The coronavirus pandemic and sheltering in place caused a major shift in lifestyles across the world. I live alone, and being an extrovert, having to spend my time at home by myself was a nightmare. I had just put down my first dog, Ranger, in December 2019, and was finally getting used to having an empty apartment. But that shit hits different when you have to spend every minute by yourself. So, like many others, I decided that the pandemic was the perfect time to bring a new dog into my life. Enter, Cricket.
Because of the pandemic, dog rescues and shelters have doubled, or even tripled, their adoption rate. I’m sure you’ve seen the many Instagram posts and stories of friends adopting or fostering dogs. With everyone needing to stay home, it would be the opportune time to bring a puppy or dog into your life, right? You’d be able to build a strong bond with your pup and have time to train them. They are a source of companionship and force you to get outside for a walk or a short playtime break while you’re sitting at your computer slogging away working from home. But adopting a dog is not easy.
Many rescues report having long waitlists of folks looking to adopt a dog, with some dogs even receiving hundreds of applications. Luckily for me, my friend’s roommate (hi Jodie, Elaine, and @littlejopepe!) had already adopted a dog from the same rescue I was considering while browsing Instagram. Once I saw Cricket (fka Ella) and was interested in adopting her, they put in a good word for me with the rescue and as one of the first applicants, my name shot to the top of their list. I did a meet-and-greet with Ella on March 29th, started an adoption trial on April 10th, and officially made Cricket mine on April 20th. But I got lucky; the experience isn’t so quick and easy for all adopters.
I sat down and spoke with Kandace Kuwahara (virtually, of course), founder of Infinite Love Animal Rescue to talk about rescue work during the pandemic. Infinite Love Animal Rescue specializes in small family dogs (35 pounds and under) that are scared and shut down. They provide them with the medical attention and the unconditional love that they need to blossom. Infinite Love emphasizes and looks for a perfect match between the people and the dog they are adopting.
“It was very hard, especially at the beginning, to get dogs,” Kuwahara said. “There would be a list of people wanting that same dog.” Since the public gets first access to any dogs in the shelter, rescues like Infinite Love weren’t able to pull dogs as easily as before the pandemic. She told me a story of how she was first in line for five terrier puppies with severe mange, only to find out that someone from the public got the dogs and gave them to another rescue. Who would have thought that the animal rescue business could be so cutthroat? Although the first half of 2020 was a challenge, Infinite Love Animal Rescue managed to rescue double the number of animals compared to 2019, including two visually-impaired dogs, a deaf chihuahua, ten senior dogs, and a tri-pawd (three-legged dog)! About 70% of these rescued dogs required surgery (which Infinite Love pays for).
While the increase in dog adoption during the pandemic is great, Kuwahara has concerns for new dog owners. Separation anxiety is the first thing she mentions. “I’ve noticed it in my own dog now that I’m home so much,” she says. “He has to be with me all the time.” Kuwahara recommends leaving your dog five minutes at a time and rewarding them when you return. Slowly increase the time you’re away and continue rewarding them. Her other concern, depending on how much longer the pandemic lasts, is people giving up their dogs at the end of the pandemic because they don’t have the time to care for their dogs once they return to work. Another worry is that owners could surrender their dog due to financial difficulties resulting from the loss of a home or job. It’s important to understand that caring for a dog is a commitment for their lifetime, not just during the pandemic.
After I overcame the obstacle of actually adopting a dog, the real work began. Cricket had severe separation anxiety; I couldn’t even take my trash out without hearing her barks the full duration of the walk to the dumpster and back. When I’d go to the market my phone would blow up with notifications from my Furbo with bark alerts. At the time, no one knew how long the pandemic would last; I knew that at any moment I could be called back to work for 8 hours a day in the office, leaving Cricket alone all day (we know better now, don’t we?) Fortunately, I had the means to hire a dog trainer who did virtual training sessions with me, my boyfriend, and Cricket. She now has the confidence to stay home by herself for hours at a time, spending her time sunbathing on the couch and sleeping all day.
Working from home with a new dog has been quite the experience. Cricket usually curls up in my lap or right next to me when I’m working, sometimes nudging my mouse hand when she wants pets. When I’m in meetings and Cricket climbs in my lap, you can see people’s faces light up and the private messages come through saying how cute my dog is. Other times it’s exasperating, like trying to speak during a meeting but Cricket starts barking at the delivery truck outside of the window, while I apologize and reach for the treats to quiet her down. It’s been quite the change from sitting at my desk in my office. Rescue work has also had to pivot. Kuwahara told me that since she was having a hard time pulling dogs from the shelter, she switched gears to serve the community in other ways.
“After a friend shared with me the difficulty of finding pet food in stores, plus reading stories on how it has become difficult for senior citizens to shop for groceries, I created Infinite Love Pet Pantry,” she says. Kuwahara was able to make a donation of over 150 packages of dog and cat food to the City of Gardena shortly after the pandemic began. The food was distributed through the city’s Senior Meals and Emergency Services program that supports people who have pets and are financially struggling.
Thanks to rescues and shelters, many of us have been able to find a furbaby to keep us company through the pandemic. I know Cricket has filled a hole in my life that was left vacant not only by Ranger, but the friends that I haven’t been able to see in person for over a year. But that doesn’t mean the process is easy - having a dog is a continuous responsibility. I’ve had to take numerous breaks from writing this article because Cricket is barking and talking to me for attention. Ah, the joys of dog ownership!
If you would like to support Infinite Love Animal Rescue, please consider a monetary or in-kind donation. More information can be found on their website www.infiniteloverescue.org and on Instagram @InfiniteLoveRescue.