×

Welcome home: New pets offer comfort during pandemic

  • Jen Polins and her daughter, Edy Polins Savage, 14, spend time with their 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier, Ozzie, at their home in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jen Polins and her daughter, Edy Polins Savage, 14, with their 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier, Ozzie, at their home in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • With 12-week-old Ozzie joining a Florence household that includes Jen Polins and her daughter, Edy Polins Savage, there is suddenly a reason to be outside many times a day to walk the pup. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jen Polins and her daughter, Edy Polins Savage, 14, spend time with their 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier, Ozzie, at their home in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Edy Polins Savage, 14, spends time with her 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier, Ozzie, at her home in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jen Polins and her daughter, Edy Polins Savage, 14, spend time with their 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier, Ozzie, at their home in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jen Polins and her daughter, Edy Polins Savage, 14, spend time with their 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier, Ozzie, at their home in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Peg Duffy and Ryder Duffy with Janeway, Torres and Chakotay, three of the kittens they got from a Westhampton barn. Photo courtesy of Peg Duffy

  • Annika, a kitten that Peg Duffy and Ryder Duffy rescued from a Westhampton barn. Photo courtesy of Peg Duffy

  • Ava Carter-Meo, 13, holds out a piece of cheese for the family’s new puppy, Marley, while playing in the backyard of their Hatfield home. She is joined in the background by her parents, Amy Meo, left, and Zan Carter and her brother, Sebastian, 8. The 4-month-old Marley is a Cavachon, which is a mix of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Bichon Frise breeds. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Meo, left, and Zan Carter, right, and their kids, Ava, 13, and Sebastian, 8, pose for a photo in the backyard of their Hatfield home with their new puppy, Marley, a 4-month-old Cavachon, which is a mix of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise breeds. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amy Meo, left, and Zan Carter, right, and their kids, Ava, 13, and Sebastian, 8, pose for a photo in the backyard of their Hatfield home with their new puppy, Marley, a 4-month-old Cavachon, which is a mix of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise breeds. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sebastian Carter-Meo, 8, plays in the backyard of his Hatfield home with the family’s 4-month-old Cavachon puppy, Marley. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Zan Carter picks up the family’s new puppy, Marley, after she ventured into the dirt in a farm field behind their Hatfield home not long after a bath on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Carter-Meo family’s new puppy is Marley, a 4-month-old Cavachon, which is a mix of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise breeds. Photographed on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Zan Carter picks up the family's new puppy, Marley, after she ventured into the dirt of a farm field behind their Hatfield home not long after a bath on Friday, June 5, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sebastian Carter-Meo, 8, plays in the back yard of his Hatfield home with the family’s 4-month-old Cavachon puppy Marley on Friday, June 5, 2020. The Cavachon is a mix of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise breeds. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2020

People have looked for different kinds of comfort while sheltering at home during the pandemic — reading books, watching movies, experimenting with new recipes, finding new exercise routines.

Some have also turned to new companions: the four-legged kind.

With many parents and almost all children forced to stay home over the past few months, some families have welcomed a dog, cat or other critter into their homes. And with children mostly unable to see their friends, some parents consider an animal a welcome new playmate for their kids. Walking a dog can provide a regular, much-needed means of exercise.

A pet can also offer emotional bonding for all during these strange times.

In Hatfield, Amy Meo says she and her wife, Suzanne Carter, had fielded requests for years for a dog from their daughter, Ava. For one reason or another, they didn’t oblige her, at first because Ava was only 3 when she first starting asking for a pet.

But Ava is now 13, while her brother, Sebastian, is 8 — old enough to take some responsibility for a pet, Meo says. “If there was ever a time to to do this, it’s now. We’re all home, we’re all feeling isolated. Why not get a dog?”

In March, the family took home Marley, a now 4-month-old Cavachon, a mix of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Bichon Frise, from a breeder in Pennsylvania. She’s a tiny pup — just 5.5 pounds — but Marley has brought a lot of joy to the family, Meo says.

