Adopting a Pet During COVID-19

Many local families are adding four-legged friends to their households. Learn about the new trend of adopting a pet during COVID-19 and what you need to know if you join in.

Family petting a dog at an animal shelter

Jack is the frisky new addition to the Pruett family of Bloomfield Township. A three-month-old English Labrador retriever, Jack has added a dose of variety to his new family’s remote learning and work-from-home routines necessitated by Michigan’s stay-at-home order. It’s exactly what the Pruetts were hoping for when they took the plunge and became first-time dog owners in early April.

“We figured we probably won’t ever again in our lives have this extended period of time at home where we’re actually able to dedicate ourselves to a puppy,” says Jack’s maternal human Katya Pruett. “We’ve quickly come to love and appreciate his fun personality.”

The Pruetts are one among many families using the quarantine as an opportunity to foster or adopt a new furry friend. In fact, the interest has increased so dramatically that local animal rescues like Grosse Pointe-based Midwest Small Animal Rescue are experiencing many firsts. In the early days of the lockdown, Cindy Tewes, the organization’s director, was forced to upgrade the software she uses to collect applications to foster or adopt on her website.

“We had set up our website to handle 100 applications per month,” she says. “We quickly realized we needed to increase our site capacity. Now we can accept up to 1,000 applications per month.”

Fosters have increased fifty percent for the Midwest Small Animal Rescue since the lockdown began.

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“It has been almost uncontrollable,” Tewes says. “We’re really pleased. Lots of dogs have been placed that would otherwise still be sitting in shelters.”

Kristina Rinaldi, executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR), has observed a similar trend. In the 48-hour period following the first official day of lockdown in Michigan, DDR received 350 pet foster or adoption applications.

“For reference, we typically receive five to 10 a day,” she notes. “People were so eager. If they didn’t get a call back in the first few hours after submitting their application, they were calling us. We had to put something on website letting them know we were going through all the applications and would be in touch as soon as possible. It has been phenomenal.”

Rinaldi says that it’s especially exciting to see the many new families and individuals reaching out to foster or adopt.

“People quarantined at home by themselves may see their mental health declining,” she says. “Having a dog gives people a reason to get up each morning, a reason for the kids to do chores, a reason to go out for a walk. We’re getting foster updates that are simply amazing. When this is over, it will be our first responders and our dogs who saved our lives.”

Rinaldi says that off the bat, DDR was able to place about 60 dogs in the early weeks of the lockdown. While DDR’s active volunteer program had to be suspended temporarily in light of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, the rescue organization’s eight-person staff is still at work taking in, caring for, training and placing stray, rescued and owner-surrendered dogs in the city of Detroit.

“We’re back up to approximately 80 dogs that need homes,” she says. “We’re updating our website every week.”

In the pre- COVID-19 days, Rinaldi or a member of her team would visit the home of any family looking to adopt or foster a dog from DDR. She’d use that opportunity to introduce the rescue dog to the family as well as any animals already in the home.

“Because of COVID-19, we’re doing tele-adoptions instead,” she says. “We literally FaceTime families. They walk us through their home and their yard and introduce their kids. We’re a bit limited on how we can do animal-to-animal introductions presently, but we’re thinking of creative ways to keep the process moving forward safely.”

Enjoying the now, planning for what’s next

The Dalton family of Rochester Hills welcomed Maisy, a maltese poodle mix, to their family during the lockdown. The Daltons are already thinking ahead to what care they’ll put in place for their pup when daughters Brooke, 12, and Delaney, 14, return to school and mom, Shannon, and dad, Dave, return to the office.

“My plan is to come home lunch to get her out once the kids are back to school,” says Shannon.

Thinking ahead is a step Andy Rollo, DVM, would encourage all new pet owners adopting during the pandemic to take.

“I think it’s great that we’re seeing so many new pet owners,” says Dr. Rollo, co-owner of Madison Veterinary Hospital and Walnut Lake Animal Hospital. “One of the concerns though is that like Christmas puppies when January arrives, will a pet adopted during the lockdown still fit into the family’s life when school and work resume?”

Dr. Rollo says that separation anxiety can develop when pets accustomed to having people around all day suddenly find themselves alone. He suggests crating dogs for a few hours each day so they get used to that environment as it may eventually become part of their routine.

Dr. Rollo also encourages families to use the extra time at home to expose puppies to the world around them as many canine phobias develop in the first two to four months of age.

“Whatever you plan to expose your dog to in its lifetime, do it now and get the dog used to it,” he says. “It may be difficult to do everything you would under normal circumstances, but take the dog for a drive, walk the dog in new environments. Ask yourself what you can do that is safe, in terms of social distancing, while still exposing your puppy to new surroundings.”

While many non-essential businesses have been forced to close during this time, veterinary hospitals remain open for limited services. Dr. Rollo advises families to take their new dog to the vet within the first week or two of bringing it home.

“When it comes to newly adopted dogs, they still need their vaccines,” Dr. Rollo says. “We need to protect them and their new families. Zoonotic diseases like rabies and leptospirosis can be transmitted from dog to human. Both are very preventable with vaccines.”

Dr. Rollo and many other veterinarians are offering curbside visits at their offices. At Dr. Rollo’s facilities, pet owners phone from the parking lot and a masked and gowned staff member comes out to retrieve the animal from the owner’s vehicle. Dr. Rollo or a colleague will then provide the necessary treatment inside and phone the owner afterward to discuss the treatment and any questions he or she may have.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s working,” he says.

The Pruetts have taken advantage of their veterinarian’s curbside services for their puppy’s vaccinations and have gone online to make necessary purchases. They’ve used the Petco app to order dog food and supplies for curbside pickup and visited Chewy.com to order additional supplies for home delivery.

“From waking up early to take Jack out to buying new things for him, I feel like I have a new baby again,” Katya Pruett laughs. “Having a new dog has definitely added a little more chaos to our already crazy routine, but he has also given us a nice break from that routine.”

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