Has a four-legged friend joined your family during the past year? Is your Instagram feed flooded with pics of friends showing off their snuggly new puppies and kittens?
It’s not surprising.
Call them “pandemic pets” or “COVID canines,” but there’s no question — thanks in part to plenty of extra time at home, people all over the country are adding furry friends to their families.
“What we’re seeing in terms of pet ownership is unprecedented,” said veterinarian Dr. Marty Greer. “Our veterinary practice was getting busier and busier with new pets. Simultaneously, we work with a lot of breeders, and we were hearing from them that they couldn’t keep up with the demand.”
Military Families Magazine’s assistant editor, Susan Malandrino, and her family welcomed Tigger, an English Springer Spaniel, into their home in September.
“We had a dog who passed away before we moved to Japan,” Malandrino said.
Now back in the U.S. after two OCONUS moves, the Malandrinos were finally feeling settled enough for another dog.
“It had been in the back of my mind. My twins just turned 9, and we wanted them to have that experience of having a dog during their childhood,” she said.
Tigger brought the family joy and something to focus their attention on.
“We’ve had the time and attention to train him, so that’s been great. Additionally, it’s been really good for the kids. They walk him, they even watch dog training videos online,” said Malandrino.
Tigger also gives the Malandrinos an excuse to get outside and away from TV and computer screens.
“A new pet has been an excellent catalyst for family time that doesn’t include watching a movie together. He’s forced us all to get out of the house, go on walks. And especially during a time where we weren’t seeing many people due to the pandemic and social distancing, it’s been neat to get out and walk and see neighbors from afar and meet their dogs.”
She does recognize Tigger’s day-to-day life will look different eventually.
“He’s used to a certain level of attention, so it will be a change when everyone is gone off to school and work. It will be a big adjustment for him.”
That’s exactly why Dr. Greer felt compelled to pen the book “Your Pandemic Puppy: Finding and Raising a Well-Adjusted Dog During COVID-19.”
“These animals have been a wonderful distraction during a time of such uncertainty, but what happens when we return to PTA meetings, soccer practices, and events after work?” she said.
Dr. Greer’s book serves as a guide to finding, training, and owning a well-adjusted pet during a time when people may be dealing with restrictions on everything from veterinary appointments and dog-training classes to pet boarding and puppy play dates.
Meagan McKissick and her family went from owning zero dogs pre-pandemic to two dogs in less than a year. They adopted Captain last April, bringing him home when he was eight weeks old.
“He had instant attention. Our kids were home, and schools were shut down. There was a lot of time to nurture and train him.”
And when life does go back to “normal” someday, Captain won’t be alone for hours each day. The McKissick’s added another puppy, named Nilla, to their family at the end of January.
“We knew the value of having a buddy for a pet,” McKissick said.
Dr. Greer does offer some advice as people mull over adding pets to their family during this time.
“It’s important to make this decision as a family and to make a careful selection. People need to select a pet that works with their current lifestyle but also their future lifestyle. Are you a family that travels frequently? Or a family that doesn’t enjoy spending time outside? These are important things to consider.”
And for those who’ve already committed to dog ownership, Dr. Greer advises preparing your pandemic pet for your family’s inevitable return to work, school, and life.
“If they’re not accustomed to being alone, you can’t just walk out the door one day and say “I’ll be back in 8 hours” and expect them to be okay,” she said.
Dr. Greer adds that pets can learn to be left alone.
- Teaching pets a schedule
- Start by leaving pets alone for short stints of time, working up to longer periods
- Crate training
“When you’re out of the house more consistently, you don’t want the pet to experience separation anxiety, which brings on behavioral issues,” said Dr. Greer.
See these other military families who added a pandemic pet to their brood: