Health and Wellness

Why new pet owners say now is the perfect time to adopt

Twenty20

Christine Orlando, 56, a New Canaan, Connecticut-based teacher, and her partner, Bill Brakely, a teaching assistant in the same district, knew they wanted to adopt a cat together. They planned to wait until their summer break, but the recent shift to remote teaching due to the coronavirus pandemic left them with a lot of additional time at home.

So they decided to adopt a new pet sooner. 

"We thought now would be a great time to get our kitten to cheer things up and add some much needed excitement to our day," Orlando tells CNBC Make It.

At home, Orlando and Brakely have a growing pet family. Orlando has a dog, Maisie, and two cats, Ziegler and Zeva. When Brakely moved in, he brought his dog, Hojo, too. But they wanted to adopt a pet together and hoped that a kitten would fit in well. 

Orlando's pet dogs, Hojo and Maisie get acquainted with her new kitten, Fauci.
Source: CHRISTINE ORLANDO

Orlando and Brakely found their new kitten via Neighborhood, a social-networking platform that connects users to surrounding communities, and were able to pick him up while maintaining proper social distancing measures. They named the now 11-week-old kitten Fauci, after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Fauci adds a lot of joy to their household, Orlando says. He's playful and cuddly, and loves to walk across the keys of her laptop and investigate the house. "He's very connective," Orlando says. "He likes us a lot, he likes being held and he's adorable."

Orlando and Brakely aren't the only ones benefiting from adopting a new animal amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here's why getting a pet can be good for you and how it has made a difference in other pet owners' lives during these uncertain times.

Pets can provide companionship for those self-isolating

Many others, like Orlando, are also looking to adopt pets while self-isolating. In fact, so many people have adopted recently that some shelters across the country are temporarily out of adoptable pets. They're on to something: Adopting a pet can be a very rewarding experience, says Catherine Sanderson, a psychology professor at Amherst College.

Sanderson points to two reasons for the boost in pet adoptions during the coronavirus pandemic: an increase in time spent at home and a desire for companionship. "Right now people are feeling sort of a lack of purpose and meaning, and one of the great things about getting a dog is it will give you companionship," she says.

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Many Americans are using their increased time at home to bond with new pets. Others, like those self-isolating alone, have gotten pets in hopes that they'll find a new friend in them.

That was the case for Andrea Nemecek, 27, who adopted Cholla, a two-year-old cattle dog in April.

Until she adopted Cholla, who she named after a type of cactus, Nemecek had been self-isolating alone in her Phoenix apartment. She'd been thinking about adopting a dog for years and even came close to it a few times. But it was the experience of isolating alone, as well as the realization that she'd now have the time to bond with and train a dog, that pushed her to do it.

Cholla poses in front of a group of teddy bear cholla cacti. Source: ANDREA NEMECEK

"I'm a really extroverted person, so it's been difficult," Nemecek says about social distancing. "I haven't seen any of my friends." In addition to having ample time to train a new dog, Nemecek thought adopting a pet "would make this whole experience a lot more bearable," she says. 

She also she saw a real need to adopt. "I read a couple of articles that a lot of people were surrendering their dogs at shelters and that shelters were having to cut back their hours to keep their volunteers and staff safe," Nemecek says.

Cholla was shy, but sweet when Nemecek first met her and has warmed up a lot since. The two spend all of their time together, and Nemecek looks forward to the adventures they'll have together. "She's a little out of shape, but I want to eventually take her hiking and camping with me."

The benefits of spending time with a pet

Not only do pets provide companionship to humans, but spending time with a pet can be mentally and emotionally beneficial, as well as physically relaxing, Sanderson tells CNBC Make It. 

People who have their dog with them during a stressful examination will have a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure than they would otherwise, Sanderson says.

And like a test, this pandemic is "a really stressful circumstance," she adds. "Many people are worried about their finances, their health. ... Simply having a dog around is going to be really helpful in terms of reducing things that we know are very bad cardiovascularly."

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Spending time with a dog helps increase oxytocin, a hormone that has a positive impact on our social behaviors and emotions, Sanderson explains. That means spending time with a pet can help lead to lower rates of anxiety, depression and loneliness, says Sanderson.

"Having a dog is tremendously beneficial in terms of psychological and physical well-being," Sanderson says. "That's something that, in the midst of a pandemic, a lot of people are really struggling with." 

Getting a pet can brighten up self-isolation

For journalist Chris Villani, 35, and his fiance, LeeAnn Parker, 34, who works for a teacher recruiting firm, this period of self-isolation turned out to be the perfect time to add a pet to their lives. The Boston-based couple had been in contact with a local breeder and wanted to get a dog later this year since they had travel plans earlier on and wanted to wait until they'd have more time at home to dedicate to training. 

But they unexpectedly ended up bringing home an 11-week-old cobberdog puppy, named Maverick, several weeks ago after a different family who planned to adopt him became unable to. The timing worked out for Villani and Parker, whose schedules had markedly cleared.

Maverick curls up with one of his toys.
Source: CHRIS VILLANI

"It couldn't have worked out any better to get him now," says Villani. "We're not traveling and we've had a lot of opportunities to train him and get him comfortable with his new home."

Even though Villani and Parker have only had Maverick for a short time, the puppy has already made a big impact on their lives.

"He keeps the focus on something else, something positive," says Villani. "He's very goofy. He's constantly making us laugh and looking for new corners of the apartment to explore for perfect napping spots. It's been a really, really pleasant distraction to what's been a negative time personally, and a bad time for everybody."

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