It’s raining cats and dogs: Seeking a furry companion in the midst of a pandemic

November 4, 2020 — by Hannah Lee and Amanda Zhu
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Senior Josephine Chou with her dog, Willie

Animal Shelters and dog breeders report a boom in pet adoption and fostering as people quest for a fur-ever friend amid the COVID-19 crisis.

In April, senior Josephine Chou and her family decided to adopt a 2-year-old white terrier. 

Her family was hardly an outlier. Now stuck at home, thousands of other U.S. families have adopted pets during the pandemic.  

Over 2,000 volunteers signed up to foster pets when Dumb Friends League, a private animal shelter in Colorado, put out a call. Similarly, over 100 people signed up to be a part of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) online foster orientation sessions, which has since placed more animals into homes. 

Even celebrities such as actor Chris Evans have been encouraging their followers to adopt pets. Other celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dua Lipa, Jennifer Lopez, Billie Eillish and Selena Gomez, have been taking care of dogs themselves. Most are fostering these pets and have inspired their fans to do the same.

Chou said that quarantine had her entire family feeling a “bit down,” prompting them to search for a furry friend. One of their close friends introduced Chou and her family to a pet owner who was looking to give away dogs, and Chou’s family decided to adopt from there.

Chou immediately bonded with Willie and now dedicates much of her time to playing with him. She goes on frequent runs with him and feeds him treats and fruit.

Chou said her family has grown much happier since adopting Willie, who has brought them many more ways to stay optimistic even in the midst of quarantine.  

“He’s made quarantine so much better,” Chou said. “When I’m having a bad day, and I see him wagging his tail, it makes me more grateful and happy.” 

Sophomore Nidhi Mathihalli’s family decided to take in a new pet during shelter-in-place.

In August, Mathihalli and her family decided to foster Cookie, a German Shepherd puppy. Although her family has always held a special liking for dogs, her father is allergic to them. 

After much contemplation and fostering Cookie for a few days, they decided to keep her as Mathihalli’s father’s allergies weren’t as severe. As of now, Mathihalli and her family are still bonding with Cookie and finding ways to best spend time with their new furry companion.

“She’s very human friendly, but she isn’t very interactive when it comes to other dogs,” Mathihalli said. “Because of that, we are trying to get her to play with more dogs. In the past few days, we’ve been seeing improvement as she isn’t as afraid to approach and play with other dogs.”

Because dog owners now have to take COVID-19 social distancing protocols into consideration, Mathihalli said that she sees a disadvantage for Cookie and other dogs in terms of social interactions.

“They aren’t getting enough play time or social interaction as they usually should,” Mathihalli said. “In the future, this could be detrimental because they may develop more aggressive characteristics towards other dogs, rather than being playful.”

Although Cookie isn’t getting as much socialization with other puppies as she would like, Mathihalli said she makes sure she spends a lot of time with Cookie by playing with, feeding and walking her. 

By catering to Cookie’s needs and spending time with her, Mathihalli said her mental health has improved. 

During quarantine, many teenagers have been unmotivated at home and spend a majority of their time alone. But because Mathihalli gets to spend more time with Cookie, she finds herself feeling less lonely and spending less time on her devices. 

According to Wisdom Health Genetics’ 2020 Pet Census survey, pet owners consider themselves happier having pets at their side: 99 percent of dog owners and 96 percent of cat owners claimed that their new companions had a positive impact on their mental health. 

“Rather than wasting family time mindlessly scrolling on our screens, we’re now playing with her and taking her out on walks, which helped us all mentally because we aren’t feeling as lonely and isolated as before,” Mathihalli said.

The Humane Society Silicon Valley, a pet adoption center in Silicon Valley, stated that they find that those that adopt for have received a positive response.

Recently, a puppy was adopted to serve as an emotional support and behavioral dog for a child with autism. The shelter received feedback that their new furry addition has helped their child calm down and allow him to work on schoolwork for longer periods of time.

Additionally, numbers in pet adoption and fostering have skyrocketed these past few months, and with that comes it’s downsides and upsides. 

The increased number of dog owners during quarantine can provide companionship for many families during these unprecedented times, but with the surge in adoption, some shelters are concerned about the possible deluge of returning pets after the COVID-19 crisis ends. 

Pre-COVID, the conversion rate (people coming in and adopting versus those leaving without a pet) at the Humane Society Silicon Valley averaged in the 20ish-percent rate. However with this new virtual adoption process, the conversion rate is now up to about 80 percent.

“I love dogs and think it would be really beneficial for people to adopt, but I hope people remember that just because we are in quarantine, it doesn’t mean dogs are any easier to train,” Mathihalli said. “Just because people have more time now, doesn’t mean they should ignore the effort behind it.

Although Cookie was adopted through a breeder, those that choose to adopt from a shelter may be met with different processes. The Humane Society Silicon Valley reported numerous changes to the adoption process. 

 “With just a few hours notice before the shelter-in-place order started, we scrambled to make new plans and adjustments,” said Kamiya. “The process we implemented was a virtual process in which potential adopters could set up an online appointment …  then pick up their adopted animal through a safe, no-contact, socially distanced appointment.”

Although there are several responsibilities that come with being a new pet owner, Mathihalli said that it was ultimately worth it. 

“There've been some challenges, but being at home a lot more means I have more time to spend time with her and teach her things,” Mathihalli said. “She’s made online school a lot better for me, and she makes my family happy too.”


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