Apparently, animal shelters are running out of dogs to foster, and a recent survey revealed that 43.5 percent of shelters are experiencing an increased demand for adoption since the COVID-19 outbreak. With more people having additional time on their hands—as well as potentially experiencing a sense of loneliness due to social distancing procedures—it’s understandable that pets are suddenly such a common demand. After all, pets are great at making people feel better.
“Right now, the way we relate to people and the way we express and receive love has been taken from us,” explains Kelly Scott, LMHC, a licensed psychotherapist at Tribeca Therapy. “Having virtual conversations is nice, but that doesn’t replace being able to snuggle with someone. There’s an intimacy in relationships that we don’t have anymore, so having a pet definitely helps us in a way that we’re able to parent it and feel needed.” We’re also at home so much more now than usual, which is why most of us think that now’s a great time to give a pet the time and attention we normally may not have the ability to do.
Given the current circumstances—which are, at the very least, temporary—is now really a good time to adopt a dog? According to Kelly DiCicco, manager of adoptions promotions at the ASPCA Adoption Center, the surge in adoptions is definitely admirable. But getting a new pet is something you should give a lot of thought! “Animals provide invaluable comfort and companionship, especially during times of crisis, and they certainly appreciate the attention they get,” she says. “So, we encourage people to continue to adopt or temporarily foster animals in need if their situation allows.”
If you've had a pet before, you already know if you'll be a good pet owner. Just ask Virginia native Tom Patton, who adopted a couple of weeks ago. “Our dog had just passed right before COVID-19 hit, and we’d had him for 13 years, so of course we were really sad,” he explains. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready to get another one, but then I found a dog who looked exactly the same—it felt like it was meant to be. And the time seems really right now, because we’re all home and have more time to take care of her. Puppies are incredibly impressionable in the first few weeks, so having the time to be around her now is a blessing.”
Considering the current circumstances, there are a few differences in the way you adopt: Home visits have stopped, you have to look at the animals virtually as opposed to walking into the shelter, there’s more of an emphasis placed on references since other checks have paused, and actually picking up the pet can be tricky. “We have our animals picked up outside, with gloves and keeping six feet apart—basically long leashes—and tell new owners to sanitize everything after,” explains Sue Bell, founder of DC-based animal rescue shelter Homeward Trails. “We have to work with more people in the application and database process, and we make sure all the in-person meetings with the pets are done in a way to minimize contact with other humans in every way possible.”
There’s also a recent worry about whether pets can contract COVID-19, especially given recent reports that a tiger in New York and two dogs in Hong Kong have been found to be positive. However, Dr Oscar Chavez, DVM, insists that's not cause for alarm. “There is no evidence that pets can contract the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 or that they can transmit it to humans,” he says. “Both dogs and cats always have had their own specific types of coronaviruses, but there is no cross-species interaction. These viruses are completely distinct from the novel coronavirus currently affecting humans, which causes the disease COVID-19.”
The thing is, COVID-19 can live on your animal’s fur. Your animal could come in contact with an infected person on your weekly grocery run, for instance—and then bring that back into your home. By that sort of transfer, you could get it. “All indications are that our pets cannot contract and transmit the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19: However, that doesn't mean that the virus cannot live temporarily on their fur/face/etc,” says Dr. Chavez. “For all these reasons, just like your favorite teddy bear, please leave your pets at home where they are safe and isolated from other people because any interaction between your pets and others starts to break down the social distancing we are trying to achieve.”
Say you do take your pet out and want to disinfect him or her when you get home—you should! In this case, Dr. Stephanie Austin, medical director at Bond Vet clinic, has a few suggestions. “Wiping your new fur-baby down with a disposable or washable cloth/rag that is lightly coated in soap and warm water is one option for disinfecting,” she says. “You can also use dog/pet formulated disinfectant wipes to achieve the same result. Note that it is not recommended to spray them with disinfectant sprays such as Lysol, as these can be toxic or poisonous. It can cause damage to their eyes, and other sensitive tissues, and you may end up rushing them to the ER.”
Of course, the biggest consideration when adopting a pet is the fact that when things eventually do go back to normal, you might not around to look after them all the time. “That’s my biggest worry when it comes to my dog, Goldilocks,” says new owner Mary Christine, who drove from Milwaukee to Illinois just to pick her pup up. “I know that she’s suffered some trauma and has some trust issues, so it’s really a blessing to be there right now. But I want her to be okay when I know I won’t always be around all the time.”
DiCiccio has some tips to make the transition easier, and says that it’s actually healthy for your pet to have a little space from you at times—you know, much like in a relationship. “Create a cozy, inviting place for your dog to nap away from all the activity of remote work and school. You can put on some soothing music or radio,” she says. “Also, for now, leave your home and take a stroll outside without your dog occasionally, in order to practice leaving the house for short durations. While you’re out, leave your dog a chew or their meal in a puzzle toy to keep them busy and occupied during your absence.”
This way, even if you’re home more often than not, your pet will realize you’re bound to leave at various intervals, which will get them used to time without you in larger increments.
“The biggest factor when it comes to adopting right now is really just the understanding that a dog is a lifelong commitment, and shouldn’t be used as a bandaid for the emotions you’re feeling right now,” stresses Scott. “You have to really ask yourself, ‘Am I just committed to this now, or will I also be committed in three years?’ You need to determine if your post-quarantine life allows the time and commitment needed for a dog.” If the answer is yes, by all means, go for it! But if not, maybe consider a more low-maintenance pet—like a goldfish—or think about temporarily fostering instead.