Sarah Jarvis throws a party every June, with music, food and up to 30 guests. But only the guest of honor gets to sample the peanut butter-and-diced-steak cake made for the event.
That proud guest is Panda, a five-year-old boxer, pitbull and bulldog mix. Jarvis, a research specialist at the Center for Healthy Minds at UW-Madison, Jarvis throws “Panda-monium” each year to celebrate the day she adopted Panda in June 2020.
The date she took home Panda from an animal shelter in Raleigh, North Carolina had an added significance — June 29 was the day Jarvis was adopted too.
“A major barrier for me in my mind was that I didn’t think I had the lifestyle to care for a dog,” said Jarvis. “I wanted my freedom. I wanted to be able to pick up and go wherever. It was kind of like having a baby or something. I didn’t want that responsibility. It’s really not that bad. In fact, it just enriches your life, way more than not. I just kind of had that assumption, because I grew up with dogs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic left many Madisonians scared and isolated, and they found applying a dog, cat or other pet helped ease their stress. Nationwide, more than 23 million households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals.
While the surge of “pandemic pets” has been a boon to both animals and their new owners, the increase has resulted in both animal shelters and pet clinics needing community support.
Jarvis first met Panda when she started fostering her in mid-March of 2020. When the shelter called and said they’d found an owner for her, Jarvis knew she didn’t want to let Panda go, and adopted her herself. Since then, she and Panda have moved to Madison this past February and helped each other adjust to a new place, making new furry and human friends.
“I hit the dog lottery”
Like Jarvis, Jody Weyers also found a dog companion during the early days of the pandemic. Weyers adopted Juno, an eight-year-old pug mix, in June 2020 from a shelter in Waukesha. She had to convince her landlord to allow her to get a dog, and she feels so lucky to have Juno.
“I tell people, I hit the dog lottery,” Weyers said, “Because she is wonderful with children and kids. She loves giving them face washes. She has never chewed anything. She’s never had an accident in the house. She loves car rides.”
Weyers is from Black Creek, Wisconsin and has lived in Madison for the last seven years, working as the development director for Operation Fresh Start.
Weyers and Juno have hiked over half of the hikes mentioned in “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Madison: Including Dane and Surrounding Counties” by Kevin Revolinski. Weyers said that hiking helped her and Juno during the isolating times of the pandemic.
Having Juno has also helped her get to know her neighbors and build community. At the height of the pandemic, she and Juno were going on walks three times a day. With Juno by her side, Weyers was able to get to know her neighbors better, so much so that they will sometimes come over and let Juno out while Weyers is at work.
Weyers and Juno love going to The Boneyard, a combination dog park/beer garden where dogs and beer lovers can socialize together. Weyers is appreciative of how dog friendly Madison is and “it just keeps getting better,” she added.
Jarvis and Weyers are Madisonians who sought out pets during the pandemic for companionship for themselves. Madison native Maura Tracy wanted a companion both for herself and her seven-year-old Pomeranian, Boris, who were both having a hard time adjusting to being home during the pandemic.
“Boris and I were both very sad during the pandemic,” Tracy said. “Boris is used to going into training classes and we’re used to going to places like coffee shops. He’s kind of my sidekick. When that all shut down, honestly, he started sitting in his kennel, like his den, and he sat there all day. He wouldn’t hang out with me, he was very sick of watching TV with me. He was sad too, because his life had changed.”
In July 2020, Tracy flew to Pittsburgh to adopt her new Pomeranian puppy, Cosmo, who was only a few months old at the time. Tracy talked about the importance of socialization, for herself and her dogs. She enjoyed going on walks during the pandemic with her dogs, and going to places that were pet friendly so they could get out of the house.
Now, she, Boris and Cosmo attend agility classes together and she loves having her two dogs. Tracy, a political communication consultant and a spin instructor at CycleBar Madison, said there’s no better time to raise a puppy, then when you’re at home all the time.
“That’s a luxury you don’t always have,” she added. “If we look at the bright side, it was a great time to be home with the dog.”
Pandemic affects animal support resources in Madison
The shelters that help Madisonians find their animal companions are in need of support during these times.
Amy Good, director of development and marketing at the Dane County Humane Society (DCHS), mentioned that since businesses are beginning to open back up, said the shelter needs volunteers and foster parents for the pets. The pandemic forced the shelter, like many other businesses, to ask most of their volunteers to stay home.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we had nearly 1000 volunteers who came into the building every single week,” Good said. “With a virus, you don’t want 1000 extra people in the building. So as hard as that was to keep everybody safe, we did really just keep it to a small group of staff that kept things going.
“That was really hard because we value our volunteers so much. It us many months to start welcoming people back but we still have not gotten back to our pre pandemic numbers. We’re still probably operating about 200 volunteers short.”
The DCHS is also currently hiring for positions, including an animal caretaker and shelter resource counselor. Good said that at this stage of the pandemic, adoptions are decreasing and the Humane Society is in need of support from the community.
“Donations are always of course appreciated to help take care of the animals in our care,” Good said. “With adoption slowing down a little bit, it does mean animals are staying with us longer.”
An increased number of adoptions means an increased number of visits to the veterinarian, and local clinics are feeling the strain. Alyssa White, a veterinarian at Pet Care Animal Hospital on Madison’s west side, talked about how the biggest change the veterinary industry has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for veterinary care.
Many animal clinics across the country are struggling with being short of staff, and White said that as vet clinics deal with more and more patients, patience and flexibility from their owners is appreciated.
“We are probably one of the few clinics in town who isn’t actively trying to hire and we’re pretty well set, staffing-wise,” White said. and to make sure they’re communicating with their veterinary clinic ahead of time and preparing things ahead of time, if needed, like medication refills and appointments that can be planned out.
“Obviously, their emergencies are always going to come up, but keeping in mind that a lot of clinics are very short staffed right now and doing best to provide the best possible care and having some grace with the workers who are there.”