After a long battle with covid-19 left her exhausted, anxious and depressed, Rachael Gibson, 43, adopted an eight-pound Chihuahua mix she named Lola.
“When I first got out of the hospital, I was super, like, on this high — like, I didn’t die, yay, I can’t be depressed,” she said. “But then it just started creeping up. And especially, I noticed the anxiety. … I was having anxiety attacks, like, every day.”
Gibson, who moved to Arizona to live with her mom during the pandemic, adopted the white, wispy-coated 2-year-old dog in January from the Humane Society of Sedona and felt an instant connection. “She was immediately obsessed with me,” Gibson said.
But Lola — her full name is Lolita Blanquita — also helped Gibson better cope with the anxiety and depression that trailed her after her health crisis in November. “Dogs are empaths,” she said. “She’s a dog that really senses my feelings.”
When Devan Corbello rescued Tec, a retired racing greyhound in May 2020, the coronavirus was already in full force, steamrolling its way across the country. But for Corbello, 26, the pandemic was just the beginning of what would become an unprecedented and tumultuous year.
Just months after adopting Tec, short for his racing name, Detective, Corbello was forced from his home in Lake Charles, La., when Hurricane Laura — one of the most powerful storms to hit the state — ripped the shingles off his roof, collapsed the ceiling and drenched his home. The pair have not returned since.
And that wasn’t the last of it. Hurricane Delta soaked the region six weeks later, followed by fierce winter ice storms, and historic flooding in late May. All told, over the past 18 months, Lake Charles would be pummeled by both the pandemic and four federally declared weather disasters in rapid succession. “Today, parts of Lake Charles resemble a war zone,” Mayor Nic Hunter, wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post.
Corbello has persevered, in part because of his pandemic pup.
“Tec did really help calm me down,” he said. “To have something else to focus on and to know that, okay, he’s here and I just need to take care of him, and that’s really all that matters right now — it helped.”
Over the course of the pandemic, thousands of people have welcomed dogs of all shapes and sizes into their homes — purebreds and rescue mutts, pint-size puppies and senior dogs. For some people, the sheer amount of work required to care for a pet felt overwhelming. Housebreaking pandemic puppies during quarantine or socializing sensitive shelter dogs at a distance only amplified their distress.
But for many others, their dogs provided levity in the darkest hours of shutdowns, a semblance of routine when so many had lost their jobs; a reason to leave the house when offices, gyms and restaurants were shuttered; and a sense of companionship and comfort amid so much pain and loss.
The Post recently asked readers how they and their dogs changed during the pandemic. More than 600 people wrote in about their experiences. Here’s what they had to say:
Brock, the attention hound
Mondi Kumbula-Fraser’s teenage boys had been begging her for a dog for years, but she and her husband were skeptical that they could handle the myriad responsibilities that come with pet ownership.
But as the year wore on, her sons started to suffer. “I noticed that our boys (13&15) were becoming subdued due to the pressures of the pandemic, virtual learning and social justice issues,” Kumbula-Fraser said, citing the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and the fatal shooting in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery.
Eventually, she and her husband relented. The family drove in October from North Potomac, Md., to Rhode Island to adopt Brock, a wiggly, jet-black puppy from Save a Lab Rescue. “From day one, Brock has brought such joy to our lives,” Kumbula-Fraser said. “The boys are his primary caretakers and they are VERY responsible. In fact, they are planning to open their own dog walking business to help other dogs.”
Luca, the social butterfly
Nathan Williams’s Italian greyhound, Luca, has brought the 45-year-old closer to his community in Oakland, Calif. “Shop owners and neighbors know his name and love seeing him. Strangers have cried at the joy of making a human connection with me on walks and getting a ‘hug’ from Luca during the pandemic,” he said. The high-energy pup has also helped Williams stay active even when his gym shut down during the pandemic.
