On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Let’s try and pretend for 30 minutes today that there was not an election Tuesday and that we still don’t know the results of many of the races, including who will be our next president. Instead, let’s talk about everyone’s best friend: dogs. We’ll talk about cats too, and a special turtle named Snookums.
For those lucky to have a pet at the start of the pandemic, they were a great companion and reminder to be thankful for them. But not long after others followed suit and adopted their own work from home buddies. And so began the pandemic pet adoption craze of 2020.
Escape with us tomorrow at 12:30pm.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
KOJO NNAMDIThese are certainly anxious and difficult times and people have turned to many things to cope with our new uncertain reality. One of the things people have turned to are pets. Since the pandemic, we've seen a massive increase in pet adoptions across the country and here locally as well. Even Nats' lefthander Sean Doolittle adopted a pandemic pet. It's a little pup they call Phia or Phi for short.
KOJO NNAMDIHave you forgotten about the election yet? Good, because that's what we're trying to do. Joining me now to discuss this recent pet adoption boom is Stella Hanly, the executive director of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Stella Hanly, thank you for joining us.
STELLA HANLYThank you so much, Kojo. I'm so excited to be here. I'm a huge fan.
NNAMDIWell, thank you. Has the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria seen an increase in adoptions throughout the pandemic?
HANLYYes, we have in some regards. So we had to pull back our operations for April, May and June when the governor had asked, you know, people to stay at home and so we weren't able to transfer in as many animals during those months. And we get a lot of our animals from other jurisdictions that don't have as many resources as we have.
HANLYBut once we were able to get back to regular operating status, our increase in July was 26 percent over the same time last year. We were down a little bit in August because August typically we do a Clear the Shelters event in coordination with NBC. It's a national event. And we didn't do that this year but then back in September we were up again by 20 percent over last year's numbers.
NNAMDILike many businesses, you went the virtual route early on. How did virtual pet adoption go?
HANLYVirtual pet adoptions went much better. I must admit, I was a skeptic. (laugh) I didn't think people would be interested in meeting animals virtually, but it turns out I was wrong. And I'm happy to say that I was 100 percent wrong. So whenever we had to stop inviting people to come visit animals in our building, our shelter building, we switched to virtual. And so we started that on April 2nd of this year.
HANLYAnd essentially what people do, they would sign up for a Zoom meeting. And it could be cats, dogs, small animals, whatever we have, and they would spend about 30 minutes asking questions of our staff, meeting the animal virtually that way. And then it was actually quite good, because the staff were able to find out a lot about the lifestyle of the adopter and make sure that the animal that they had chosen to meet with would really be good fit for them. So oftentimes we switched them and showed them a different animal after we got to know them through that Zoom appointment.
HANLYAnd then we would do what we call our adoption consult, so that would happen over the phone. They did all the paperwork online and then we would schedule a pickup time and it would be completely contactless until they would meet their animal outside. And it was phenomenal. It was phenomenal how much people really enjoyed it. We're delighted that we were offering the service. And we were the first in the region to offer virtual adoptions and we're very proud of that.
NNAMDIAt any point were you running out of animals for people to adopt?
HANLYYes, we did. The national organizations asked in March of this year for shelters to stop transferring animals from too far afield. They said at this point, you know, it was human lives that we had to think about and not animal lives. We need to figure out how to do this safely and to stop transferring in. So we took that advice and for April, May and June we really cut back in the number of animals that we transferred from other jurisdictions.
HANLYBut then once a little bit more was known about the coronavirus and how we could do this safely, we ramped back up in July. And our transfer partners were very, very grateful for that. So we went back up transferring as normal. And since then we've actually transferred in from Florida and from Texas, from Louisiana while the hurricane was active. And also -- no, actually two times from Louisiana. So we're very proud that we were able to help those organizations that really, really needed our help, especially during this time.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Sarah Stoycos, a certified dog trainer at Your Dog's Friend in Rockville, Maryland. She's also the owner and Trainer at Laughing Dog Academy. Sarah Stoycos, thank you very much for joining us.
SARAH STOYCOSWell, thanks so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
NNAMDISarah, have you seen an increase in clients, who need help training their dog?
STOYCOSAbsolutely, an enormous increase. We're getting a lot of people adopting dogs and puppies who have never had them before. And so there's a great need for training right now.
