Adopted dogs got many people through the pandemic. Now they need our help

Comic journalist Sarah Mirk always wanted a dog, but amid the claustrophobia of the pandemic, the desire intensified. She was surprised to learn that almost all the dogs available in her city had been rescued in other states. Interest in pet adoption has boomed during the pandemic. According to a report from Shelter Animals Count, the adoption rate for dogs and cats increased 9% in 2020.
Euthanasia rates at shelter across the U.S. have reportedly plummeted 75% since 2009. That drop is thanks to an increase in adoption, national spay and neuter effort, and a network of rescues that transport dogs from local shelters to forever homes around the country. During the pandemic, dogs have helped a lot of people during a tough time. But the demand for a furry friend has been competitive.
The Oregon Humane Society receives as many as 30-40 applications for a puppy. Research backs up the benefits of companion animals. Neuropsychologist Unnati Hunjan speaks from a laptop: "Oxytocin and serotonin can be released if we have positive physical contact with pets. The best part is it does the same for the dog. Which is why a dog will come to you begging you to be petted."
Hunjan says: "Animals can help ... provided it's a positive interaction." Thomas Bateman, a relationship therapist, says that surprising a partner with a dog is never a good idea. Bateman says pet adoption has sparked conflicts in clients he sees. Pets cost money and caring for them adds duties in the household. Now that people are returning to work, separation anxiety can be tough for pups too.
Recently, some U.S. shelters have seen an uptick in people returning adopted pets as more people return to the office. Laura Klink, from the Oregon Humane Society says they haven't seen this trend, but recommends people plan. Nicole Chung lost her mother and grandmother in 2020. She says they adopted a dog because they needed something good and wonderful during a dark time.
Chung says that having a new dog in the house was chaotic. The family couldn't focus on anything except all the needs of taking care of a new dog — playing with her, cleaning up after her, giving her love. She says the dog added a joyful all-consuming presence to the house. Meanwhile, journalist Sarah Mirk filled out applications for at least two dozen dogs. They would take any cat-friendly dog.
Finally, Mirk and her partner Ben got approved to adopt one of five puppies from a coonhound in Texas. They just had to wait for her to arrive. Over the past 15 years, rescues have built a massive network that relocates pets from states with an overpopulation to states where dog and cat demand outstrips supply. In 2020, the ASPCA relocated nearly 28,000 animals to different places in the U.S.
Heather Hall runs a small rescue in Texas called Underground Dog. Hall gathers rescue dogs from small shelters and rural areas in the state and ships them to partner groups locally and nationally. Despite the pandemic, they were able to nearly double its rescues in 2020, due to increased demand for pets. In Portland, Mirk was nervous to bring home their own Texan pup. There was so much to learn.
The week Mirk received her second COVID shot, the Texas puppies arrived in Portland. She says, "We got to choose Fluffernutter as our own. We renamed her Twyla." As lockdowns were ending in her part of the country, her new life with a dog was just beginning.

Sarah Mirk is a visual journalist and the author of several books, including Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World's Most Infamous Prison. She is a contributing editor of The Nib and a digital producer for the Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

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