Basil, the spunky snacker
When Katie Knight adopted Basil, a tricolor mixed breed last April 2020, her life looked nothing like she had expected it to at age 25. “Within a span of 10 days, I broke off an engagement to an abusive man, abruptly moved from Portland, where I was going to grad school, back home to Kansas City without any closure, transitioned to online school, moved back in with my parents, and, of course, was anxious about the pandemic,” she said.
“I was in a dark and angry place, more cynical than I’d ever been. I needed something (or someone) to help bring me out of that funk.”
Her ex had always been staunchly against adopting a dog, she said, so in a final act of defiance, Knight adopted Basil from a shelter in Mission, Kan. “She’s spunky, she’s weird, she loves to steal cookies off the counter, and literally collects and rejoices over bones,” Knight said. “She’ll eat anything you give her.”
Stevie and Seamus, the not-so-long-lost siblings
After the pandemic eliminated her job as the director of partnerships at the Tribeca Film Festival, Kate Kelley, who was living alone in New York City, knew it was time to get a dog. Kelley adopted Stevie, a brown-eyed mixed breed, through Animal Lighthouse Rescue, a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs in Puerto Rico. “It was love at first sight,” said Kelley, who named her dog after singer Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.
Stevie had been found in a dump with her brother, Seamus, who had heartworm and was left behind. But when Kelley’s sister Mary Beth met Stevie, she, too, fell in love and decided to inquire about Stevie’s brother. “My sister rescued Seamus and they were reunited,” she said. “We both agree it’s the best thing we have done and we could not be happier with our fur babies.”
[Read more stories of dogs, humans and the relationship they share]
Ragnar, the stunt devil
Before adopting her 2-year-old mixed breed, Ragnar, Kalilah Waite, 37, of Stamford, Conn., was not a “pet person.” She didn’t grow up with animals and was apprehensive about the responsibility of caring for a dog. But then, her husband, who was devastated by the loss of his father to covid-19 in April 2020, saw a photo of Ragnar on the Fly to Freedom Dog Rescue’s Facebook page. It was love at first sight. “Seeing our dog is the first time I had seen my husband smile in months,” she said. “I had to relent.”
Now, Ragnar, whom Waite refers to as a “stunt devil,” has shifted her priorities. “Everything now revolves around him. Our work schedules, date nights and grocery trips. It is all for the best — he is an absolute delight and a joy in our lives.”
Dolly Parton, the supermutt
The pandemic derailed Hayley Lombard’s wedding and forced her husband, Thomas, out of a job. It also significantly reshaped her work as an elementary school music teacher as classes moved online. Looking for some levity in turbulent times, Lombard, 26, adopted a mixed breed named Dolly Parton, the day after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) shut down the state’s schools in March 2020. “Adopting our pandemic puppy … is what brought us the most joy every day,” Lombard said. “She was a reason to get outside and enjoy being active although everything seemed so dark.” Dolly even made an appearance at the couple’s wedding, held on their front stoop in November 2020.
Nathan, the game changer
In March 2020, Mimi Evans was scouring the Web in search of a dog for her daughter when she came upon a photo of a 10-year-old Dachshund named Nathan at a local rescue organization. “I knew immediately that he was my dog,” she said.
Evans, 72, wasn’t in the market for a pet. She was too busy enjoying her active New York City lifestyle, she said, untethered to the responsibilities of pet ownership. But Nathan has changed all of that. “Today, 15 months after Nathan’s arrival, I am a different person,” she said, adding that the pair have since moved to Slingerlands, an Albany suburb. “I have to walk him outside at dawn when it’s minus-10 degrees, pick up a lot of poop and pay his vet instead of buying a new pair of shoes. But Nathan completes me.”
Dexter, the ‘magic pill’
In June 2020, shortly after shutdowns began, Lisa Kelly’s husband found out he had Stage 4 throat cancer. Between the pandemic and his intensive treatment, the year felt heavy and dark. It weighed on the entire family — especially Kelly’s two teenage daughters. “My kids had to grow up, like, really quick,” she said.
