Stay-at-home orders have translated for many folks into more working at home, less time spent outdoors, and little to no chance of a trip out of town.
Some have taken this time to adopt a dog, whether it’s a shelter rescue or buying from a breeder. After all, what better time to train a puppy or bring a new four-legged companion on nightly walks?
The benefits of a canine pal flow both ways.
“Hugging a pet seems to be an amazingly effective antidote to facing the days of social detachment that we are going through now with COVID-19. There are many scientific benefits to having a pet,” says Dr. Amanda Nascimento, the in-house veterinarian at NHV Natural Pet.
“Researchers have found that just holding or being near our furry friends can help to increase the levels of hormones that make us feel good. There are even some studies that suggest that having a dog may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.”
“Adoptions now are way up in the country,” says Jean Shafiroff, ambassador for American Humane, and owner of five rescue dogs.
She’s seen a particular spike among people who live alone.
“Many are socially isolated,” she says. “To suddenly be alone is a very hard thing.”
But what happens a few months—or years—down the road? As stay-at-home orders are lifted and you return to a less constricted existence, your new dogs may be introduced to pricey dog-walkers, overnight boarding, and the reality of less time spent with their owner.
“We don’t want what’s called ‘owner surrender’ after this is all over,” says Shafiroff.
Before you make a rash choice, weigh out the pluses and minuses of becoming a pup parent.
“Adopting a dog is both practical and mental—so you need to make sure you can handle the day-to-day responsibilities,” says Prairie Conlon, a licensed mental-health professional and clinical director at Thrivetalk, a telehealth company. “Are the pros and cons acceptable to you?”
New adoption rules at shelters
Just a few short months ago, you could drop by a local humane society or animal shelter, fill out an application, and meet dogs on the spot. Not anymore.
“We’re actually doing drive-thru adoptions now,” says Shafiroff of her work with a shelter in Southampton, NY.
After completing an online application and going through a background check, people can visit the shelter.
“They never go into the shelter,” says Shafiroff. “We bring the dog or cat out to them. It’s very successful.”
Be prepared to deal with new policies designed to promote social distancing at shelters. One way to prepare is to peruse profiles of adoptable dogs online. Think about what kind of energy level you can provide, and research breeds to match.
Anticipate all expenses
You know your dog will need food, toys, and a bed. Those items may all slide easily into your monthly budget.
But think ahead. Younger dogs may be in fine health for a few years, but as they age—just as with humans—their needs shift. Your pet may eventually require expensive daily medications or a surgery.
We’ve seen numerous pleas on Go Fund Me from dog owners asking folks to chip in because they lack the funds to take care of their pet.
According to the 2019 Cost of Pet Care Report from the Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation, nearly half of Americans don’t have $400 in emergency funds. An unexpected trip to the vet can range from anywhere between $250 and $800.
“Take a good look at your finances,” advises Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian and member of Pup Life Today’s advisory board.
“Does your budget have enough wiggle room to accept an additional $100 a month or so for pet care? Can you afford pet insurance or set aside a lump sum of money to cover veterinary care for an unexpected accident or illness?”
Other associated costs could include a dog walker, should you go back to the office and find that your dog develops separation anxiety. There are also grooming fees for certain breeds.
“Anyone who adopts has to be sure not to look at a cat or dog as a toy,” says Shafiroff. “When you go back to work, you’ll have to make arrangements.”
If money is already tight, try to hold off.
“If you don’t have a dog right now and you can’t make ends meet, this is probably not a good time to adopt a dog,” says Shafiroff.
Know that a dog costs more than a cat in terms of lifelong care. According to a CouponFollow study, pet owners spend just under $1,200 annually on dogs and nearly $600 on cats.
It’s also smart to check with your local vets about their ability to take on new clients during COVID-19.
“Access to vets may be limited. Please check your local resources before adopting,” says Abhishek Joshi, a blogger and rescuer who runs Dog With Blog.
Adopting a puppy comes with challenges
While young dogs are not likely to need as much medical care off the bat, there are still upfront costs. Spaying or neutering—which is never done by a breeder—costs hundreds of dollars. So does the first year of shots.
The good news is that most shelters adopt out dogs that are already “fixed.”
Consider the time you’ll need to invest in a puppy. It will need to be trained—and you may have to puppy-proof your home from a chewer.
Something as simple as a lack of closet doors in an apartment might leave you scrambling for a safe spot to store your shoes. Factor in all the places where objects are placed on the floor or within the puppy’s reach.
If you live in an apartment, a spike in monthly rent or a pet-deposit fee could kick in.
It’s important to remember that young dogs depend on their owner for stability. If you’re expecting your work situation to be in flux soon, you need to be prepared.
“Puppies need as much socialization as possible,” says Laurice Wardini, founder of PuppyWiki. “This means frequent introductions to new sights, smells, and sounds. This can be hard when you are working most of the day.
“Many people adopting puppies right now aren’t giving them the alone time they need. Once they go back to work, the puppy will likely experience attachment issues that can result in destruction and lots of barking while you’re gone.”
Is travel in your future?
If you normally rack up frequent-flier points for work or love to snag last-minute travel deals, a new dog will change all that.
Overnight boarding is an expense and needs to be arranged in advance. Unless you have local family members who can take your dog at their house for no cost, you won’t be as fancy-free as you used to be.
Could dog walks be the new gym?
Dogs are a big plus if you need to stay in shape.
Gyms will eventually reopen with a host of new protocols. But if you have a dog, daily walks are an easy form of exercise.
“You can get fitter and healthier together,” says dog trainer Jeff Carbridge, a consultant for Dog Owner, an online resource for dog owners.
“Pets need exercise, which means you will need to put time aside for this every day. Do you have a garden for them to play in during lockdown, and if not, what kind of exercise plans do you have in place?”
That said, if you already have mobility issues, or don’t have the time or interest to take walks, perhaps a cat is in order.
Consider a foster pet
Many animal shelters as well as breed-specific rescue groups are in desperate need of foster homes. Shelter space may be limited in some areas.
Rescue groups without a physical adoption center usually like to observe an animal’s behavior for a while before deciding on a permanent placement.
Fostering allows potential dog owners to dip their toe into everything that full-time pet ownership entails.
“I’d recommend that any individuals considering adopting a new pet start first with fostering a shelter animal. Fostering is a win-win situation,” says Meg Marrs, founder of K9 of Mine, an online resource for dog owners.
Marrs strongly recommends that first-time dog owners begin with a foster dog.
“You get to see what life is like with a new pet, with the full experience of what adjustments you’ll need to make to your life—no strings attached,” she says. “The animal gets to spend time in a real home, outside of the very stressful environment of the shelter (which dogs absolutely hate).
“Fostering is, in my opinion, the first step any and every family should consider before bringing home a forever friend.”