Columbia Star

The New Normal with COVID, Dog Ownership, and Pet Professionals


Alison Carter, an agility trainer, got her Border Collie puppy, Reason, during COVID. She said she had to get creative to find ways to socialize him during COVID.

Alison Carter, an agility trainer, got her Border Collie puppy, Reason, during COVID. She said she had to get creative to find ways to socialize him during COVID.

The appearance of the COVID-19 virus turned our everyday lives upside down in ways that we had not imagined. Toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies became precious commodities. People began wearing masks in their everyday life if they braved going out in public at all. And our natural desire to be social had to take a backseat to slow the spread of the disease.

In informal conversation with fellow trainer friends and veterinarians, it became apparent that COVID has had specific effects on pet ownership and with pet professionals. “COVID Puppies” became a common term in the world of dog training.

The American Pet Products Association has conducted three studies on the status of pet ownership throughout the COVID pandemic. The latest study reported that 11.38 million U.S. households have gotten a new pet during the pandemic. Studies about the reasons and effects of pet ownership during COVID have produced mixed results.

A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in May 2021 titled, “Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Spark a Public Interest in Pet Adoption?”, aimed to determine if there has been an increase of global interest on pet adoption immediately after the WHO declaration of the pandemic and if the effect has been sustainable in the following eight months. Worldwide dog and cat adoptions peaked between April and May 2020, the early epidemic phase of the pandemic. However, worldwide dog adoption has been decreasing since July 2020 and returned to the five-year average by December 2020.

Katie Pate got her puppy, Mollie, during COVID to keep her dog, McDuffie, company after the passing of their other dog. She says the inability to adequately socialize Mollie during COVID contributed to her developing anxiety.

Katie Pate got her puppy, Mollie, during COVID to keep her dog, McDuffie, company after the passing of their other dog. She says the inability to adequately socialize Mollie during COVID contributed to her developing anxiety.

I conducted my own informal research of the effects of COVID on pet ownership and with pet professionals. Interestingly, the majority of the 32 people who responded to my poll said their COVID dog or puppy came into their lives, not because of COVID, but because the pup was an addition that had already been planned, and it just happened that the puppy became available during COVID. Others said they weren’t actively seeking a dog, but a puppy entered their lives by chance. Two of the respondents mentioned they got their puppies because the COVID lockdown provided time to train and raise a puppy. Almost all mentioned the difficulty in providing adequate socialization during this time.

Michelle Dickerson got Banks, a “cavapoochon,” during COVID because her girls wanted a small dog, and, “It seemed as good a time as any.”

Michelle Dickerson got Banks, a “cavapoochon,” during COVID because her girls wanted a small dog, and, “It seemed as good a time as any.”

The pet professionals who provided input mentioned significant changes in the daily operations of their jobs. Trainers, both local and members of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, mentioned being overwhelmed by the numbers of requests for their services, especially for services related to behavior problems. Many are having to book clients weeks or months in advance. Among the problems that seem to be driving the requests were fear-related problems from lack of early socialization.

Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, vice-president of “A Dog’s Best Friend” in Ft. Lauderdale, summarized trainers’ situations well. “We are seeing a dramatic increase in fear and aggression due to lack of socialization. Clients did not have any guests or family over during the pandemic, and they didn’t take the puppies anywhere. So now that people are visiting and folks want to take their dogs places, they are discovering their adolescent dogs are not handling it well. As people leave their homes to return to the workplace, we’re also seeing a rise in separation distress and anxiety. These puppies have never been left alone, and many weren’t crate trained. In other words, we are busier than ever!”

Natalie Watson grew her family by two dogs during COVID. She had planned to get her German Shepherd, Theory, before the shutdown but said it did complicate the logist ics of t ravel ing to pick her up and of socializing her in normal fashion. She added Epic, a Shetland Sheepdog, when her elderly Shetland Sheepdog passed away.

Natalie Watson grew her family by two dogs during COVID. She had planned to get her German Shepherd, Theory, before the shutdown but said it did complicate the logistics of traveling to pick her up and of socializing her in normal fashion. She added Epic, a Shetland Sheepdog, when her elderly Shetland Sheepdog passed away.

The veterinary profession has also been hit extremely hard by the pet ownership increase during COVID. Even in the time before COVID, being a veterinarian is a challenging profession. Veterinarians are at high risk for compassion fatigue, burnout and stress and have an unusually high rate of suicide in the profession. Maintaining adequate, trained staff is also an issue common to the veterinary profession. The additional challenges presented by COVID only increase these risk factors and created problems not encountered before. Service delivery protocols had to be adapted to avoid disease transmission. This meant that clients were often not able to accompany their pets into the close environments of the clinic. Clients had to wait in their cars instead of the clinic lobbies. This big change was necessary but added to the stress and anger of the already stressed clients, who then often took out their impatience and anger on the veterinary staff. Wait times were longer for clients because of short staffing, due in part to the difficulties of maintaining adequate staff in this stressful environment with long hours.

Fauci, a Golden Retriever puppy, belongs to Katherine King-Goodrich. Katherine said that Fauci saved her sanity during COVID.

Fauci, a Golden Retriever puppy, belongs to Katherine King-Goodrich. Katherine said that Fauci saved her sanity during COVID.

Veterinarians who provided information for this article experienced the flood of new clients like trainers and were often booking appointments for surgeries weeks and months in advance. Interestingly the responding veterinarians also mentioned the difficulties of now seeing puppies from last year that are now unruly, unsocialized adults.

Veterinarians mentioned they are seeing more geriatric cases because people are noticing their older animals weren’t doing as well as they thought after spending so much time with them during the lockdown. In general, people are more aware of their pets’ behavior because of spending so much close contact time. They are observing that their pets may be itchy, limping or have bladder infections and are making appointments they may not have in the past. Many of the clients needing veterinary care appointments had not planned on the expense of getting a pet.

For now, for pet professionals, this is the new normal thanks to COVID- 19.

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