or if not crated, destroy your house chewing furniture and ripping apart pillows. They will be distressed.
Socializing a new puppy is very important so they aren’t afraid of people of various ages, sizes and races or vehicles and odd noises, but it’s difficult to do during the pandemic.
“Socialize your dog,” says Nunes. “Go out on hikes, walks around town, the neighborhood. Expose them to everything and anything. Of course, following COVID procedures.”
Even though people often dive off sidewalks in Cambridge to avoid one another, I’m discovering a puppy is a magnet for strangers and neighbors alike to stop and pet after asking for permission. Masks prevent me from seeing the smiles, but the eyes never lie. Lily gets them every time.
Lily has brought joy and work into our lives. She bolts around the house doing doggie cartwheels. Even my daughter in California has enjoyed facetiming with her. Lily is sweet and funny. She has turned our world a little crazy, with running her outside all the time trying to catch her before she pees in the house. We are eager to show her off to anyone who wants to see her. She makes me laugh a lot, something the pandemic didn’t do.
She’s a commitment and demands our attention, but she’s worth it. It’s more fun to focus on her than when I’m going to be eligible for a vaccine. She has even made Mayzie happier, giving her a playmate.
Do yourself and your pet a favor and do the work now. It’ll pay off in the long run. You owe it to your dog, and yourself.
About the Writer
Morgan Baker is the managing editor of The Bucket. After a year in Hawaii, she is back in Cambridge, where her new adventure is adding a puppy to her family. She teaches writing at Emerson College. Her work can be found in The Boston Globe, The Boston Globe Magazine and The Brevity Blog, among other publications. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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