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Seniors find adopting or fostering a pet can ease loneliness during stay-at-home order

When Laguna Woods residents, along with everyone else in Orange County, were directed to shelter in place due to COVID-19, it seemed as if doors had just slammed shut. But for many here, new ones opened.

Faced with involuntary solitude — loneliness even — many seniors looked to furry friends for solace. Suddenly, dogs and cats that had previously not found homes were now welcomed with open hearts and arms.

“Since the pandemic began, people look for dogs as companions,” said Ron Drauden, president of the Laguna Woods Dog Club. The club’s mission is to refer prospective dog parents to local shelters or try to find homes for dogs whose owners have passed away or others who just cannot keep their dog.

Drauden noted that social distancing also has affected the canine population. “There are fewer dogs in the dog park,” he said.  “I haven’t seen any new ones yet.”

For those who are not sure they want to provide a permanent home, fostering is an option. “I take dogs from various places and put them into foster homes where families or individuals prepare them for their forever family,” said Angela Burton, who presides over Muttly Crew, a dog fostering/adoption agency in Lake Forest.

There has been a regular stream of interest in Laguna Woods, Burton said. “People have the time, they can support the dogs.” She added that she has not noticed any changes since the COVID-19 shutdown but that people have fostered on a regular basis. One dog lover, for example, cared for 12 dogs in the last two and a half years, she said.

“If I have to shelter in place and be home a lot, it might be beneficial to have a dog in my home,” said Village resident Wendy Hames. She fostered Roxy, aka Stella, a rough-hair Jack Russell terrier, for a month. Roxy needed surgery and recovered at Hames’ home before being permanently adopted.

Roxy, a rough-hair Jack Russell terrier, was fostered by Wendy Hames at the beginning of the shelter-at-home order. Hames said fostering allowed her to experiment with dog ownership and brought her companionship during the shutdown. (Courtesy of Wendy Hames)

“Fostering a dog allowed me to experiment with dog ownership while being new at the Village. With no backyard, I could try a dog for size,” she said. Muttly Crew covered vet bills, food and accessories, as well as deworming and chipping her temporary friend, she said. “Now she has a home where she’ll be loved and doted on — I wanted to give her a place.”

The Laguna Woods Cat Club, meanwhile, has fielded increased COVID19-related requests for cats. “Some of the self-sheltering has made people aware that they need company. This is a perfect time to foster or adopt a cat — to do something nice for our four-legged friends,” said Beverly Elwell, president of the Laguna Woods Cat Club.

The club was down to just a few cats due to few people transferring to assisted living or nursing homes, she said. “Self-sheltering can be lonely; cats can definitely provide a cure for depression.”

Susan Wheeler, a Laguna Woods Village resident, adopted Paul, her stunning black Maine Coon, right before the pandemic shutdown in March. “I’ve always been a cat lover and have had a slew of pets. Now, I have had a nine-year break where I didn’t have any pet responsibilities,” she said.

She looked online to adopt a cat and consulted Cat Club members, who suggested fostering. Then she found Paul. “I thought that the way things were going, it would be nice to have another heartbeat in the house,” she said.

If one seeks a poster cat, there are at least two here: Puff and Monty, a mother and son who are so devoted to each other that they could not be separated. With Puff lame and nearly blind and Monty her healthy caregiver, the gentle gold point Siamese were first adopted four years ago. That adoption did not work out, and they were returned.

Monty and Puff, a mother and son who are so devoted to each other that they could not be separated, were recently adopted by Villager Laura Jean and her 95-year-old aunt, Blanche. Said Jean: “A cat chooses you.” (Courtesy of Pat Wilkinson)

But just when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Laura Jean adopted the pair, in part because her 95-year-old aunt, Blanche, (who lives with her) had never known the joy of having a pet. “I’ve owned cats all my life until the last 10 years. I did not know what joy I was lacking without cats,” Jean said. “The next day after we brought the pair home, I had both on my bed. A cat chooses you.”

In this big-hearted community, pre-pandemic pets, some with serious disabilities, also bring joy to their “parents.” Jane Tudor and Fred Steem recently strolled in Aliso Creek Park with Timmy, adopted two years ago from the Laguna Beach animal shelter.

“He was injured by a car and has no hips, so people were reluctant to take him,” said Steem. “He can’t really walk.”

Officials at Laguna Beach Animal Shelter said there has been no uptick in adoptions during COVID-19, although the shelter recently found itself with 20 puppies, 9 of which have been adopted. During the pandemic, the shelter has refrained from placing dogs into foster homes.

“We were thinking of long-term aspects and found that people might have to go back to work or would otherwise not be able to care for a foster dog,” Laura Dunaway, a spokesperson for the shelter, said.

The shelter is currently closed, but prospective pet parents can come in by appointment and fill out an application, which will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Jane Tudor, right, and Fred Steem stroll in Aliso Creek Park with their adopted dog, Timmy. The couple adopted Timmy after he was hit by a car and severely injured. (Photo by Daniella Walsh)

What might happen to their pet when someone is directly affected by the pandemic? “If people die or are otherwise affected by COVID-19, are hospitalized or must leave to take care of someone affected, we will board their animal free of charge,” said Dr. Gershon Alaluf, a veterinarian and owner of the Canyon Animal Hospital with locations in Laguna Canyon and Fountain Valley.

He added that boarding care is not just limited to hospital clients and there is no time limit. “We want to do what’s best — it’s the least we can do.”


Source: Orange County Register

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