How to Get a Puppy during a Pandemic

By Richard Levesque, April 2020
adopting a dog during the pandemic

Photos by Richard Levesque

A puppy travels north to her new family as Covid-19 descends upon the East Coast. What could go wrong?

As far back as Christmastime, my wife, Tina, had begun saying, “We’re getting a dog.” Enough procrastination: “I’m getting a dog.” As each week passed, the conviction in her words grew until, inevitably, one day this led to a discussion on how we might incorporate the animal into the household. It made sense, we concluded, to wait until March, when our Connecticut winter went from lion to lamb.

As the weeks passed, Tina showed me online photos of prospective dogs—a deflating proposition, similar to humans posting photographs of themselves in personal ads. No dog should be subjected to those sorts of indignities, especially from his best friend.

Yet, in the end, there was no other way. We had to look at photos and whittle down candidates. Tina had her eye on an Arkansas puppy named Tia. Fine, I said. “Get the dog, but don’t pay for her until we see her.”

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Tia was nine weeks old when Tina began tracking her. She made contact with a worker at the shelter who was overseeing the puppy’s transport from Arkansas through the Midwest and finally to Connecticut. When she got an email back updating her on the dog—how Tia interacted with people, with other dogs—she got plain giddy.

The process, however, had its own timetable. Born on Christmas Day, Tia had to reach a certain number of weeks before she could be separated from her mother.

In the meantime, a novel coronavirus—Covid-19—had leaped across the ocean and was beginning its creep across the country. On the last Saturday in February, we attended an annual event that unofficially marks the end of our dark, cold days of winter: the Chowder Cookoff & Cabin Fever Festival in Mystic, Conn.

We returned from the event invigorated, and deemed the long cabin-fever days over. We could not have imagined, however, the degree of isolation that was soon to plague the country.

Even though the learning center where Tina works is deemed essential, the owners closed its doors on March 16, and they have not opened since. If nothing else, Tina now had more time to focus on the dog, who had escaped tornados in Arkansas and was now somewhere in Mississippi. Tina was able to locate a contact person at the Mississippi shelter and asked if she would be so kind as to send a few photos of Tia.

By email, they arrived in a matter of days and Tina blew kisses at the screen of her phone as she thumbed them. As Tia’s transport crept steadily toward Connecticut, the coronavirus in Connecticut was moving toward the level of a pandemic. The two seemed to be on a collision course, destined to meet in one point in space and time.

That narrow juncture was 11:45 on the morning of March 27, the day we were scheduled to pick up Tia at a shelter in a suburb of Hartford. All week long, Tina was giddy with excitement. It had been seven years since the passing of our black Lab, Casey, and for the last two years in particular, Tina had been steadily petitioning me for another dog. Meanwhile, Connecticut, along with New York and New Jersey, was part of the tri-state area that was soon to become ground zero for Covid-19. On March 26, New York’s health-care system, already on the brink of collapse, experienced more 911 calls than it did on September 11, 2001. In Connecticut, every kind of social entertainment imaginable seemed to be closed except for a few golf courses. Hairs began splitting over whether a business was essential or not, as nonessential operations were all but forced to shut down for the foreseeable future.

I couldn’t see Tia arriving in the midst of this chaos, and advised Tina to brace herself for disappointment. But a bond had been forming between Tina and the puppy. If the shelter could somehow get Tia to Connecticut, it was going to take more than something called Covid-19 to separate Tina from her dog.

Two nights before our scheduled pick-up date, word arrived that Tia had indeed made it to Connecticut. Tina was instructed to send a text message upon arriving and a worker would bring Tia out to us in the parking lot. Temblors of concern rattled deep in my personal space that night.

I wondered if, in her travels in the South and then into the Midwest, the dog could have acquired the virus. On the Center for Disease Control’s website, I read that there were no known cases of dog-to-human transmission at the time. In addition, I had seen a news clip about a therapy dog named Wynn at a Denver hospital. Emergency-room workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic took mental health breaks by getting lots of licks and snuggles from the one-year -old yellow Lab. The presence of Wynn at the hospital was ample proof that the Covid-19 contagion wasn’t being transmitted through respiratory droplets from dogs to humans.

But I had also read a report in The New England Journal of Medicine that did not erase all concern. The scientific paper analyzed periods of time during which the virus might remain alive on surfaces. The studies, undertaken in labs, found the time in which the coronavirus might remain alive on metal, plastic and cardboard surfaces was generally three to six hours. By simple coincidence, who was to say the virus couldn’t be on Tia’s fur on pick-up day?

She was an adorable miniature black Lab/Shepherd mix. At 13 weeks, she was a snuggle package waiting to be held. Hence, on pick-up day, I thought the puppy needed to be handled with all the care of an arriving parcel. I suggested that this be done in our yard upon arriving home with her, using five-gallon buckets of warm water and shampoo. This was a hard sell to Tina. She figured Tia had already undergone enough stress in her recent travels, and did not want the new member of the household subjected to that type of homecoming.

Our first glimpse of Tia came when a shelter worker stepped out into the parking lot cradling Tia in her arms. The 16-pound puppy looked as docile as a lamb. During the ride home, Tia never left Tina’s arms. We decided we’d call her Luna Rae.

When we got home, we played with her outside for about 30 minutes—long enough for the post-noon sun to beat down on the puppy’s brown/black fur and incinerate any potential virus.

Good enough for government work, as the saying goes. I sure hoped so.

Richard Levesque is a freelance writer and former correction officer for the State of Connecticut. He resides in the northeast with his wife, Tina.