NNAMDIWhat tips can you offer new dog owners?
STOYCOSWell, there are different things to consider. There's sort of the puppy side of things and the adult dog side of things. If you're getting a puppy, I think you have to make sure you keep in mind that you have to make a special effort to do things like socializing your puppy or getting them used to being alone, because these are things that are much harder to do during the pandemic.
STOYCOSAnd with dogs, I think, you know, giving them some downtime to deal with the change that's happened in their lives and then, you know, waiting for them to kind of blossom, because when they go into a new home, there's a lot of stress. And there's lots of help out there if behavior problems arise.
NNAMDIWell, Sarah Stoycos, presumably working from home is helpful in terms of training a new pet?
STOYCOSAbsolutely. It can be wonderful, because you've got much more time to spend with them, especially with a new animal coming in the home. The tricky thing is making sure that they learn how to be alone.
NNAMDIHere is Katie in Northwest D.C. Katie, your turn.
KATIEHi, Kojo. I started fostering through the Humane Rescue Alliance in April, but I only made it to one cat, because I adopted her.
NNAMDIYou only made it to one cat?
KATIE(laugh) I adopted the first foster cat that I had so (laugh) we're called a foster fail.
NNAMDIDid you plan on adopting more or do you still plan on adopting more?
KATIEWe planned on being cat foster parents, but we just fell in love with Iris so we just kept her. And we ended up adopting her, but one's enough for now.
NNAMDIOkay. Are you enjoying your new pet?
KATIEWe love it. It's nice to have a third kind of being in the apartment throughout the day so it's not just me and my husband, like, you have someone else to talk to.
NNAMDICool. Here is Linda in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDAHi, Kojo. Oh, my goodness. I've never been on the radio. (laugh) So nice to talk to you. I perked up when I heard this topic. We have a pandemic puppy. Her name's Camilla. She's a Cavapoo and she is our world and it's been wonderful being able to spend time with her. I'm a teacher so I've been able to be here and train her and spend time with her. It's been really great.
NNAMDIOh, wonderful. How long have you had your pandemic puppy?
LINDAWe got her in July. She was born in May and I got on a waiting list, because there was a long waiting list for puppies. And she flew into Regan National on July 28th, and our life has been enriched ever since.
NNAMDIEnriched specifically in what way?
LINDAShe is so loving and a great companion. And being at home, I'm usually, you know, by myself. My husband's been out and working. He's been an essential worker since the pandemic started. And she spends time with me. She provides unconditional love. And it's just something for me to take care of and it keeps my mind off of, you know, everything that's going on in the country and in the world.
NNAMDIOh, that's why we're having this conversation, actually. How are you training your pandemic puppy?
LINDAI have been seeking out a lot of different resources. There was a website that I found where there was some one-on-one help where I could call in and get a trainer on the video call. And she would see how I could do things with the dog and give me different tips, step-by-step directions. A lot of YouTube videos, a lot of trial and error. Puppies are a lot of work.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your call, Linda, and enjoy your puppy. Jen Risky has tweeted, love Sarah. She has helped us train several of our pups through Your Dogs Friend. Sarah Stoycos, that obviously was a reference to somebody, who really enjoyed working with you. What are some of the easier dog breeds to train and what are some of the most difficult?
STOYCOSWell, it's interesting. I think we think along breeds a lot of times. I think when we think about breeds it's not so much how easy or hard they are to train, but matching the right breed to your lifestyle. And I think that becomes really important. Really, any dog is trainable, you know, with the right kind of help. And the most important thing is learning how to build a bond with your dog, learning how to build up trust and then teaching them what you need them to be able to do. So it's not so much a breed thing.
NNAMDIStella Hanly is back with us. Stella Hanly, has the number of animals coming to the shelter slowed during the pandemic?
HANLYYeah, surprisingly it did. The number of strays that we took into the shelter has slowed significantly. We're actually not really sure why, and we know that it's not just a phenomenon here in Alexandria. You know, I've spoken with other directors of local animal welfare organizations, and they've had the same thing.
HANLYWhat has happened, which is a little sad, over the last couple of weeks we have seen a few more animals be abandoned than we would typically see. And that's people have left them outside the shelter overnight, which we would definitely encourage people not to do. And we are a no-judgment organization so if you have reached hard times or you're facing hardship, we are happy to help you, whether you need food or vet care, whatever it is, to keep your pet. But if that doesn't help, if you would like for us to take the animal, please come ahead in whenever we're open so that the animal is not left outside unattended.
