“Living alone has been a huge challenge and my cat has kept me sane”: New pet owners share their pandemic adoption stories
The Covid lockdown prompted many Torontonians to take the leap into pet ownership. We spoke to new pet owners who found their furever friends during the pandemic about the early scramble for companionship, the required safety precautions and the cuddly stories that made their efforts worthwhile.
Maliesa Cadogan, 33, HR manager, and Deon Best, 36, logistics manager and artist, with their mastiff mix, Dub a.k.a. the Gentleman
Deon: I grew up with dogs back in Trinidad. I came to Canada when I was 10 and I’ve always wanted to have a dog in the family, so after my partner Maliesa and I settled into our first home together in North York, I started executing my plan. We were really eager for a dog to join our family and began the application process in December 2019 with Redemption Paws. We regularly inquired about rescue dogs featured on their website, but nothing worked out. Then, when the pandemic hit, we felt extra motivated to explore Toronto’s trails, and we thought about how nice it would be to bring a dog along with us.
Maliesa: Eventually, Deon and I were matched with a dog named Dublin. He was a rescue from Texas, so we don’t know his exact age, but he’s somewhere between two and five. Because of the pandemic, we had a virtual visit with Dublin’s foster parents to ask them questions and see what he was like. He was calm and happy, just lying on the couch for snuggles—our kind of guy!
Due to Covid restrictions, we knew going into the meetup that we’d have to make a decision on the spot. We were a bit worried he’d be nervous to see us with masks on, but it didn’t seem to phase him at all. He came over for his butt scratches and seemed to connect to our energy right away.
Deon: We brought Dublin home on May 3. His smile and his beautiful coat drew us to him. He was right at home the moment we walked through the door.
Maliesa: We quickly fell in love with Dub’s gentlemanly behaviour. He turns away to eat his treats, patiently waits for snuggle time and greets new people with a smile. So that’s how he got his nickname: the Gentleman.
We take him on the trails in our neighbourhood every day. He loves brushing his face up on all the tall grass we walk by, and he’s always curious about the different sounds and animals we encounter on the path. He’s a gentleman on the leash—he rarely pulls and periodically checks in with a jolly gallop back to us.
Deon: Having Dub by our side for extra motivation to get outdoors has been amazing. The mandatory cuddle breaks while working at home aren’t bad either.
Amanda Harper, 34, customer service rep, with her four-month-old cat, Theodore
“I live alone, so Covid has been challenging. After the first few weeks, I began to miss human interaction. It took a toll on my mental health, and I felt ready to add a furry friend to my life for the companionship. Luckily for me, a friend of a friend’s outdoor cat got pregnant in March, and I got to choose a kitten. I picked Theodore because of his unique colouring. They also said he was very cuddly and playful. There was no contact between me and the person who dropped him off. He was placed in a carrier and left at my front door. I waited inside until they were back in their vehicle, then I opened the door and brought him inside.
“I took the first week off work to train Theodore. I’ve had cats before, but I forgot how crazy kittens can be. He explored the whole place then started running around, trying to jump on the couch and the bed. I had to get rid of my plants because he kept trying to dig in them and chew on them.
“Vet appointments during Covid were a little strange because I couldn’t go in with him. The vet would call me after he was finished, then a receptionist would bring a machine outside so I could pay, and someone else would hand him back to me.
“Having a cat during Covid has definitely helped my mental health—Theodore has really kept me sane. Animals give you unconditional love, and he’s been my little rock through this pandemic. He’s a very cuddly mama’s boy. I have conversations with him even though he probably thinks I’m crazy. He’s a very sweet and cuddly cat. He’s my little shadow. Wherever I go, he’s right there behind me.
“When I started working again, he had to get used to me sitting at the computer for seven hours each day and not giving him constant attention. He would jump at me or bite my feet—cute, but not so much when I was trying to work. Eventually, he learned the routine and it got better. A few weeks ago, I was on a work conference call, and when it was my turn to speak, Theodore thought it would be an excellent opportunity to bite my toe. I screamed and scared everyone.”
