Shortly after COVID-19 pandemic sent the state into lockdown, local businesses were closing their doors for good and people were left to face the hard realities of quarantine and isolation. With no customers and no other means of staying afloat, many well-established community businesses had no other option than permanent closure. People were losing their jobs and struggling with deteriorating mental health. While so many businesses and people were facing bleak prospects for the future, one industry was doing its best to spread joy and positivity: dog adoption.
Local breeders and shelters have reported significant increases in interest and adoption rates since Governor Cooper announced the statewide stay-at-home order beginning on March 30. Higher numbers of adoptions in Chapel Hill are largely due to residents taking advantage of their newfound free time. Quarantine pets also provide countless mental and physical benefits for their owners.
For Carrboro resident Robin Motley, adopting her family’s new puppy marked an immediate shift in morale. The family had been searching for a new dog since the spring, but were having trouble finding one due to the high demand among shelters. They might have decided to wait, but Motley promised to get a dog for her daughter if school was online in the fall. She made the final decision, wanting her daughter to have something to look forward to, and the family welcomed Olly, a five-month-old black labrador, into their home. This adoption process was different for them because they knew they would have time to train a puppy. Otherwise, they most likely would have looked for an older dog.
Upon adopting Olly, the Motley family created a routine around his care. The new schedule gave them purpose—providing new opportunities for safe social interactions. Taking Olly for walks has been the perfect excuse to get outside for some fresh air, and because so many Chapel Hill residents have gotten new dogs recently, Olly has plenty of friends to visit and play with across the town. “It’s been such a light in all of our lives,” Motley said.
Breeders like Olly’s have especially seen interest levels rise because, like in the Motleys’ case, more time at home means people are taking the opportunity to raise and train a puppy. Nicole Bowers of Bingham Kennels in Snow Camp, NC says interest in her puppies has “skyrocketed” since quarantine began. However, one of the biggest differences in her adoption process is that many interested buyers cannot pick up their puppies due to travel restrictions. Understanding these obstacles as a nurse herself, Bowers makes sure to do everything she can to connect puppies with their owners, including having her husband drive two puppies all the way to Kansas to meet a client. Another difference for Bowers is that while her dogs are typically used as hunting dogs, most of them have recently been going to family homes.
In terms of the mental health benefits, Bowers believes many people are looking for puppies right now because “the puppy’s going to engage you more than a senior dog would.” The energy and attention required to take care of a puppy can help pull us out of fears for the future by forcing us to be present in the moment.
Tenille Fox, the communications specialist at Orange County Animal Services, says the pandemic has forced her organization to rethink their adoption processes. Though they did have to close their doors to the public, the shelter’s operations never stopped because they are considered an essential business. For adoptions, the organization transitioned to virtual meetings with prospective owners, which prompted a whole new set of changes like online scheduling, new job responsibilities and setting up Zoom and FaceTime calls. Fox praised the surprisingly helpful transitions, saying, “We are probably going to take a lot of these things with us, you know, when things go back to normal.”
For those with new dogs—especially puppies—Fox is trying to spread the word about finding ways for your dogs to get used to time alone in preparation for when the quarantine is lifted. If the dog has not experienced solitude, they will be in for a difficult transition once their family returns to in-person work and school.
My own family joined the many others adopting a quarantine pet when we got a German wire-haired pointer puppy this summer. Since getting her, we have all felt much happier about our current situation. We learned that even in these unconventional times, there can still be room for joy.