Should I Adopt A Dog? Tips For Adopting During The Coronavirus Pandemic : Life Kit Dog adoptions are up now that people are spending more time at home. Before you get in over your head, here are some things to consider before adopting a coronavirus dog. This episode will help you weigh the pros and cons, including costs, training and how to adjust your pooch to post-pandemic life.

Should I Adopt A Dog During The Coronavirus Crisis? Read This First

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DEANNA HOFFMAN: Hi. My name is Deanna Hoffman (ph), and I'm from Newton, Mass. My tip is don't multitask. I'm a teacher and a parent of two young boys, ages 5 and 6. And when my kids are doing school work or playing and I go to check my work email or add to my online grocery cart, that's when things turn to chaos. When I'm fully present with my boys, they feel like they're getting attention that they need, and they're much better behaved. My work is better, too, when I give my full attention rather than trying to fit bits and pieces in here and there. Overall, I feel less stressed when I am able to make this commitment and have a much better feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

JILLIAN MOLINA: The home visit virtually - normally, it's done, obviously, in person.

MERAJI: And that's Jillian Molina. She's a volunteer adoption counselor for City Dogs, which is a rescue in D.C., and she's checking out the home of a couple who want to adopt a dog. All this is happening over Zoom.

MOLINA: If possible, I'd love to just see your yard to make sure it's, like, dog-proof.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah.

MERAJI: A couple gives Jillian a virtual tour of their yard. Jillian then asks them to show her where the dog will stay during the day.

MOLINA: Whenever we go back to work (laughter), what do you plan to do with the dog?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah.

MERAJI: Before the coronavirus pandemic, Jillian Molina would do all these home visits in person. Now this is all happening virtually, but it's no less busy.

Are you also thinking about adopting a canine companion during quarantine and wondering how to do it? If so, NPR's Samantha Balaban is here to help. Hey, Sami.

SAMANTHA BALABAN, BYLINE: Hi.

MERAJI: So I tried to foster a dog here in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and I got an email message back that said, thank you so much for your interest in fostering. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in the number of community members offering to foster pets. And I was shocked to get a rejection letter. I did not think that that was going to happen. Are there really that many people fostering and adopting dogs right now?

BALABAN: Yeah, there are. Just to give you an idea, Jillian Molina, the adoption counselor at City Dogs, says that they usually adopt out 20 to 30 dogs in a month. In March, they adopted out 40. Rescues also told me they're getting unprecedented numbers of foster applications. In one case, they were up 70%.

MERAJI: Oh, wow.

BALABAN: And this is all without in-person adoption events or people being able to go to shelters and meet lots of dogs at once.

MERAJI: It does make sense because this feels like something you can do - something good you can do for the world. You can save an animal's life. You can help out these shelters. Are there any downsides to adopting a dog right now?

BALABAN: The short answer is it depends. It could be a really good time for you to adopt a dog, or it could be significantly more complicated. I talked to Kayla Fratt, who's a certified dog behavior consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She has this pretty amazing, very comprehensive list online of all the things that you should consider before adopting a dog. And here's what she said.

KAYLA FRATT: I think the biggest thing that I would really urge people is do not adopt because of the pandemic. If you were already thinking of adopting sometime soon and you're now thinking now is a good time, I think that's just fine. But I would really caution people who weren't thinking in January that they might get a dog in 2020 against springing on that now.

BALABAN: Kayla Fratt says there's some definite upsides to adopting right now. You'll be at home more, which is really good for bonding with your new dog. You'll have more time to work on training, which could be good, especially if your dog needs to be crate trained or if you've adopted a puppy or a rescue with more needs. Here's Kayla again.

FRATT: You also can slowly build up to meeting strangers or leaving your dog alone, which makes it a little bit easier to work with a dog - a shelter dog who might have more concerns about life.

BALABAN: But Kayla says, yeah, you're not wrong. There are definitely some negatives to adopting a dog during a pandemic.

MERAJI: Oh, let's get into the downsides.

BALABAN: Well, so just for example, if you get in over your head with training or if you adopt a more fearful dog, it's going to be a lot harder to get help. You, for example, won't be able to meet a trainer in person probably for a while. Logistical stuff is going to be a lot harder. I know when I adopted my dog Winnie (ph) - shoutout to Winnie - a year ago, I was in and out of Petco every other day. I ordered, like, 10 harnesses online before I found one that worked for her that she couldn't escape out of. Now, you obviously should try not to be going into stores all the time right now, and we should be pretty thoughtful about how many deliveries we're getting if you're ordering stuff online. Keep in mind deliveries could also be delayed.

MERAJI: Right.

BALABAN: I also saw a post on a community website from someone who adopted a puppy during this quarantine. He wrote, as you can imagine, there have been a few accidents. We've been looking for paper towels everywhere and can't seem to find any.

MERAJI: Oh, yes.

BALABAN: So maybe...

MERAJI: That's a great point.

BALABAN: Plan in advance (laughter). If you don't know if you have access to Clorox wipes or paper towels, plan ahead. And consider - you know, how are you going to get your dog to the vet if you don't have a car and you don't want to take Ubers right now? Planning ahead for all those kind of messy things could be a little bit harder.

And another downside, obviously, right now is that there's a chance that any of us could get sick. We could get the coronavirus at any point in time. And the Humane Rescue Alliance wants to make sure that people have emergency preparedness plans for what will happen to their pet if they do have to go to the hospital. They've made it pretty simple for people to create a written plan. They have a PDF template that you can use, and there's more info on that available at their website.

Kayla Fratt also says that socialization, which is especially important for puppies and dogs that haven't really had any, is going to be much more difficult because socialization, as you can imagine, is pretty at odds with social distancing. And she says...

FRATT: And then there are some other kind of hidden pitfalls down the line. When you do restart work, that might be a really big shift for your dog to go from spending 24/7 with you to being left alone for a 40-hour workweek. So thinking ahead to what your life is going to look like post-pandemic is also really important.

MERAJI: Does Kayla have any advice for that big transition time between spending 24/7 with your dog and then having to work, you know, 40 hours a week outside of the home?

BALABAN: Yeah. So specifically for helping a dog transition to post-pandemic life, she says sticking to a schedule is going to be really key - you know, meals and walks at the same time every day. I know that's easier said than done. And if you're normally going to be out of the house for 40 hours a week when this is over, try to give your dog some time away from you now so it's not a total shock later. And here she says there might be a silver lining, though.

FRATT: One of the beautiful things about this pandemic is you can build up to this. So I know for most of us, if we work a normal 9 to 5, it's really hard to find the time and money to build up your dog's tolerance for being alone from being alone for three minutes to being alone for eight hours. You can do that right now, though, so - because you are able to leave them alone for three minutes one day, five minutes later that day, 10 minutes the next day, 20 minutes the next, you know, and actually really build up in your dog's ability to be left alone.

MERAJI: But right now while we are at home and we can't go anywhere, it does offer us more time to train our dogs and to have better-behaved dogs. What did your expert say about how to do that in the best way right now?

BALABAN: In regards to training, Kayla says definitely don't wait until after the pandemic is over to get your dog training just because you can't go in person right now. There are a lot of other options. A lot of dog trainers are offering online classes right now, and that could also be a really good way to support your local dog trainers who often operate on pretty thin margins. YouTube is also a really great free resource if you need to teach your dog basic commands like sit, stay, come. I've definitely used it. She also mentioned one really great free resource that people could check out right now.

FRATT: Something that every single person can do for free right now is start doing a training protocol with their dogs called SMART x 50. So Kathy Sdao came up with this, and it stands for See, Mark and Reward Training. So this means you see your dog doing something you like. You mark it by saying, good dog, or, yes. And then you reward your dog for that. And then she calls it SMART x 50, so what she actually advocates is counting out 50 pieces of kibble and rewarding your dog for 50 small good things throughout the day. If you do this and nothing else to train your dog, you're going to end up with a relatively nice dog.

MERAJI: Well, that seems simple enough.

BALABAN: Yeah, and you can just do it with their kibble, too.

MERAJI: So if you're adopting during a pandemic, it's not like you're going to give the dog back, right? Ideally, you'll have this pet for years and years. It's going to be your best friend. What should people be thinking about long-term before they adopt?

BALABAN: Yeah. So as I mentioned, Kayla Fratt has this really comprehensive list online, which we'll link to on our episode page. And she says the main thing is to be very honest with yourself about what you can handle and what your schedule is.

MERAJI: Yeah.

BALABAN: You might have a lot of time right now to be taking your dog on six walks a day and going trail running or hiking. But think about your life post-pandemic, too. And get a dog that matches that lifestyle, not your current one or your aspirational one. Kayla says when she was working in Colorado, this was a big thing.

