The Coronavirus “Puppy Boom”: How Wilton is Helping Clear the Shelters

Photo: Andrea Topalian

A reddish, perky-eared puppy was waiting at a Georgia rescue, 7-months-old and lonely. High energy, inflicted with separation anxiety, and in need–Tripp was waiting for a family, with no home in sight.

The Caporrino family had been mourning their old family dog, Dante, knowing they would get another dog in the future but unable to pinpoint when it would happen.

But in a somewhat perfect sequence of events, that would all change. With school closing and everyone having to be at home, Vanessa Caporrino said it seemed like a sign that this was the right time to finally get a new dog. Nearly 72 hours later, the Caporrino’s welcomed Tripp home.

“We understand the craziness that’s going on outside of this house, but within this house, he has brought us a great distraction, a reason to get out of the house multiple times a day, [and] he has brought us tons of happiness and silliness and a connection to our old dog [who] passed away,” Caporrino said. “There hasn’t been one negative thing from adopting this dog.”

“Being at home with him and spending so much time with him…It’s invaluable,” Caporrino added. “He’s just been an absolute joy.”

And Tripp is not the only one. As an unexpected upside of the devastating pandemic, Wilton has seen a huge boost in the number of puppies and dogs finding new, hopefully forever homes, and an additional increase in the number of foster families.

Success stories

Holly Chasin, the owner of A Little Pink Shelter, said that after coronavirus concerns caused people to stay home, she said she was “immediately” overwhelmed with inquiries about adoptions and fostering.

I call it sort of the unexpected side effect of Coronavirus:  like, who knew that it was going to bring this influx of adopters and people looking to rescue,” she said. “I’s a wonderful boom for rescue dogs. I really do hope it continues.”

Chasin said she usually has 20 to 30 dogs featured on the shelter’s website, but because of the huge increase in adoptions, they only had 10 last week. Chasin has seen not only an increase in the number of puppies being adopted but also several older dogs who have been in need for a while are getting some much-needed attention.

“I had…a beautiful Husky and I had put her on my site, probably six weeks ago, maybe. And again, similarly, no interest whatsoever. [But] with the onset of the virus, I had probably close to two dozen applications for her,” Chasin said.

Not only does rescuing help individual dogs, but it has many positive ripple effects for the rescue world as a whole.

“For every dog that’s rescued, there are five waiting in line to take its spot,” Chasin said. “So the more dogs you can find good, solid, stable, secure homes for, the more you can get in and try to do the same for [others].”

Fostering

Similarly, Maria Farinas, owner of Bark and Bone Inn, a doggy daycare, boarding and fostering facility in Wilton, said that there is “absolutely” a need for more rescue dogs to find homes.

“It’s a never-ending stream, unfortunately, of dogs that are abandoned or strays [who] need homes,”  she said.

The increase in people fostering is especially relevant now, Farinas said, because many shelters are closing because of health concerns, which could have a tremendous negative impact, especially in shelters down south.

For those of us that are in rescue, it’s huge to find people that want to at least foster…because what’s happening down [south] is that the rescues are closing because they’re afraid that the staff is going to get sick. if they shut down they have to put the dogs to sleep, so it’s a little bit of a panic.”

Even when it doesn’t reach that extreme, rescues that can no longer be in operation may seek fosters for help. For example, Wilton’s Mary-Jo Duffy, a professional dog trainer at her company Paws Up Positive Dog Training, said Ridgefield Operation Animal Center (ROAR), which has closed because of COVID-19, now relies on fosters to take care of its dogs.

Duffy, whose background is in the animal shelter world, calls fostering the biggest “missing link” in dog rescuing, and says it is one of the  “the most selfless thing anyone can do.”

For A Little Pink Shelter, which receives dogs from two rescues in Arkansas, fostering is especially important because it has no physical location. Though some dogs are adopted directly from the south, Chasin said she relies on fosters to care for the dogs that come up here before they are adopted.

It was never as easy prior to this to find good reliable fosters,” Chasin said. “I hope that those people who are starting now to foster will enjoy the process and see the value in [continuing].”

Wilton resident Andrea Topalian and her family own three rescue dogs, five rescue cats, a snake, and a bearded dragon at home. However, on top of this, she has fostered at least 13 dogs since January and is continuing to foster puppies now.

