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Choosing the Right Pet to Keep You Company During a Pandemic or Stay-at-Home Orders

Maggie Bonham, or Margaret H. Bonham, is a multiple award-winning pet author and expert. She has written more than 20 books on pets.


Social Distancing and Adopting a New Pal During a Pandemic

During a pandemic, such as COVID-19, with the majority of the United States under stay at home orders, people were turning to shelter pets to ease their loneliness. Many shelters, such as the ones in Colorado, were adopting out pets as fast as they bring them in. With pandemics, people have discovered with social distancing, they still need companionship. So, they've turned to the shelters where down on their luck pets are waiting for the right owners. But which pet at the shelter is right for you?

Adopting During COVID-19?


Adopt a Pet You'll Keep Long After the Pandemic

At this point I would tell you to think long and hard about pet ownership, the responsibilities, your lifestyle, yada, yada...but chances are you've already made up your mind you're going to adopt a pet, so I'm not going to talk you out of it. While it's true that some people shouldn't own pets, I think the world would be a much nicer place if more people were pet people.

Let's look at what kind of pet you'll keep long after the quarantines and stay-at-home directives. After all, you need to give your pet the best shot at having a forever home with you. You shouldn't be looking for a pet who will ease your loneliness now, only to go back to the shelter when the quarantines have lifted. If getting a pet, only to return him to the shelter is your intent, think again. Animals have feelings and your act of rescuing and then abandoning your pet is tantamount to cruelty.


Cat or Dog? (Or Something Else?)

Now that you're getting a pet, the next question might be cat or dog? (Or rabbit or Guinea pig or other pocket pet?) In most cases, people are thinking either a cat or a dog. (With a pocket pet, it's pretty much your preference.)

There are a lot of reasons to go with either a cat or a dog, and no doubt you have your own preferences. Both cats and dogs are terrific at providing companionship, and distract from possible loneliness. Both cats and dogs require attention and care, long after the pandemic, so be prepared to spend time with them after you get back to work or school.


Cats Are Best for Busy People

If you're normally a very busy person, who doesn't have time to train a dog, I'd recommend a cat. Cats are remarkably social and friendly, if you're social and friendly to them, and they sleep a good portion of the day, which means your cat will be ready for you when you come home from work, school, etc.

I've often heard people talk about cats being antisocial and unfriendly, but honestly, most cats I've known have been the exact opposite. One cat I adopted from a shelter I swear was a dog in a former life because he is all over me whenever he sees me. Loving doesn't even begin to describe his attachment to me and my husband.

So, if you're the busy type who would like a critter to keep you company, find a cat who is outgoing and friendly. And because cats live upwards of 20 years, you can rest assured with good care that any adult cat you adopt will be with you for a long time, barring illness or injury. Yes, kittens are cute, but they're more rambunctious and more likely to get into trouble. Plus with an adult cat, the personality you see is the personality you get.


Dogs for Those Who Love Them

What about dogs? Well, I'm exceedingly partial to dogs, being an avid dog owner, so if you've been a successful dog owner in the past, adopting a new dog shouldn't be a big deal.

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Before adopting, do your homework on the breeds. If you're a new dog owner, choose a dog breed that is considered easily trained and not too stubborn. Otherwise, you'll be in for a shock. I almost always recommend choosing an adult over a puppy when adopting because adult dogs usually have some training and house training (house breaking). The caveat is owner surrenders because of behavior, but even behavior problems may not be an issue with you because it will be a new environment for the dog.

The author's adopted Alaskan Malamute, Skadi

The author's adopted Alaskan Malamute, Skadi

Don't Take on a Dog that Needs Extra Work—Unless You're Ready for It

I warn people all the time to not take on a breed that they can't handle when it comes to dogs. Some dogs, most notably the Northern Breeds, are amazingly beautiful dogs but are independent, stubborn, and not very good at obeying commands. In other words, don't adopt a Siberian Husky and expect to get a Golden Retriever personality.

Case-in-point: I adopted a year-old, 120-pound, Alaskan Malamute who was an owner surrender. Skadi (as we renamed her) seemed quiet for the first two days and then exploded on the scene. She literally went wild over everything because apparently the former owners had no idea how to train a big Malamute.They failed to be consistent in enforcing rules, and it was obvious they tried to use force to get what they wanted. (Only you can't use force on a 120 pound Malamute—it's impossible.)

Luckily, she got adopted by a Malamute/sled dog family who was used to dealing with Alaskan Malamutes. She was so crazy, she made me wonder if I found a dog I couldn't handle. Right then and there we instituted consistent enforcement of commands and used treats to shape her behavior. Even so, she was a terror. But I put my trust in the training, and she's now an incredible dog. Yes, she has her features, but I know how to work with them. I'm pretty sure if I hadn't trained over 50 of my own dogs, I wouldn't have been able to handle this riot of a dog.

My point of this story is not to get a dog who is above your training expertise in this already stressful time. Otherwise, you'll be returning him to the shelter, which just adds to everyone's stress level.


Choosing the Right Pet at the Shelter

When you visit the shelter, chances are you're not going to have as much contact with the shelter workers as you would before the pandemic. Even so, look at the pets and see if one or more is appealing to you. Ask the shelter people about the dog(s) or cat(s) you're interested in. Do they know the history behind the animal? How active is the pet? Is he house trained? Is he friendly or shy when approached by the workers?

Take some of what they tell you with a grain of salt, but chances are they are telling you the truth as they interact with the animal in a shelter environment. Dogs and cats in a shelter display stress behavior—even in the least stressful shelter. They've been abandoned (in many cases), and are in a strange and noisy environment. They're not going to behave as they would in your home, so don't expect to see the same behaviors at home as in the shelter.

Try to find a pet who is not super-hyper and not super-shy. Instead, pick a pet who may show a bit of reservations at first and then warm up to you. With cats, you may have to rouse them from sleeping, but see if the cat isn't too freaked out and aggressive while you interact with her. If the animal you're considering is too shy, she may warm up to you if you give her enough time and attention, but you will have to work with her. Aggressive dogs and cats are a definite "no," so skip over any animal that is aggressive toward you.


Spend Time with Your Adopted Pet During the Quarantine

No doubt you fully intend to spend time with your new adopted cat or dog, but if you haven't planned to spend time bonding and training your new pet, think again. You have time right now to bond to your pet, so do it now. Pick up a good book on adopting a cat or dog (I've written several, or go with books written by my peers) that stress positive reinforcement training. With cats, it usually takes a few days for them to come out of hiding, so plan on keeping them in a small room (like the bathroom) with food, water, scratching post, and litterbox, until they grow confident enough to explore. Dogs should be crate trained, or at least kept in a confined area, when you cannot watch them, until they prove trustworthy to stay loose in the house. Above all, plan on giving your pets exercise by playing ball or walking your dog, or playing with feather or fishing pole tease toys with your cat.

I congratulate you on your newest family member! Tell me about them in the comments!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 MH Bonham

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