If you're thinking this might be a good time to adopt a dog, you're not the only one.
City Dogs Rescue usually adopts out 20 to 30 dogs in one month, according to adoption counselor Jillian Molina. In March, it adopted out 40 dogs. Colleen Bernhard, the director of operations at Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, told me that in one week in March, "we brought in 149 animals from high-kill shelters and adopted out 134. That is our average for one month normally."
Some rescues are seeing an unprecedented number of foster applications. Sue Bell, executive director of Homeward Trails, told us its foster applications have increased more than 50%.
It makes sense — in an era of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, many of us long for a little companionship (and a reason to see the light of day). Before you rush into adopting a canine companion, here are a few things to consider.
1. Don't adopt just because of the lockdown.
The coronavirus pandemic won't last forever, and adopting a dog is a long-term commitment.
Kayla Fratt, a certified dog behavior consultant and owner of Journey Dog Training, recommends thinking through some basic questions. For example:
- How much time will you have to care for a dog, now and post-pandemic?
- Do you have the funds to adopt right now? Do you have job security or extra savings to cover unforeseen pet-related expenses?
- How much space do you have for a dog? Does your current housing situation allow for pets?
- How much time and energy are you willing to commit to training a dog?
- Consider your lifestyle. Do you want a dog that can run miles with you every day? Or are you looking for a less active dog that will be content skipping walks here and there?
Think about your life post-pandemic. Make sure you're adopting a dog that matches that lifestyle, not your current one or your aspirational one.
Speaking from experience, Fratt notes that a lot of people like to think they're more active than they actually are. "They're actually not going out and really hitting the trails all day, every day in a way that some of these really, really high-energy dogs do need."
2. There are upsides to adopting a dog during the pandemic.
Fratt warns, "I would really caution people who weren't thinking in January that they might get a dog in 2020 against springing on that now."
But if you were planning to adopt a dog before the coronavirus pandemic, now could be a great time to take that step. More time at home means more time to bond with a new dog.
You'll also have increased availability to work on training. This can be especially helpful if your dog needs to be crate trained or if you've adopted a puppy or a rescue with more behavioral concerns.
Fratt recommends implementing a training protocol called "SMART x 50," developed by Kathy Sdao. "SMART" stands for "See, Mark, And Reward Training." The method relies on positive reinforcement:
- See your dog doing something you like.
- Mark it by saying "good dog" or "yes."
- Reward your dog.
"[Sdao suggests] counting out 50 pieces of kibble and rewarding your dog for 50 small good things throughout the day," says Fratt. "If you do this and nothing else to train your dog, you're going to end up with a relatively nice dog."
If you adopt a fearful or anxious dog, this is a good time to work through some of those issues. You can take it for walks during off-peak hours and slowly build up to meeting strangers.
3. There are also downsides to adopting during the pandemic.
Socialization, which is important for puppies and fearful dogs, will be more difficult to achieve in an era of social distancing.
If you feel like you're in over your head, it'll be harder to seek help from outside sources. You won't be able to take your dog to classes.
Don't delay dog training just because you can't go somewhere in person! A lot of dog trainers are currently offering online classes, and YouTube is a great resource if you need to teach your dog basic commands like sit, stay or come.
Another downside? You may have limited access to necessary supplies. Try to anticipate everything you'll need initially to care for your new dog. You'll want to minimize trips to the pet store and consider how many orders you place online. Deliveries could be delayed. Cleaning supplies are still hard to find in some places, so plan for that too.
If you don't have a car and you're avoiding ride-hailing services right now, consider how you plan to transport your dog to the vet.
It's not fun to think about, but the Humane Rescue Alliance urges people to have an emergency preparedness plan for what happens to their pet if they fall ill. You may want to prepare an emergency supply kit for your pet with two weeks' worth of food, medications and other necessary supplies.
4. Make a plan for the transition to post-pandemic life.
If you're working from home, currently furloughed or unemployed, you're able to spend 24/7 with your new dog. "Down the line, when you do restart work, that might be a really big shift for your dog," Fratt notes.
Sticking to a schedule will help your dog transition to post-pandemic life. Fratt recommends feeding and walking your dog at the same time every day.
If you plan to be out of the house 40 hours a week when this is over, plan some time apart from your dog now so it doesn't come as a total shock later.
"One of the beautiful things with this pandemic is you can build up to this," says Fratt. Try leaving your dog alone incrementally — you can start out with as little as three minutes, graduating to five minutes, then 10, then 20 and beyond!
5. Budget at least $100 per month for pet-related expenses on top of initial costs.
The initial costs of adopting a dog are high. You'll have a lot of upfront expenses: food, a bed, a crate, a collar and leash, medicine, vet visits, shots, toys, etc.
After that, expect to budget around $100 per month for pet-related expenses, not including money for training or dog walkers. If you plan on hiring a dog walker post-pandemic, that could potentially cost you $100 per week.
During the 2008 financial crisis, pet surrenders went up because people could no longer afford to take care of their dogs.
If you've gotten to this point and you're convinced that adopting a dog right now is right for you, then ...
6. The adoption process is different now. Prepare for it.
Even though shelters are closed and rescues have paused in-person adoption events, many are hosting virtual meet-and-greets. Check with your local rescues to find out how they're handling adoptions in light of COVID-19.
Focus on the quality, not quantity, of your adoption applications. Molina, of City Dogs Rescue, suggests you "scope out one or two rescues that you do want to adopt with and ... stick with the process."
Molina also recommends checking the rescue's social media accounts for the latest available dogs — they're likely to be more up to date than the website during periods of high demand.
Consider looking at dogs that have been at the shelter for the longest. If you're willing to adopt a puppy or take on harder behaviors, include that on your application too. Molina says that this could make it easier for an adoption counselor to match you with a dog sooner.
Be prepared for an online home visit. If you demonstrate you're thinking about the future, it will make you a more attractive candidate.
Molina advises, "You might say something like, 'I'm working from home right now. I don't need a dog walker. But when I go back to work, I intend to send my dog to day care or get a local dog walker to come visit when I'm at work.' ... People who are demonstrating long-term thinking, those [people] are going to stand out more than people who are kind of impulse-applying for a dog."
Specificity — and patience — are key in the adoption process.
If you're not sure if you want to adopt or if you're not sure what kind of dog you can handle long term, fostering or dog-sitting are great options. Get some practice — you don't have to adopt right now just because you have more time at home.
This story was adapted for digital by Audrey Nguyen. The audio portion of this story was produced also by Audrey Nguyen.