When the Corvo family blindly adopted young Twyla, a black lab rescue worker, in May 2020, they had only seen her in one picture.
But it didn’t take long, said Christina Corvo, before they realized that she “was undoubtedly the dog we never knew was meant for us”.
Twyla loves performing at virtual school meetings, has declared the court her kingdom and “worships all the attention she can get”.
“She has definitely brought us joy during this difficult time, and she has been a fantastic way to distract my children from the seriousness of the world around us,” said Corvo of Somerset, Massachusetts.
Nationwide, animal shelters and humane societies have said they cannot keep up with the number of people wanting to adopt dogs during COVID-19 – the madness that started with stay-at-home orders and quarantines. And the desire for adoption doesn’t seem to be waning as many New England animal shelters have resumed transportation of pets from the south.
Some people have always wanted a dog that would postpone adoption for years and tell themselves to wait until the “perfect time” while others who suffered from pandemic depression and isolation literally needed one to get out of bed.
“People do this for their mental health, for their self-sufficiency, to feel loved when they can’t have that physical connection,” said Erin Alamed, volunteer and outreach director for the Humane Society of Chittenden County in South Burlington , Vermont. “Trying to fill the void, no matter what that void is. Feeling connected to something, distraction, entertainment.”
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Lisa Dennison, executive director of the New Hampshire SPCA, said people who have always wanted pets are now “not commuting to Boston or Portland” and giving them plenty of free time to look after a dog. Pets have also given “a reason to walk down the street” for those struggling with COVID-19 depression.
“You really were that joy and that comfort and that companion,” Dennison said. “Pets really became a central issue.”
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“The mood in our house has changed”
The Craft family, based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, have wanted a dog since their loss in 2018, but a tumultuous start to COVID, including Chris Craft being laid off from work, made it difficult.
In September they made the leap and adopted Lea, a mix of black lab and gold from Georgia.
“The mood in our house has changed,” said Jeanna Craft. “Stress seemed less. We laughed. Happy. Active. Playing. Life seemed normal. As normal before COVID. Without the social fun.”
In November, after Chris found a new job, he was on leave due to COVID. Lea helped him to survive another stroke of life.
“He was shocked,” said Jeanna. “Having Lea was a lifesaver. If he hadn’t had this dog, I’m not sure how he would have survived another stay at home.”
Everywhere, and sometimes in unlikely ways, people fell in love with dogs. In Framingham, Massachusetts, Tracy Moutafis received a call from her husband last June while he was fishing at a local pond. He had “discovered a little dog with a blue harness, huddled under a bush, trembling and frightened.”
After trying to find the owners, the family decided to include “Niko” as their own, although they never intended to get a second dog. Even so, Niko became their pandemic puppy and they never looked back.
“You wouldn’t believe how adorable this dog is,” said Moutafis. “I will always tell his story of how he came into our lives.”
Will my dog be sad when I return to work?
As the world reopens and the time families spend at home decreases, this can be a transition period for pets.
Alamed encouraged dog owners to prepare now if they want to return to the office this summer. Get out of the house several times a day, she said, and gradually increase the amount of time you are away.
“Hire this coach now to prepare for this transition,” she said. “For people who have adopted or will adopt before everything really opens up, they have realistic expectations. These are animals, bottom line.”
A dog trainer in New Bedford, Massachusetts recently warned that separation anxiety between pets and owners is a real thing.
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“You won’t do well if the owner goes back to full-time,” said Lauren Stamatis, co-owner of Harmonious Hounds. “You definitely want to loosen it up and prepare it now with gradual descents.”
Some of the pandemic pups have never been home alone on weekdays. Rebecca Regniere, of Smithfield, Rhode Island, brought “Roxy” – then about 12 weeks old – home from Little Rhody Rescue and Quarantine just two weeks before COVID-19 closed the country in March 2020.
“Roxy has been a blessing and a wonderful addition to our family in such a difficult year,” said Regniere, who worked from home with Roxy by her side.
But Regniere said she had to go back to the office at some point.
“I think this will likely be a difficult transition for Roxy as she has never really been without anyone, but she is a really good bitch and I have no doubt that she will get used to a new routine pretty quickly,” she said.
In New Hampshire, Dennison said her organization has seen a surge in behavior and training activities – people who want their dogs to be well socialized after the pandemic ends.
She worries about the potential impact on pets if people return to regular or more serious travel due to the deepening housing crisis exacerbated by COVID.
“We hope that all of these companions, so joyfully acquired during the pandemic, will joyfully stay in their homes.”