And she gives the kids “something to do,” Meo said. “It gets Ava outside regularly to walk her, and it gives [Sebastian] something to focus on.”

Meo notes that, like kids everywhere, her children are largely cut off from their friends, so Marley has become an important new playmate. But Ava and Sebastian have also been involved with house training Marley, giving them a greater sense of responsibility. “All of it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” said Meo.

Meo, a customer service specialist at the University of Massachusetts, and Carter, who works in publishing, are working from home, so they enjoy having Marley with them, too. “We take her on walks in town, and we see other people walking their dogs,” noted Meo. “It gives us a way to feel we’re still part of the community.”

In Westhampton, meanwhile, Peg Duffy and her partner, Ryder Duffy, are fostering a small litter of kittens they rescued from a barn in town. Their original intent was to foster them for awhile and improve their health, then pass them to friends or other owners. But Peg Duffy says they’ve been so taken by the kittens that they’re keeping at least two.

“We have the time and the means,” she said, noting that both have been working largely from home (Peg works with Booklink, a book store in Northampton’s Thornes Market, and Ryder is the theater program manager at Hampshire College).

The couple already have two dogs and an older cat (the latter also a rescue animal), so having two new felines doesn’t seem a stretch, though it comes with a cost, like getting them dewormed and vaccinated; the Florence Animal Clinic has been a big help, Peg said.

“This is such a strange time,” she added. “It feels good to give these two a home.” It’s also a reminder to her, she added, that the number of un-spayed cats remains a significant problem.

A pet shortage?

In the past several weeks, there have been reports in various media sources of people across the country snapping up new pets, dogs in particular. Many animal shelters have reported being inundated with requests; a headline in late April in Bloomberg News read “Newest shortage in New York: the city is running out of dogs to foster.”

Carmine DiCenso, executive director of the the Dakin Humane Society, which has shelters in Springfield and Leverett, says there has been a significant increase in calls since March from people looking to adopt an animal, especially dogs, though he did not have exact figures.

At the same time, the number of animals the society has for adoption has dropped, DiCenso said. In early June, just a handful of animals — including a white rat — were listed as available on the group’s website, though DiCenso notes that Dakin was in the process at that moment of getting some 40 other animals ready for future adoption.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in people looking to adopt,” he said — a welcome sign, he added. “We don’t like to see animals lingering here for a long time.”

DiCenso says he’s not especially concerned that new pet owners, spurred by the pandemic, underestimate the cost and care needed to give an animal a good home. In fact, because of COVID-19, Dakin is only seeing prospective clients at its shelters by appointment, one at a time, which DiCenso says gives the society a better means of assessing someone’s ability to take in a pet.

“We can really go deeper into all the details to make sure we’re matching the right person with the right animal,” he said.

In Florence, Jen Polins feels she and her family have made a good match with their new dog, Ozzie. Polins says they’d been talking about getting a puppy for some time but hadn’t made a move until the pandemic hit.

All of a sudden, she said, “It seemed as good a time as any to do it.”

She has a daughter, Edalena “Edy” Polins Savage, who’s 14, and a son, Ascher Polins Savage, who just turned 13, and since both have been separated from their friends, Polins figured they could benefit from having a new companion at home.

“They were both totally on board with the idea,” she noted.

Right before Mother’s Day, the family, which includes Polins’ boyfriend, Andrew Sovjani, welcomed Ozzie, a 12-week-old Wheaten Terrier. Polins says they got lucky: With dogs suddenly hard to come by, her father struck up a friendship with a dog breeder in eastern Massachusetts, who then alerted them about Ozzie.

The family already has three cats, so they’ve been keeping Ozzie on one side of the house, away from the felines, and keeping him leashed if the cats are out and about; they’re training him not to lunge after them. The pup has already brought much joy to their home, she says.

“He’s really become a part of the family,” said Polins, a dance teacher and the founding director of the School of Contemporary Dance & Thought in Northampton. “We’re all stuck at home, but now we have a great reason to be out 20 times a day to walk him.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.