The Chicago-based family needed something to lift their spirits, so they started contacting breeders on social media, only to be scammed out of $1,600 in their initial search for a four-legged companion. “We were so devastated,” said Kelly, 56. “From, like, a humanity perspective, it was so painful that someone, knowing what we were going through, would still take advantage of us.”
But then, a family friend found Dexter, a 7-week-old Dachshund, and purchased it for Kelly. “That puppy was like a magic pill for our entire family. He added light and joy just when we really needed it,” Kelly said.
Cricket, the sidekick
Sarah Yurow, 31, moved from New York to Surrey, England, at the height of the pandemic. Stuck at home, she struggled to make friends and adjust to her new surroundings. Yurow welcomed Cricket, an English working cocker spaniel, into her home last August. “Getting a puppy was a welcome distraction that brought me so much joy at a time that would have otherwise been very lonely,” she said.
Now that things have opened up, her pandemic pup is helping her step out into the world. “He has become my sidekick and the perfect walking partner as I explore my new home. He has also been a fantastic tool for helping me make new friends as things start to normalize.”
Luna, the bubbly personality
Zara Fritts welcomed her Australian shepherd, Luna, into her home in Hillsborough, Calif., just two months after losing her mother to cancer and one month into quarantine. In typical Aussie fashion, Luna quickly formed a tight bond with Fritts, 47, her primary caretaker, but also became the focal point for Fritts’s family, coaxing her teenagers out of bed in the mornings.
“She brought our family more joy during those tough months than we could’ve hoped for,” she said, “and the fact that she came trotting over every time a champagne bottle was popped almost led me to believe she could be my mother reincarnated!”
Cannoli, the fluff ball of happiness
After a long and challenging year of working in health care and losing her grandmother, Trisha Pasricha, 32, began to feel a void in her life. She and her husband, Eshwan Ramudu, worked opposite schedules, and the combined stress of her job, grief from her loss and isolation at home began to take a toll. “It was a tough time,” she said. “The whole year just started to feel more and more empty as time went by.”
When the holidays arrived, the couple’s sense of isolation was brought into high relief when they couldn’t travel or gather with their families. “We really felt that void of, like, who’s missing at the dinner table this year,” Pasricha said, “and that’s when I started to really push him that we needed a puppy.”
Ramudu was reluctant at first, but he relented, and the couple brought an impossibly fluffy Chow Chow puppy named Cannoli into their home in Cambridge, Mass., in February. Cannoli arrived a month before they learned that Pasricha was pregnant. “She brought my husband and I closer together, and we’re learning lessons in time management and communication that I hope will keep us grounded when our baby arrives,” Pasricha said. “When I watch my husband play with her and snuggle her, I feel happier inside than I have all year.”
Piper, the Zoom class surprise
Just months before the pandemic began, Kitt Lavoie, a university theater teacher, moved to Cape Girardeau, Mo., from New York City with a newly adopted Lab-border collie mix named Abby. Lavoie, 46, had also wanted a golden retriever but was struggling to find a breeder in the area. Then, during one of his virtual classes, one of Lavoie’s students warned him that she might need to ditch class abruptly. Her dog was having puppies. “Later that day, she emailed me a photo of the pups — and they were goldens!” he said. “We would never have found our Piper had it not been for covid!”
Toast, the pup gourmand
Ricky Shull, 24, adopted his 5-year-old mutt, Toast, right before the world shut down. When he was laid off and stuck at his home in Waco, Tex., because of the pandemic, Shull said that Toast kept him active and engaged. “She has been my place of comfort through quarantine, moving, grad school, unemployment and other stress factors,” he said.
Although Toast came into Shull’s life with some trust issues, Shull said she has become much more playful and affectionate. “She loves to go on walks, sleep on the couch and eat french fries,” he said.