FRATT: You know, we'd get people who'd come in and say, I want a hiker dog. I'm looking for a really high-energy dog. And we'd ask, OK, great. That's awesome. We've got a couple that are going to fit your needs. Can we ask, what did you do after work yesterday? Or what did you do last weekend? And, you know, we'd get answers like, oh, well, you know, last night I had some girlfriends over for some drinks. Last weekend it was a Broncos game. You know, and you kind of start going back and back in their history, and you find that they like to think they're really active, but 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.

BALABAN: So maybe this is a good time for some self-reflection.

MERAJI: Yes.

BALABAN: And be honest with yourself, too, about how much training you actually want to do. Are you willing to adopt a dog with behavioral needs? That might make it easier right now to find one at a shelter, but it will also require a lot more long-term work. So make your list of requirements. Does your dog need to get along with other dogs? Are you primarily going to exercise it at the dog park? Do you have kids? Does the dog need to get along with kids? And then stick to that list.

MERAJI: One thing you haven't mentioned yet and I haven't heard anything about from the experts is money. Finances are tight for a lot of people right now. I remember during the financial crisis around 2008 that pet surrenders went up because, you know, people could no longer afford to take care of their dogs. What should people be thinking about in terms of how much a dog costs?

BALABAN: Yeah. So dogs can be incredibly expensive, and finances are going to be a big thing right now. A lot of people are at risk of losing their jobs or being furloughed. Can you reasonably plan on being financially secure enough to adopt a dog, not including training or dog walkers? You should expect to budget about $100 a month. And initially, right after you adopt, those costs are also going to be a lot higher when you're getting all the supplies, the food, crate, toys, medicine, vet visits, shots. And if you plan on having a dog walker come post-quarantine, that could end up costing $100 per week.

MERAJI: Wow.

BALABAN: So if you think there's a chance that you might not have a job in a couple of months and that would mean you could no longer afford a dog, maybe it's not a great idea right now. If you're not sure if you want to adopt or you're not sure what kind of dog you want to handle long-term, consider fostering or dog-sitting. Get some practice. You don't have to adopt right now just because you have more free time or time at home.

MERAJI: All right, so people who are listening to this who have done a lot of this deep thinking already and this is making them think more - they're convinced that adopting a dog right now is the right thing to do. How would they go about doing that while social distancing?

BALABAN: So it's definitely still possible even though shelters are closed and rescues aren't hosting adoption events. A lot of rescues have virtual meet and greets instead of in-person ones. Some adoption centers are doing by-appointment meetings only. But you'll have to look online at your local rescues to find out what their specific processes are. Jillian Molina, the adoption counselor, also had a lot of good tips for how to be a successful applicant. She said first thing, it's best not to try to play the field.

MOLINA: I think people are applying kind of everywhere they can. And it's getting pretty confusing because if one person applies at 10 different rescues, they're not going to adopt 10 different dogs. And so we're seeing almost too many adoption applications from people who are just trying to get their name in. So I would - for everyone's ease, especially the person applying to adopt a dog, I would kind of scope out one or two rescues that you do want to adopt with and kind of stick with the process, whether it's looking at the site for available dogs, putting in an adoption application and really communicating with the person who responds because I promise everybody is screening every single application.

BALABAN: Yeah, so she says, basically, make friends with one or two rescues, and be extremely communicative with them.

MERAJI: OK.

BALABAN: She also says you might be more successful if you are pretty on top of your social media, if you're checking the rescue's Instagram and Facebook pages for the latest dogs instead of looking on the website. Since things are moving so fast, they are keeping up more with their social media. She also said consider looking at dogs that have been at the shelter or the rescue the longest, and include on your application if you're willing to adopt a puppy or if you're willing to take on harder behaviors. That could make it easier for an adoption counselor to match you with a dog sooner. And then be prepared for an online home visit like the one Jillian did with a couple in D.C., and be ready to show that you're thinking long-term, she said. That will help make you a much more attractive candidate.

MOLINA: 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 if I can't do it myself. People who are demonstrating, like, long-term thinking - those are going to stand out more than people who are kind of impulse applying for a dog.

MERAJI: Good advice.

BALABAN: Definitely. And I reached out to a lot of other D.C. rescues because that's where I live, and a lot of them also had the same advice. They said a lot of people want to adopt right now, and they're working as hard and as fast as they can. So the best things you can do are be specific in your application and then be patient.

MERAJI: That was NPR's Samantha Balaban. For NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. If you've got a good tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at lifekit@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Audrey Nguyen. Meghan Keane is the managing producer, and Beth Donovan is our senior editor. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. Thanks for listening.

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