NNAMDIStella, lately have the typical adoptive dog or cat parents been new parents, first-time adopters?
HANLYI would say it's probably half and half. We have had quite a lot of young adults, who maybe this is their first solo pet. And because they're working from home they figure that this is as good a time as any to add a new family member. And so we have had a lot of people like that. We've had a lot of families, as well, you know, with the children doing virtual school. And so they're able to spend more time with their animal at home, as well. But I would say half and half.
NNAMDIOkay. Here now is Joe in Dale City, Virginia. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEHi, I was just calling because I've been working in the retail fish business for about two years now. And I've noticed -- and I've been -- fish stores are considered essential businesses so I've been working through the pandemic and noticed a significant increase in new fish-keeping customers who want a new fish tank for their kids to look at or them to look at while home from work or working from home. And there's a lot of misconceptions in the aquarium trade about care and I've seen a lot of mistreated and miskept animals that I have to play fix it with. Just something I didn't know if you'd touched on.
NNAMDINo, but I'm glad you mentioned fish, because we're not only talking dogs and cats here. We're talking about people who are adopting all kinds of animals. As a matter of fact, Stella Hanly, can you tell us a little bit about Snookums the turtle?
HANLY(laugh) Yes, I would be happy to. So Snookums was an eight-year-old red slider turtle. She was here with us for 167 days before she found the perfect family. So Snookums, because she was eight years old, she was a really large turtle, and her habitat is quite large too. So we wanted to ensure that she went to a family, who had enough space to keep her in her -- we actually had her in a dog pool that was really quite large. And she has a basking area, her lights, everything. She was a huge staff favorite.
HANLYBut we're so happy that she got adopted by an amazing family, who have a whole set up for her in their basement. Their children are home schooled and so this was their classroom pet. And they've already sent videos and photos of Snookums. (laugh) We're so happy that she found such a wonderful home.
NNAMDIStella, one of the reasons we decided to discuss pet adoptions today was to give everyone a much needed break from the election. And I hope we've done that, but I have to ask, if Snookums, the turtle was able to vote, how would he have voted on the ballot initiative in D.C. to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms?
HANLYI think Snookums would probably have voted yes to decriminalize that because Snookums like vegetables. But I'm actually going to have to check. I don't know if turtles are allowed to eat mushrooms, but, yes, I think Snookums maybe would've enjoyed that.
NNAMDIYou might have to check with Snookums. Here is Phil in Clifton, Virginia. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILHi, Kojo. Longtime listener and member of WAMU. I just wanted to put in a plug for Boxer Rescue of Virginia. We've adopted three boxers over the years that we've lived here. And the dogs are -- you know, it really is good sometimes to get a hold of an older dog rather than a puppy for families, especially a boxer, boxers love kids. They're great in families. They're good with other pets. Our boxer, Tinker is laying here now in the middle of the living room just half asleep and half listening to WAMU.
NNAMDIHe's listening out of one ear, going in one ear and out the other ear. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Here is Diana in Falls Church. Diana, your turn.
DIANAWell, thank you for taking my call. And I am also a longtime listener even when I lived in Florida. I'm also a member of WAMU. And I would like to emphasize the importance of having pets as support animals. I am legally blind. I do not use a guide dog, but I have my two female shih tzus, Mimi and Lili, they're mom and daughter. And they are 11 and 8 years old. So they're not -- they have been with me a long journey, because I relocated from Brazil. And then I located from Florida during the pandemic to Virginia.
DIANAAnd they have been such a companionship in this isolation time. And they are so happy, so playful. And it's always good to come back home and have somebody waiting for you and jumping on your legs. So I think it's worth it and I'd just like to emphasize that side of it. And it's great, and it's something that happened to me recently, because I'm living here for about three months only. And they adapted quite well.
DIANAAnd I think somebody said about the breed. Yes, I had boxers and I had Shih tzus and I think the breed choice is also very important to fit the personality of the person. But that's what I had to say. And I'd also like to compliment the initiative of this subject -- this topic in your show, Kojo, because it just really -- it's really very important and it's very soothing at the same time. I applaud the initiative very good.