George, the happiness guru
Before George entered Kyi Gyaw’s life, Gyaw was putting in nearly 100 hours a week at work. But when a breeder called to say that her Havanese puppy would be arriving seven months earlier than planned, Gyaw’s life — and priorities — changed completely. “Having George made me realize that there was more to life than breaking my back staring at a computer screen for hours on end,” she said.
Gyaw, 34, has since moved out of New York City, started her own interior design firm and refocused on self-care — physical and mental. “He has allowed me to be more connected to nature and my inner desires,” said Gyaw, who now lives in Ithaca, N.Y. “I’m so much happier with him in my life.”
Marc Antony, the motivational mixed breed
Angela Cobián was lethargic, unmotivated and anxious during the first two months of the pandemic. But after adopting her 4-year-old Chihuahua mix, Marc Antony, Cobián, 32, began to take better care of herself by taking care of her dog.
“Everyday I would wake up and feed him, I remembered to make my breakfast for me. When I took him out on a walk, I realized I was taking myself on a walk and finally leaving my home,” she said. Although Marc Antony, named after both the salsa singer (who spells it Anthony) and Roman general, struggled with anxiety at first, under Cobián’s loving care — which includes lots of hiking in the Denver area and the Mexican poetry that Cobián reads to him on occasion — he has become less fearful.
Lulu, the resilient runaway
Rafaela Botti and her family weren’t looking to add another dog to their four-dog pack, but when the 12-year-old saw a loose dog running down the street in her Houston neighborhood, she knew she had to help.
Rafaela took the young dog home and realized after her microchip was scanned that she belonged to a nearby family. Before returning the dog, named Dolce, Rafaela purchased identification tags so others could return her if she got out again.
In April, the brindled, lanky dog, who was left outside 24/7, according to Rafaela, had again escaped. This time, Dolce was hit by a car. Panicked, Rafaela tracked Dolce down at a local shelter and offered to adopt her. When Rafaela was finally reunited with the dog, whom she renamed Lulu, she teetered on three legs. Her back right leg had been amputated just days before.
“Initially, I was upset,” Rafaela said. “It was sad that I had to give her up when she had four legs and now she’s a tripod — and what that would mean for her life.” But, she added, “it hasn’t really had an effect on her and her personality.”
Lulu has become an integral part of the pack, and she has formed a strong bond with Rafaela, who is passionate about bringing awareness to the enormous homeless pet population in Houston. “When I look at Lulu, I can’t believe she once was on her own, and it almost breaks my heart to know that there are thousands of Lulus just in my state,” she said.
Ruth, the other RBG
As a teacher at a private school in New Orleans, Kate Davis was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. She began the 2020 school year in person, and said the stress of that experience took a serious toll on her mental health. “I felt extremely undervalued not only as an educator, but also as a human being,” she said.
In October, Davis rescued a 6-month-old mixed breed named Ruth, who was found wandering the streets of Metairie, La., after Hurricane Zeta.
Initially, Davis said she felt ill-prepared for pet ownership. “We definitely went through the [wringer],” she said. “She tested positive for hookworm and I learned the hard way that she had not been spayed.” But Ruth, named for the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lifted Davis out of her pandemic funk.
“Instead of coming home from work and taking a depression nap or bingeing a Netflix series, I suddenly had this creature who relied on me to care for her,” said Davis, 26. “She came into my life right on time.”
Kaylee, the sassy senior
Before the pandemic brought her world to a halt, Melisa Sturman, 27, worked as an elementary school teacher in south Minneapolis and had a busy social life outside the classroom. But all that was upended when the coronavirus forced classes online and the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd exploded into the streets of her community. Suddenly, instead of teaching her students how to read, she began supporting them through various crises.
“I turned into not only a kindergarten teacher, but a support person who wore multiple hats,” she said.
