by Carolyn Camilleri
Victoria has always been a dog-friendly city, but the pandemic has brought a surge of interest in adopting a furry companion.
Why do people have dogs? Companionship and unconditional love, purpose and structure, fun and entertainment, security and comfort. Dogs can calm anxiety and lighten depression. They are loyal in ways no human is capable of — not really. They are warm, cuddly, present-moment beings, who want nothing more than to be with their people.
While Victoria has always been a great city for dogs, this past year has brought with it a boom in dog adoptions. It’s not a surprise. The pandemic is scary, and it’s lonely and boring being at home all day, every day.
“As a longtime pet owner, I had concerns when I saw the flood of people saying, ‘Well, if I’m home all day, I’m going to get a puppy.’ It’s like people giving away bunnies and ducklings at Easter or giving someone a puppy at Christmas,” says Robyn Quinn, human to Peanut and Toby, two mini-dachshunds. “It’s not the best timing, but I understand it.”
Quinn describes having dogs as “a godsend and a blessing” — and she doesn’t say that lightly.“In the morning, anytime between 6:30 and 7, the two of them are peeking over the edge of the bed, and they’re like,‘Hello, hello, you need to wake up. It’s another day. Look for the sun,’” she says. “They look up at me, but they make me look up.”Dogs provide focus and a reason to get outside, even during a pandemic. Quinn likes taking her two to Willows Beach.
“Not only am I getting fresh air and paying attention to them — ‘Hey, don’t eat that seaweed’ and ‘Hey, stop rolling in that dead fish’ — but it’s always an adventure,” she says. “They’re not neutral. They’re not in this passive state. You’ve got to stop feeling sorry for yourself and pay attention to these little creatures who are into no good, and that’s what makes you laugh.”
Add to that the comradery of the people you see again and again on walks and at the dog park. You say hello, chat about dogs and their antics. You might not know the person’s name, but you always know the dog’s name.
Having a dog in your life is really wonderful — provided you can find one that’s suitable.
The Demand Is Crazy
If you are thinking of adopting a dog, you are not alone. The Victoria Humane Society has been overwhelmed by the demand.
“It’s been crazy,” says Penny Stone, executive director and founder of the Victoria Humane Society. “In a lot of ways, it’s nice because people are home a lot, and they’re able to be there with their animal and get their animal situated and settled into home.”
But a lot of people aren’t thinking about when the pandemic is over.
“These animals are not going to be able to adjust, and that’s what scares us the most,” says Stone. “Yes, it’s a great time because you have lots of time, but we need long-term plans, and the reality is people don’t know right now what long-term plans look like.”
The situation is similar at RainCoast Dog Rescue Society, a foster-based rescue organization Jesse Adams started in 2014, by bringing dogs to Vancouver Island from all over the world. Most of the dogs he gets these days are from northernSaskatchewan, where he has established good relationships with the communities. He has been overwhelmed with adoptionapplications.
“Say we took in an adult dog with minimal behavioural issues. We used to get, maybe 25, 30 applications for that one dog, and we now get 150 to 200 apps for that one dog,” says Adams. “And we went from maybe getting 200 apps for a litter of puppies to over 2,000.”
While the increase in interest is nice, it worries Adams: “Are they just wanting a companion for now because they’re bored? Or are they actually looking to have a companion for the life of that animal?”
The increase in applications means it takes longer for volunteers to respond, and some people get impatient and even nasty.
“It’s not that we don’t want to get back to them — it’s that we physically don’t have the capacity to do so, even if we had a whole team of volunteers, or even a bigger rescue,” says Adams, who has posted videos explaining what is happening and asking people to be patient. “No rescue, no matter what the size, can handle that amount of increase in such a short time.”
Know What You’re Adopting
The Bosdet family — Lisa, Jeffrey and their two children, ages 13 and 16 — tried to find a rescue and contacted several groups, as well as the BC SPCA and the Victoria Humane Society.