NNAMDIThank you. Thank you very much for your call. Sarah Stoycos, talk a little bit about the difference between training an animal, who is just going to be a companion and an animal who is needed for support.
STOYCOSWell, if you're talking about the difference between a companion and a service animal...
STOYCOS...there's an enormous difference. I think most people, with a little bit of help, can train their own dogs. We need to get them to be able to live happily in our houses, but we don't need them to do really complex tasks. And when you're talking about a service animal, it's ideal to have one who's gone through some very rigorous training and has been bred for that work so that they're happy doing that and very good at doing it for you.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Frofit who said, we got a puppy, Aussiedoodle that my daughter loved and then he grew and jumps and now our daughter is afraid. How can we address this?
STOYCOSOkay. Well, jumping is a really common problem and, I have to tell you, all those doodles out there are very bouncy, so we get this a lot. The trick with teaching a dog not to jump is teaching him to do something in place of jumping, so teaching them before they jump. So you have to anticipate, you know, when I greet my dog they're going to be excited to see me. They're going to jump and I can go down low and I can give them a treat down low for keeping their paws on the floor. So instead of reacting to the jump and telling your dog off, they've already practiced the jump. We want to teach them something else instead beforehand. And if you're consistent about it, it's actually not that difficult.
NNAMDIHere's Jessica in Middletown, Virginia. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSICAGood afternoon. Thank you so much for your show. We adopted a Chihuahua mix, kind of big for a Chihuahua, 13 pounds and he's tall back in February. He started out -- he's a fantastic dog, but is terrified of everything. Somebody, we think, has definitely mistreated him. He's somewhat -- they said he was around three years old. I would say that's probably about right, maybe even four.
JESSICAHe basically lives in our bedroom on our bed. We give him the time and space to come out when he wants to. He only eats at night. He doesn't want anybody to watch him. And he has recently regressed, now hides behind our bathtub in our bathroom. It's a cattycorner bathtub and there's a perfect little niche in there. And we just let him be. I put his food and water in the bathroom and I put a bed back there but he is just plastered to that bed and will not come out in the kitchen or family living area.
JESSICAIs this something that can be trained -- he can be trained away from? Is it something that he has to end up living with? We definitely want to keep him. We love him to death. He does sleep on our bed at night with us. He will come out at that point, but not any other time. I have to pick him up to take him out.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Sarah Stoycos respond.
STOYCOSSure. You know, I think you're doing a lot of things right. A lot of it is allowing them to learn to pick up confidence gradually and on their own. So allowing a dog like that to hide is really important. And I always think about it as you're encouraging bravery and you want to reward it like crazy, but you never want to force a dog to be braver than they're able to be. And there is training you can do. Really good positive training, positive reinforcement training builds confidence, and it's also going to help build your bond with the dog so the dog can look to you for help.
NNAMDIJessica, thank you very much for your call and good luck with your dog. Stella Hanly, are you seeing more cat or dog adoptions?
HANLYWe're seeing more cat adoptions, but that's because we have more cats. And the summertime is what we call kitten season and so we tend to have a lot of cats and kittens during the summer months.
HANLYBut we could adopt as many small dogs as we had in the shelter, honestly, so it's not from lack of adopters. Yeah.
NNAMDIWell, we don't have a lot of time left, but can we please settle something once and for all? Who is the superior pet, a dog or a cat?
HANLY(laugh) Well, I think it depends on the person, but I definitely enjoy my dog a lot.
NNAMDISarah Stoycos, same question to you, but as a dog trainer I'm pretty sure I know your answer, cats or dogs?
STOYCOSWell, I've actually had cats, as well in my past, but I am a dog person, no doubt. But I actually agree, it depends on who the person is. Some people tend to be more interested in cats, some dogs.
NNAMDISarah Stoycos, Stella Hanly, thank you both for joining us. This segment on adopting furry friends was produced by Kurt Gardinier. And our conversation about the future of the D.C. statehood movement was produced by Richard Cunningham.
NNAMDIComing up Friday on The Politics Hour, more than 20 candidates were on the ballot for two at-large seats on the D.C. council. One of the winners, Christina Henderson joins the show to talk about her win and her priorities as a council member. Plus, we'll hear from Republican Bob Good who won a competitive race in Virginia's 5th Congressional district. And Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood recaps Maryland's election and explains what sports betting will mean for the state. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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