But these crises also deeply affected Sturman. She found herself completely alone, sometimes not leaving her home for weeks on end. In June 2020, Sturman rescued Kaylee, a 14-year-old mixed breed, who gave her a reason to venture out into the world again. Despite her age, Kaylee still has plenty of sass. “She is very particular and lets you know when she is annoyed — usually by walking up to a plant, staring you dead in the face, then chomping it,” Sturman said.
Pilot, the discerning Doberman
A week after bringing her new Doberman pinscher puppy home from an Idaho breeder, Rae Krick, 28, contracted the coronavirus and was forced into isolation. But being stuck at her home in Kuna, Idaho, had a silver lining: It allowed her to form a strong bond with her new pup, Pilot.
“Pilot is no doubt the most intelligent dog I’ve ever been in the presence of,” she said. “He’s quick to learn commands and tricks, and seems to have a keen sense of my mood and range of emotions. When I’m feeling lively, Pilot is by my side, raring for an adventure, and on the days I’m feeling stressed or under par, he’s always ready to snuggle up and lie low with Mom.” Pilot is fast approaching 70 pounds, and Krick hopes he will reach 95 to 100 pounds in the next year.
Luna, the mindfulness coach
Despite her daughter’s constant pleas, Christine Ju put off getting a dog for years. Raising two girls in Washington, D.C., was busy enough. But when the pandemic hit, Ju, like many others, began feverishly submitting applications for dogs. In May 2020, one rescue group called back. An 8-week-old mixed-breed puppy had been found along a roadside, and they thought Ju’s family might be a good fit.
After her family brought Luna home, Ju, 47, found herself in the place she had long resisted: caring for a puppy. “At first, I resented the time it took to train her, walk her, feed her, take her to the vet, take her to get her nails clipped, socialize her,” Ju said, “but through the caretaking, she and I have formed a bond I wasn’t expecting.” Luna quickly became a central part of their family, she said. “I have slowed down my life for her, and in return, she has given me free mindfulness lessons.”
Oliver, the speed racer
Before the pandemic, Carlos Villarreal and Oliver, the retired racing greyhound he would soon adopt, were rarely home. Villarreal led a busy and social lifestyle in Los Angeles, while Oliver spent his early years sprinting around Florida racetracks. But as the coronavirus swept across the United States, Villarreal and Oliver were sidelined as bars, restaurants and racetracks closed across the country. Villarreal, 36, rescued Oliver in May 2020, and the pair are learning to slow down and reset after a challenging and unpredictable year.
“Now, instead of the afternoon previously spent out with co-workers or friends, I enjoy going for a walk with my dog around our neighborhood,” Villarreal said. “Being a ‘homebody’ isn’t so bad as long as my dog is with me.”
Rio, the unexpected gift
Luciana Daino’s pandemic puppy was an unexpected addition to her already crowded apartment, which the 35-year-old shares with her mother and brother in Bogota, Colombia. She had flown home from Washington in November to spend the winter holidays with her family, but her plans to return to D.C. were upended when her closest uncle contracted covid-19 for a second time.
His condition worsened on Christmas Day, and he left his newly purchased Boston terrier, Rio, with Daino and her family to care for until he recovered. He died on Jan. 2, leaving her family devastated and unsure how to care for a puppy.
Over time, the family has formed a strong bond with Rio, a black-and-white ball of energy. “The apartment is full of his toys now, and there is not a single thing we can eat without him being there asking for some,” she said. Daino said that through Rio, she feels like a part of her uncle is still with them.
Huxley, the rebound hound
For Amelia McClain, 2020 was a year of emotional whiplash. She was in a troubled relationship and working for Denver’s elections administration, battling a torrent of misinformation. Although adopting a dog was her ex’s idea, when she saw a photo of an 8-week-old Husky mix on a Colorado rescue group’s website, the 32-year-old fell in love.
“Huxley got me through a bad relationship, its end and the ensuing loneliness. I canceled plans to see my family across the country. He got me through tough times at work,” she said. “And now, as the city awakens, he still brings joy, comfort and love to my life.”
