Though he had always wanted a puppy, Alex Morando hesitated because of the busy work schedules and social calendar he and his girlfriend keep.
His job in the Ohio State University athletic department often requires travel and long hours. Or at least it did until a mid-March trip to Minneapolis for the NCAA wrestling championships was canceled due to the coronavirus.
All of a sudden, he and his girlfriend, Dani Dean, were working from their respective homes. As bars and restaurants shut down and residents were ordered to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19, they got the final push they needed to come home with Cooper, an 8-week-old miniature goldendoodle.
"I always wanted to get a puppy, but I wanted the time to get a puppy," said Morando, 31.
The coronavirus pandemic created that time.
Fostering on the rise
Morando and Dean aren't the only ones who have thought this extra time at home would be ideal for adding that much-wanted pet to the family.
For the Franklin County Dog Shelter and Adoption Center in Ohio, recent weeks have been unprecedented. More than 155 dogs are being fostered by the public for an indefinite amount of time, said Andrew Kohn, the agency's community relations manager. Generally, when the shelter hosts its week-long "sleepover events" during the holidays, only about half as many animals head to foster homes.
Appointments to look at dogs are booked two weeks in advance now. Kohn even saw people on social media selling their spots, but the shelter is trying to limit that behavior.
"This is not normal," Kohn said.
Even the dog who has been there the longest — 150 days — is getting a break from shelter life.
Kohn said the agency hopes that many of the animals will be adopted by the time the pandemic settles down. During typical foster events, they experience an adoption rate of about 60% to 65%.
"Our evil master plan is the more time people spend with a dog, the harder it will be to give them back," Kohn said with a laugh. "Animals, on a basic level, tug at your heartstrings. You're at home by yourself and it makes the animals feel good."
Having the extra time
Surges in dog and cat adoptions have been reported across the country, and the news service Bloomberg posted the recent headline: "Newest shortage in New York: The city is running out of foster dogs."
There was "zero chance" Elaine Tomlinson would have gotten a dog a month ago.
"I thought I'd wait until I got a house and it was easier," said Tomlinson, a 25-year-old who lives in Grandview Heights, Ohio, with two roommates and one of their dogs, Charlie.
However, when she began working from home, the thought of having another dog around didn't seem so far-fetched. The roommates, who all are working from home now, would have plenty of time to supervise and potty-train a new pup.
It only took a few days of fostering Piper, a 7-month-old mixed-breed dog, for Tomlinson to officially adopt her.
Piper has been a welcome distraction.
"It's helped with the boredom," Tomlinson said. "It's given me a lot to work on. Potty training is so much work, but her going out every one to two hours, I am able to balance that right now."
And Charlie, now, has a new best friend to entertain her.
Social media lends a hand
The pet boom has, in part, been influenced by social media. People now working from home have been posting photos of their animals, and colleagues can't help but show off their pets during video conferences.
Hashtags such as #seeapupsendapup have been popular on Twitter and Instagram, asking people for dog photos.
Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute in Washington, D.C., said there has been a spike online of people talking about the special relationships they have with their animals.
"One of the bright spots in this current situation is pets are having their moment," Feldman said.
So it's not surprising to him that people would want a new furry co-worker of their own. Not only do people have the time to invest in training and early interaction, he said, but they also are in search of the qualities animals offer.
The benefits of keeping a pet
"Scientific studies have shown pets reduce stress, help address loneliness and improve overall mood and outlook — all those things that are very much needed right now," Feldman said.
Little Cooper has been an "escape from the harsh reality" for Morando, his girlfriend and even Morando's parents, who couldn't stop smiling during a FaceTime visit with their new grandpup.
He exudes positive vibes during a negative time, Morando said, which is worth a few early morning potty breaks.
"We'll be a little tired, but it's not a big deal, because we're just at home," he said.
For Tomlinson, the COVID-19 outbreak has been a reminder of just how precious life is.
"The coronavirus has shown that anything can happen," she said. "Why wait? I've always wanted to get a dog, so why not now?"
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