How Adopting a Puppy Helped My Family Through the Pandemic

At first I worried adopting a pandemic puppy would make this time more stressful, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Pandemic Puppy on BeachPhoto: Micah Toub

My Pandemic Puppy

The same week that the first lockdown was announced last March, The UDR Canada, a canine rescue agency, approved my family to adopt a seven month old puppy that was being fostered in Waterloo, Ont.

My wife, Bryony, and I had been looking for a while. We’d decided to not have a second child, but we still wanted to grow the family. Our five-year-old son, Louis, was fully on board, of course—and we thought caring for an animal would be good for him.

But then the world changed.

“Should we still do it?” I asked Bryony that evening, trying to get my head around bringing a dog into a home that would now also serve as an office and a school. I pictured a near-wild animal needing weeks of training, constant attention and exercise, and us having no time to do any of it—not to mention a bunch of new costs in an uncertain economy. “It might make a stressful time even more stressful,” I added.

“Maybe, but it’ll bring us a lot of love, too,” she replied as she shopped online for a leash and harness. “In fact, this might be the best time to get a puppy.”

I relented and we made the hour-long drive from our Toronto home to meet said puppy, which is part of the adoption process. We’d brought along a stuffed hedgehog to give him. He was bubbly and a tad jittery upon meeting us, but he accepted the gift gratefully. He’s a small dog—a miniature pinscher-dachshund-chihuahua mix—so the toy looked enormous in his little mouth. He was desperate to take the faux mammal somewhere private and tear it apart. After the foster finally snagged it away from him, we took him for a walk and he let Louis hold the leash without complaints.

I thought he was super cute and friendly enough, but on the drive back I admitted I was still worried it wasn’t the right time. Bryony, on the other hand, was so certain he was the one that I had to put faith in her instincts.

We brought him home a week later and called him Rio, after the city where we honeymooned. That first day, he jumped up on Bryony’s lap and gave her tons of kisses. He even slept through the night. But on the second day, after he defecated in the living room and spent four hours barking loudly at the wind, I was pretty sure we’d made a mistake. I began to mull over how I would word the email to the rescue agency saying we would have to return him.

But those setbacks turned out to be one-offs and, in the end, Bryony was right: Rio, our pandemic puppy, made a strange, difficult year a whole lot better.

Dog kissing personPhoto: Micah Toub

For one thing, at a time when there wasn’t really anywhere to go aside for weekly trips to the grocery store, Rio got us walking. And walking some more. For such a petite guy, he sure has a lot of energy—he sprints like a greyhound and will never tire while there’s more squirrels to chase. Although it seems unlikely when I write it down, our family now goes on about one hundred walks a month, all to get our newest member his required daily steps. It’s the motivation we need to get out of the house, explore the city’s parks and ravines, all the while getting our own steps in.

Meanwhile, thanks to all those walks, we’re now acquainted with people in our neighbourhood we would have never met in our pre-dog days. In those first weeks of lockdown, while roaming the eerily silent streets with Rio, it was as if some instant apocalypse had spared only dog owners. A big, two-year-old black lab named Baby became Rio’s first friend. But rather than lament the new, frightening reality we were living through with Baby’s human, she and I compared our dogs’ breeds and personalities. We laughed at their over-the-top greeting as I became entangled in Rio’s leash.

A pandemic doesn’t inspire a lot of laughs, but a dog does. Early on, we giggled at the dinner table while Rio, still sussing out his new family from his perch on the couch, struggled to keep his eyes open in order to not miss anything—but then fell asleep sitting up. And come October, I couldn’t help but chuckle when Rio growled at a neighbour’s giant inflatable cat put out for Halloween.

I asked Louis just last week how Rio has helped him through this hard time, and he didn’t hesitate: “He licks my face.” (Dogs, after all, are exempt from social distancing.) To him, Rio’s a furry playmate, a companion he can hug and harass in a time when he can rarely do so with a human child.

For my wife and I, after the kid has gone to sleep, Rio is the object of much doting, admiration and, I’ll admit it, a bit of baby talk. He’s an innocent being in a complicated time and a good boy who has endless love to give.

One day, a vaccine will save us all from this plague. In the meantime, I’ll take Rio for another walk and kiss him on his fuzzy snout.

Did you adopt a pet during the pandemic? Share your stories—the good, the bad, and the joyful—with RD readers. Click here and tell us all about it!