Chico, the expat’s best friend
Roxy Garcia thought pet care was going to be a breeze until she invited a big-eyed, black-and-tan Dachshund into her Bangkok home. As an expat living abroad during the pandemic, Garcia felt homesick and lonely, unable to fly home. A dog, in her mind, was the perfect solution. “The first few weeks were unbelievably difficult and scary for me,” she said. “I struggled because I realized it was such a big responsibility and I thought I wasn’t ready for it.”
But over time, Garcia, 30, grew more confident in her role as caretaker, and Chico has rewarded her with unconditional love. “Now we spend every minute together,” she said. “Loving the unlimited hugs and kisses and, most of all, having a best friend away from home.”
Louie, the ‘wiggle of happiness’
Meg Fletcher, 48, describes her ginger-coated goldendoodle Louie, as a “wiggle of happiness.” Louie, who was returned to his breeder by a previous family, has been a welcome addition to Fletcher’s home in Bethesda, Md., which includes a black, bearded labradoodle named Comet, purchased from the same breeder nearly 13 years before.
“The puppy has energized the old dog. The old dog has nurtured many nervous behaviors out of the puppy,” Fletcher said. “The puppy has made everyone in our house giggle at least once a day.”
Daisy Mae, the personal trainer
Six months before the pandemic reshaped the world, Maggie Borski, 28, of Philadelphia, injured her knee playing basketball and was barely able to walk. She underwent surgery in January 2020, but the months of immobility had taken a toll. “I was always an active person, but being sidelined for so long, I had gotten out of shape,” she said.
That all changed when she adopted her black-and-tan senior mutt, Daisy Mae, in April 2020. “I brought Daisy Mae home 463 days ago and I’m pretty sure we’ve gone for a 30+ minute walk 400 days,” she said. Borski, who had never been a dog owner before, said Daisy Mae has not only helped her regain her physical strength but cultivate mental strength as well. “She’s taught me to be more patient and to accept that life can get messy,” she said. “But she also showed me true, unconditional love.”
Tec, the hurricane hound
Devan Corbello rescued a retired racing greyhound in May 2020. But just months later, he was forced to move multiple times as Hurricane Laura and then Hurricane Delta ravaged his hometown of Lake Charles, La. Nearly a year after Laura swept through, Corbello, 26, still has not returned home.
“Unfortunately, [Tec] hasn’t known a consistent home since I got him, but he has rolled with the punches,” Corbello said. “Our bond has been very strong since.”
Margaux, the constant companion
Although Pamela Haddad, 32, didn’t care for animals before the pandemic, bringing her pandemic puppy, Margaux, into her Boston home changed her outlook on pet ownership. It also changed her personality.
“I’m much nicer because of Margaux,” she said. “My friends and family don’t recognize me anymore!” Haddad and Margaux have formed a tight bond — so tight, in fact, that Haddad said her husband gets a little jealous of the eight-pound Havadoodle. “Margaux and I are joined at the hip,” she said. “She’s taught me to love in a new way.”
Lolita, the traveling Blanquita
Rachael Gibson had just received ethics approval for her postdoctoral research in South Africa when the pandemic forced her back to the states. She had given up her apartment before she left and found herself back in New York City without a home. She bounced from friends’ apartments to her sister’s place in Seattle, finally ending up with her mom in Arizona in September. Then, in November, they both contracted covid-19.
Gibson was hospitalized in late November and her mom followed, arriving just days later. “It was really scary,” she said.
But after leaving the hospital, with her research stalled and her life on hold, Gibson began to notice anxiety and depression creep in. Gibson welcomed Lolita Blanquita, “Lola,” a 2-year-old Chihuahua mix, into her life in January. “There were days when I struggled to even leave the house, so having her forced me to get up and take her outside, which has honestly really saved me,” she said.
Despite the challenges of the past year, Gibson, 43, finished her PhD in human sexuality studies at Widener University and is now training Lola to be a therapy dog and service animal.