“In the end, it wasn’t a rescue because it’s near impossible,” says Lisa Bosdet. “Then I kept hearing rumblings about the number of applications and how long people were waiting and how many times they’d had to apply before getting a dog.”
Bosdet was very motivated to find a dog as a family pet and companion for daughter Maya, who uses a wheelchair. Timing was important: Maya had surgery scheduled and was anxious about it. The family wanted a positive distraction. Discouraged after learning her application was one of a 1,000 for a BC SPCA dog, Bosdet put a call out to her friends. She was soon connected to a friend of a friend whose dog had just had 13 puppies.
“I went to see them, and I picked Yuki, which means snow in Japanese, because she’s the runt of the litter, and I love the runts,” she says.
Yuki is a black lab and king shepherd mix on her mom’s side and Bernese mountain dog on her dad’s side. At 13 weeks, she was 22 pounds. She’s going to be a big girl — exactly what the Bosdets want.
“We prefer larger breeds — we just always have,” says Bosdet. “They have their own personalities, but it has so much todo with how you treat them, how you raise them, and we’re confident we’re good dog owners and we’ll train her well.”
Breed knowledge is critical, even with mixed breeds.
Last November, Rebecca Kirstein Resch and her partner Sven Resch were the lucky applicants who adopted Ozzie, one of the RainCoast pups from northern Saskatchewan.
“Ozzie had such an amazing calm energy, which was very similar to my past dog as well,” says Kirstein Resch, who had a good idea about Ozzie’s mix, but wanted to be sure. A DNA test confirmed what she thought: Ozzie is a mix ofGerman shepherd, collie, border collie and Alaskan malamute.
“Those are working dogs, those are sport dogs, those are high-energy animals, all of them,” she says.
But she knew what she was getting into, and, like Bosdet, has experience with large-breed dogs. However, not everyone adopting is thinking about breeds — they are just thinking about puppies.
“We just received a dog into care that someone paid a couple thousand dollars for — a four-month-old, pure-bred German shepherd — and they don’t understand why it barks so much,” says Stone. “Well, they’re a guardian breed.They’re barky. You have to train them.”
It’s not the puppy’s fault.
“It’s like getting a border collie and expecting it not to nip your kids,” she says.
Some people apply for, say, a Pomeranian, and when they learn the Poms are gone, switch to a husky, without so much as a Google search.
Do some research. Ask questions. Talk to people you trust who have a dog.
Welcome to Puppyhood
Initially, the Bosdets were looking for a young adult dog, partly because they wanted a rescue and partly because they have been through puppyhood before. They know what it’s like.
Think sleepless nights, teething, house training, nipping, destructiveness, eating everything, boundary testing, physical and emotional demands. Puppies are really lucky they are so cute.
“Consistency is so vital, but in order to be consistent, you have to be around, you have to be present and just on it,”says Lisa Bosdet, adding that they are brushing up on their puppy-training skills. “You can’t be too distracted.”
Kirstein Resch has had dogs all her life, but it had been 14 years since she trained a puppy and her husband has never trained one. They signed up with a professional.
“If you learn how to do this and you are really diligent for the first year or two of the dog’s life, then you can be a slack ass for the rest of that dog’s life,” she says.
Not training is unfair to the dog. Six to eight months is the make-or-break point for a lot of people and a very common time for people to surrender their dogs.
“That is why early training is so critical,” says Bosdet. “Once they’re through that first six months, then you’ve established some really good routines and some really good training.”
The pandemic is not an excuse for not training. Online courses abound.
“We’re seeing people use COVID as an excuse for not training their dogs,” says Stone. “Even if you work eight hours from home, you’re not driving to and from work every day. You have time to be training your dog.
In Praise of Older Dogs
Robyn Quinn has advice for people who are looking to fill empty pandemic days but are not up to the challenge of puppyhood: get an adult or senior dog. And if it’s small, furry cuteness you want, find a small-breed adult.
