The Fogarty family in St. Louis County had been looking for a puppy for months before they found Dunkin.
Carolyn and her husband are both teachers, and they have two teenage sons. When schools switched to virtual learning in the spring of 2020, they were all at home all day.
Their older dog, Pepper, was sleeping much of the day. They wanted a playmate for her and figured they finally had time to train a puppy.
"It's like having a newborn," Carolyn said. "We lost sleep the first six weeks." It also took Pepper a few weeks to warm up to the new pup, but "now they are best buds," she said.
More than just Pepper, the entire family benefited.
"It was fun to have something to look forward to during that hard time," she said. Walking, training and playing with Dunkin "was our joy," she said.
When the family returned to their respective school buildings, the dogs had each other for company. Dunkin is part of the pandemic puppy boom that led to skyrocketing demand across the country during the year of lockdowns and social isolation.
Sarah Javier, president and CEO of the Animal Protective Association of Missouri Adoption Center, said that during the pandemic, the average length of stay for shelter animals dropped -- at times, down to one day.
Rescue organizations say they worried about unscrupulous breeders capitalizing on that demand.
"That's absolutely a concern for us, especially in Missouri," said Gary Lowder, spokesman for The Humane Society of Missouri. For nine years running, Missouri has topped the Horrible Hundred list produced by the Humane Society of the United States to draw attention to puppy mills and problem breeders. There are more puppy breeders and sellers in Missouri on the list than anywhere else in the country.
Lowder cautioned that breeders' "happy Facebook pages" do not reveal what's going on behind the scenes. The organization recently rescued dogs from a licensed breeder where the animals were starving and living among dead dogs.
Those concerns led some puppy-seekers to stalk shelter websites and social media pages. In much of the country, shelter operations were drastically impacted by the pandemic. Many closed to the public in March 2020 and eventually created curbside adoption processes. Since people couldn't walk through and fall in love with an animal in person, that connection had to happen online.
For the largest shelters in the St. Louis area, overall adoption numbers declined in 2020, given the tight restraints on how they could operate. But their facilities have since reopened. This year, they are seeing the number of adoptions rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
Other places, however, saw significant increases last year, even with the additional barriers to adoption. The Belleville Area Humane Society in Illinois saw a 44% increase in animal adoptions in 2020 and a 74% increase in fostering, according to Executive Director Kim Vrooman.
The organization also started a pet food pantry and a vaccine clinic to help families who are struggling financially to keep their pets. They don't require any proof of hardship from pet owners to receive pet food or obtain subsidized vaccines for their animals.
"We want to put supports in place to support pet owners," she said.
All of these shelters countered the news reports that greater numbers of people were returning the animals they had adopted during the pandemic.
"There was no surge in returns due to COVID," Vrooman said. "The reasons for returns are still very diverse."
Javier agreed. Many of the reasons that typically lead people to surrender pets -- divorce, deaths or relocation -- are similar to what they saw throughout the pandemic.
As many people return to work, pets and their owners may need to get used to being apart for longer hours. But the lessons of love and commitment that come from owning a pet transcend the circumstances under which they enter our lives.
The Fogartys can attest to that. Their biggest concern was making sure Dunkin was fully potty-trained before they returned to school and work, and he learned that skill with their consistent training. These days, he waits for them to come home to go outside and play.
"Now, it's just one more member of the family," Carolyn said.