When the Corvo family adopted young Twyla, a black lab rescue, on blind faith in May of 2020, they’d only seen her in a picture.
But it did not take long at all, said Christina Corvo, for them to realize that she was “undoubtedly the dog we never knew was meant for us.”
Twyla loves making appearances during virtual school meetings, has declared the yard her kingdom, and “adores all the attention any way she can get it.”
“She has most definitely brought us joy throughout this difficult time, and she’s been a fantastic distraction for my kids from all the seriousness of the world around us,” said Corvo, of Somerset, Massachusetts.
Nationwide, shelters and humane societies have said they can’t seem to keep up with the number of people wanting to adopt dogs during COVID-19 – the frenzy which started with stay-at-home orders and quarantines. And the desire to adopt doesn’t seem to be fading, as many New England shelters have resumed pet transports from down South.
Some people had always wanted a dog, pushing off adoption for years and telling themselves to wait until the “perfect time,” while others, suffering from pandemic depression and isolation, quite literally needed one to get themselves out of bed.
“People are doing it for their mental health, for self care, to feel loved when they can’t have that physical connection,” said Erin Alamed, director of volunteer and community outreach at the Humane Society of Chittenden County in South Burlington, Vermont. “Trying to fill the void, no matter what that void is. Feeling connection with something, distraction, entertainment.”
Lisa Dennison, executive director of the New Hampshire SPCA, said people who have always wanted pets now find themselves “not commuting to Boston or Portland,” giving them enough free time to care for a dog. Pets have also given those struggling with COVID-19 depression “a reason to walk down the street.”
“They have really been that joy and that comfort and that companion,” said Dennison. “Pets really became a central focus.”
‘The mood in our house changed’
The Craft family, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, had wanted a dog since losing theirs in 2018, but a tumultuous beginning to COVID, including Chris Craft being laid off from work, made that difficult.
In September, they took the leap and adopted Lea, a black lab/golden mix from Georgia.
“The mood in our house changed,” said Jeanna Craft. “Stress seemed less. We were laughing. Happy. Active. Playing. Life seemed to be normal. Like pre-COVID normal. Without the social fun.”
In November, after finding a new job, Chris was furloughed due to COVID. Lea helped him get through yet another life blow.
“He was shattered,” said Jeanna. “Having Lea was a lifesaver. Had he not had this dog, I’m not sure how he would have survived another stay at home.”
People were falling in love with dogs all over the place and sometimes in unlikely ways. In Framingham, Massachusetts, last June, Tracy Moutafis got a call from her husband while he was fishing at a local pond. He’d discovered “a little dog with a blue harness huddled under a bush shaking and scared.”
After attempts to locate the owners, the family decided to take “Niko” in as their own, though they never intended to get a second dog. Despite that, Niko became their pandemic pup and they never looked back.
“You would not believe how lovable this dog is,” Moutafis said. “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 amount of time families are spending at home decreases, it may be a transitional period for pets.
Alamed encouraged dog owners to start preparing now if they anticipate returning to the office this summer. Start leaving the house multiple times a day, she said, and gradually extend the period of time for which you’re gone.
“Hire that trainer now to prepare for that transition,” she said. “For people that have adopted or will adopt before everything really opens up, 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.
“They’re not going to cope well when the owner goes back full time,” said Lauren Stamatis, co-owner of Harmonious Hounds. “You definitely want to ease them into it and start preparing them with gradual departures now.”
Some of the pandemic puppies have never been at home by themselves during workdays before. Rebecca Regniere, of Smithfield, Rhode Island, brought home “Roxy” – around 12 weeks old at the time – from Little Rhody Rescue and Quarantine just two weeks before COVID-19 shut down the country in March 2020.
“Roxy has been a blessing and a wonderful addition to our family during such a difficult year,” said Regniere, who has been working from home with Roxy at her side.
But Regniere said she’ll eventually need to go back to the office.
“I think that will probably be a tough transition for Roxy since she’s never really been without someone, but she’s a really good dog and I have no doubt she will get used to a new routine pretty quickly,” she said.
In New Hampshire, Dennison said her organization has seen an uptick in activity in the area of behavior and training – people wanting their dogs to be well-socialized when the pandemic ends.
She does worry about potential impacts on pets when people start to regularly travel again, or more seriously, from the mounting housing crisis made worse by COVID.
“We do hope that all of these companions that have been so joyfully acquired during the pandemic will remain joyfully in their homes.”