Finding a pet in the time of COVID takes patience and persistence. Here’s one family’s story.
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When their nearly 16-year-old terrier mix, MaeBee, died in mid-May, my niece Laura and her husband, Tyler, weren’t in a hurry to get a new dog. But the more they thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. Some things had changed in their life since the Hendersons had first adopted MaeBee 13 years ago -- most notably, they now have a 5-year-old daughter, Aanika. The COVID quarantine also played a role.
“It made sense to look,” Laura Henderson says. “If we found a dog that felt like a good fit, we knew that we could be home and acclimate together while Aanika was there, because at that point we were assuming she would be in school in the fall. If housetraining needed to be done, we’d be home to do it.”
She began searching on Petfinder.com, but any dog described as “good with kids” or “housetrained” was adopted almost instantly. She went from looking daily to looking multiple times each day. The Hendersons didn’t want an extremely large dog, but for the most part, they were open to a variety of types and sizes, male or female. Most important was that any dog they adopted have a good relationship with Aanika.
Their experience isn’t unusual, says Wailani Sung, DVM, veterinary behaviorist at San Francisco SPCA. “We do not have the same number of animals at our shelter like we did before COVID, but we have a steady number of animals coming into our shelter,” Dr. Sung says. She adds that the habit of looking at a shelter’s website at least daily is a good one, because sometimes they are updated several times a day.
After nearly a month of looking, the Hendersons struck gold with Moose -- now named Joon. The 2-year-old American English coonhound (based on a DNA test), listed on Petfinder, had been taken in as a stray at a shelter about an hour away from their home in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shelter employees didn’t know how he would be around kids, but based on his reactions to adults and other animals, they thought he could be a good choice.
“We went to meet him without any expectation that we would be necessarily taking him home,” Henderson says. “He was really attached to the woman who brought him in, but when she left, he immediately went and sat next to Aanika. He just sat there and let her pet him. He was super-gentle with her. It seemed like a match.”
They brought him home, and the same evening, had a socially distanced porch dinner with friends who were driving through from North Carolina. There were four children all together, and Joon luxuriated in all the petting. “It was pretty immediate affirmation that he was gentle and liked little people,” Henderson says.
While adoptions may begin to slow now that schools are starting to open, many families are still spending unusual amounts of time at home. Sung recommends that potential pet adopters think ahead three to six months, when life may have returned to some semblance of normal. They should have a plan for how the animal will be cared for or walked if they start going back to the office full-time. People who have already adopted should start now to accustom pets to being home alone. (You can find tips here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/separation-anxiety.) As far as finding a dog or cat, Henderson and Sung have some advice:
Instead of searching only for pets that meet your criteria (“housetrained” or “child-friendly”), read all the listings, Henderson says. It’s too easy to miss pets who might otherwise be a good option.
For cats, ask to see video of how the cat behaves in the enclosure or interacts with staff members, Sung says. Some cats are shy with visitors, and you may not get a true picture of their personality.
As for Aanika and Joon? He follows her around and she sings to him. They’re a team.
No need to
Q: I’m pregnant with our first child, and my mother-in-law says we should get rid of our cat because of the risk of toxoplasmosis. Is she right?
A: You can safely keep your cat. Toxoplasma is an internal parasite that lives in the muscles of sheep, rabbits and rats. Cats who eat the meat of an infected animal can spread the parasite through their feces. If your cat lives indoors, she’s unlikely to become infected. And in most cases, only young cats pass feces contaminated with toxoplasma eggs (oocysts). If you have an adult cat, the chance of infection is very low.
Veterinarians are well informed on this subject, possibly even more than doctors, because they learn about toxoplasmosis at least four times during their education: in courses on feline medicine, parasitology, zoonotic disease and public health -- including meat and food safety. I can assure you that female veterinarians and veterinary technicians don’t stop working with cats when they are pregnant. You can take the same easy precautions they do to reduce the risk of infection to the developing fetus.
-- Delegate litter-scooping duty to your spouse. (Do this before the pregnancy when attempting to conceive.)
-- Have your spouse scoop the litter box once or twice daily. Toxoplasmosis organisms need time after being passed in the cat’s feces to become infective. Frequent scooping minimizes the risk that the oocysts will be around long enough to become infective.
-- Keep your cat indoors to prevent her from hunting and eating wild prey.
-- Whether you’re cooking for yourself or your cat, cook lamb or rabbit meat well. And wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw lamb or rabbit, just as you would with chicken, beef or other meat.
These precautions apply to anyone who is immunocompromised, not just women who are pregnant. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cat film wins
-- The film “Catnip Nation” tells the stories of people who risk job loss, arrest and fines to care for the community cats in their towns and neighborhoods. Director Tina Traster was inspired to make the 75-minute documentary when she became aware of people being punished for acts of kindness to the cats. The film won the 2019 MUSE Medallion from the Cat Writers Association in the Video or Television Production (Rescue and Advocacy) category, and is an official selection of the Nature Without Borders International Film Festival. Stream it on Amazon or Tubi.
-- The Bolognese isn’t an Italian pasta dish, but a member of the Bichon family of dogs, whose other members include the Maltese, bichon frise, Havanese and coton de tulear. The small, fluffy white dogs hail from the northern Italian city of Bologna, where they were known as early as the 13th century. They love people and are described as smart, happy and vivacious. Keep their cottony white coat tangle-free with daily brushing.
-- Domestic guinea pigs, also known as cavies, are popular small pets because they are docile, friendly and easy to handle. Originally from the Andes mountains in South America, they come in many different coat types and colors, and are popular exhibition animals around the world. Guinea pigs are often considered to be good children’s pets, but they deserve to live in a home with a family where they are cared for kindly -- and not roughly handled, as can happen with younger children. They are easy to train with positive reinforcement, and fun to watch as they hop happily in their habitats (an activity known as popcorning). Pet guinea pigs who are well cared for can live up to eight years, and one earned a Guinness record for a lifespan of nearly 15 years. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.