“It’s very therapeutic to have puppies in the house, it’s wonderful for [me] during the Coronavirus because…it gives me something to keep me busy for sure,” Topalian said. 

Topalian got her start at fostering for A Little Pink Shelter, but now fosters for the company Because 4 Paws. Fostering puppies, in particular, she said, requires the ability to enforce a routine, an acceptance of a messy house, and a lot of time.

“It’s a lot of paper towels and a lot of Clorox spray and washing towels and anything that they’re around because they don’t have bladder control,” Topalian said. 

Topalian said though fostering is a lot of work, sometimes it can be preferable to adoption because it’s not a long-term commitment. However, she said the hardest part about fostering is letting the puppies go once they are adopted, which is why many fosters become “foster failures” and end up keeping the dog.

Nevertheless, no matter the difficulty, Topalian said it’s all worth it.

“Having a puppy is really a special time in any family and to get to do it over and over again, it seems like a gift for us,” Topalian adds.

Some of the Topalian family’s fosters:

Concerns & Tips for Success

With her background in the animal rescue world, Duffy is thrilled that so many dogs are being adopted and fostered. However, she expressed concern that people might not be prepared to handle all of the responsibilities once things return back to normal

This is a potentially 12-, 13-, 15-year commitment if you have a puppy,” Duffy said. “I think it’s really important to look at this as a long term prospect, not just an impulsive [decision]. This is what keeps me up at night.”

Chasin agrees that the most important concern right now is to make sure these homes are forever, and that shelters aren’t flooded with dogs once things go back to normal.

“It’s very easy to be blinded and seduced and bored by the restrictions that we’re living under right now, [but], the reality really is that your life is going to go back, you will be going back to work, the kids will have all of their after school activities,” Chasin said. “Please just make sure that a dog is truly a lifetime commitment for you.”

Chasin said this includes making sure a dog is going to fit a family’s lifestyle once everything goes back to normal. For instance, if a dog requires a lot of exercise, it should only be adopted by a family who can give it that exercise in normal times as well.

In terms of caring for a dog now, Duffy said that some of the most important things to keep in mind is to make sure dogs have routine, aerobic exercise, and brain stimulation.

“Everything for dogs, particularly puppies, is about schedule, and routine. They need to have structure and boundaries; feeding time, potty time, playtime, rest time should all be on a very strict schedule,” Duffy said.

In particular, she said that young, active dogs need “aerobic exercise,” or exercise without a leash. She said this is especially important because if a dog doesn’t get enough exercise, this unused energy could lead to bad habits or actions, such as chewing up the furniture. Giving dogs “appropriate outlets” for this energy, such as letting them run and giving them chew toys, are some key ways to avoid this. Additionally, Duffy said dogs need to have “mental exercise” as well, in a similar way that humans need a good balance of exercise and brain stimulation to avoid stress. She said kong toys, or toys with food in them, is a good example of how to keep your dog entertained.

People Benefits

Although adopting a dog is definitely a huge decision, Farinas said that especially in this time of isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty, dogs can “add a huge relief” to everyone’s minds.

“There’s never going to be another better opportunity for everybody who has thought about it to do it,” Farinas said. “And it could only bring you joy.”

Farinas also added that Bark and Bone Inn is open with a limited staff, and happy to entertain any new furry customers who want to join their doggy care.

Chasin agreed, adding that dogs can also act as a “a great personal trainer.”

“They get you out of the house and walking around and the minute you start walking around, you’re bound to meet people and say hello to people.”

Dallas, the Buchanan family’s new pup.

Lori Buchanan, for instance, never considered herself a dog person. However, after finally caving to her daughters’ requests, she decided to get a dog during this time and has been tremendously surprised by the results. Their puppy, Dallas–a 3.8-pound Cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Poodle mix)–though not a rescue, has brought them tremendous joy.

“It’s honestly been just love-filled,” Buchanan said. “If she wasn’t here, I don’t know what we would be doing. It’s just been really a nice little gift that we’re super thankful for.”

Duffy added that though she cannot conduct in-person dog training at this time, she would like to make herself a resource to the community. She encourages people to reach out through social media or via her new website, where she hopes to start a blog about dog training as well. She can also be reached by phone at 203.984.5593.

I know there’s a lot of really really good, giving, loving people that want to help these animals,” Duffy said. “I really think that’s a wonderful thing so maybe we can all do it together.”