Contrary to the old saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks — plus they have bladder control, an attention span and probably won’t eat your phone cord.
Quinn’s first dog Lizzie, who passed away during the pandemic, was a breeder surrender that Quinn adopted from theVictoria Humane Society.
“My little girl was 12, and, honestly, she was the love of my life as soon as she got in my arms and I took her home,”says Quinn. “Adopting senior dogs, to me, is a win-win situation, because they love you and they know. I swear to God,they know. Lizzie was the most affectionate, sweet girl.”
Stone also encourages people to consider older dogs.
“We’ve just started getting in retired sled dogs again, and I can’t think of a better dog, especially for first-time owners, than a retired sled dog because they’re the most gentle souls you’ll ever meet,” she says. “A lot of them have had horrific lives, and yet they’re so sweet.”
People often think getting an older dog is sad because the dog won’t be around so long.
“But, honestly, you can give them so much in their last few years, and they give you so much — and they’re much easier,” says Stone.
Warm Furry Friends
Yuki came along at the perfect time for the Bosdet family, as they prepared for daughter Maya’s surgery.
“I can’t express in words how much of a positive impact this has had on Maya and the whole family,” says Lisa Bosdet. “I knew this would be an important piece for her to have something to look forward to and something to come back to that would help her through this tough healing time.”
At Kirstein Resch’s home, five-month-old Ozzie’s training is coming along fabulously, and he is keeping his humans active and happy by making them take needed breaks.
“We are outside way more, actually talking to people at a social distance because our dogs are playing on the beach,”she says. “Our quality of life has improved so dramatically because I’m out in the fresh air, walking with my dog and I’m way more productive.”
And if it’s companionship you want and a way to get through the dark days, nothing brings comfort like a pet.
“Having a dog reminds you that someone’s counting on you, and they love you no matter what and look at you as if to say, ‘Hey, let’s do what we normally do every day — don’t bail on me now,’’’ says Quinn. “As long as people take into consideration that the pandemic isn’t going to last forever.”
It’s not only dogs in the adoption spotlight. Will and Carla Sorrell, and their two sons, adopted Max and Walter, kitten brothers from different litters last November.
“We’ve never had pets before as a family,” Will says, though he and Carla both grew up with cats.
Having decided to adopt from a rescue rather than a breeder, the Sorrells started searching and chose theGreater Victoria Animal Crusaders (GVAC).
“They make you fill in this questionnaire with loads of things like, ‘Would you ever declaw a cat?’” Will says.“It’s not obvious there’s a right answer, but as someone who’s had a cat, it’s very clear there is. It was a good process.”
A home visit completed the application, and they were approved to adopt.
“Walter, who was at the time four months, just jumped onto my lap, and that was it — I had absolutely no choice because he kind of chose me,” laughs Will.
If you’re thinking about adopting a cat, ask yourself how much you like scooping out a litter box — and think realistically about cost.
“The GVAC adoption form makes you calculate a budget for the care of your animal every year,” says Will. “It makes you write in the categories for health care, food, toys, all that stuff, then you see this number, which has lots of zeros after it. Then you feel it when you run out of that hundred dollars’ worth of food you only bought 10 days ago. It is a very significant cost.”
Also consider the time. “Kittens need a lot of attention. They need to be played with, and I was used to older cats that just take care of themselves and, occasionally, would deign to let you stroke them.”
Max and Walter have lots of scratching posts, including a cat tree Will built himself. Making beds and toys became a family project.
“It’s very positive right now to have different draws on your attention around the house,” he says. “It’s made a difference to my sanity as well, just having extra beings in the house.
The Financial Considerations
$1,315 to $3,290
According to Rover.com, the average initial upfront cost of adopting a non-purebred dog in Canada in 2020 (including adoption fees, spay/neuter surgery, toys, treats, etc.).
$840 to $2,385
Average amount spent by pet owners, in B.C. versus nationally, on the health of their animals in 2019, according to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the annual cost thereafter (with $1,500 being the average).