Chrystina Stars, 34, customer service rep, with her 10-month-old Plott hound, Kyra
“My dog Belle, a 20-year-old lhasa apso–shih tzu, passed away in 2019, so a friend suggested I apply to be a foster. I live with my uncle in a condo, and we got our Plott hound at seven months old on March 2. Her name was Ciara. She was from Texas, and she was in line to be euthanized. She was a sweet little angel who just wanted to be loved, but she was so afraid of everything. She was a very timid dog outside. Construction was probably the hardest on her, and we have loads of condos being built in the area. Inside, she didn’t understand doors, elevators or stairs. Getting her house trained and used to the sights and sounds of the city, and even the dark, was tiring. But she opened up more each day, and now she is a big ball of pure joy. It was my first time fostering, and I got really lucky.
“Because of the pandemic, I had more time to be at home, help her settle in, keep her active and be there for her. With lots of practice and treats, she overcame her fears. Now she walks around the neighbourhood as if she owns it. Construction, loud cars and kids running and playing don’t bother her at all. We weren’t fostering to own, but we couldn’t give her up. We officially adopted her on June 14, and after a change to the spelling of her name she is now known as Kyra.
“Having a dog in the house changed the vibe. It made us happier and more inclined to do things around the house and go out for walks in our neighbourhood. She recently had her first swim at Cherry Beach. And she already has a best friend–a little Frenchie named Meatball. They met when we were walking around the Distillery District and they were like magnets needing to say hello. Now when they see each other, it’s like the world stops and they just have so much fun playing and wrestling.
“Kyra has brought out the happiness in us and our neighbourhood. People love her—they see her and yell her name and she gets super excited with a full-body tail wag. She also has a favourite human—other than us, of course—who works at Gears Bike Shop. When we go for walks, she takes me there and peeps in the window until he comes out. She’s the unofficial store dog.”
Faiza Anam, 20s, caterer and student, with her one-year-old domestic shorthair cat, Hazel
“Hazel originally belonged to a friend of mine, but she could no longer care for her during the pandemic, so my partner and I took her in. We brought her home at the end of April. I had dogs and hamsters when I was a kid, but this is my first cat.
“I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t sure the exchange would be safe, but we did it very carefully, maintaining distance and keeping the visit short. As soon as I saw Hazel, it really felt like she was meant to be in our family. She was so friendly and calm. She began showing signs of affection very quickly, like rubbing her body against us, nuzzling us with her head and trying to engage in play. We self-isolated with her for two weeks after the drop-off.
“Hazel’s nighttime energy levels were a challenge since I am a light sleeper. I also didn’t know cats eat random things like string. After she vomited hair bands, we had to do a deep clean of our home to make sure nothing small was in reach.
“She has been a huge blessing, though. She is very affectionate, protective and playful. She answers when we talk to her, and she’ll come by and rub her body against us or sit by us on the floor to let us know she’s there. My partner, who works at a gardening company, has been back at work full time since the end of May, and she paces by the door and meows when he’s due home.
“She has brought me and my partner closer by sharing the responsibilities of taking care of a living being together. My anxiety has been reduced so much with her around, and she brings us joy and love every day.”
Rachel Mester, 27, lawyer, with her four-month-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, Pippin
“I’ve wanted a dog since I was a kid, but my job made it very difficult to raise a puppy. I couldn’t guarantee I’d be home on time, or that I’d have time to train, care for or build a relationship with a puppy. When my employer announced in mid-March that we’d be working from home for the foreseeable future, I realized I finally had a chance to get a pup.
“Pippin came from a breeder in Pennsylvania at the end of April. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get him, because the breeder was meeting us at the border. Customs agents had assured us that they’d be able to handle the transfer without anyone having to cross the border or break protocol, but I was still nervous. The customs agent helped us with the handoff, and Pippin got dropped in front of me in his crate. I was so happy that I actually started crying. I let him out of his crate and he jumped into my lap and started kissing me everywhere he could reach. I was a complete mess. I’d waited for my own puppy for so long. Pip was super excited.
“The first week with him was a bit of haze. He was confused, I was a new dog owner, and we were both getting used to each other. For the first while, he didn’t sleep through the night, and I had to watch him 24/7. He wanted to bite everything (including me) and eat anything he could find on the ground. Given the chance, he’d have a second breakfast every day. He’s also very vocal, but I like to think he’s just opinionated. I named him after the hobbit from The Lord of the Rings, and he seems to take after him. He’s brave and very charming, with no lack of mischief.
“Socializing Pip has been hard. Ordinarily, I would’ve driven him to make friends with the dogs at family friends’ homes. But in lockdown, we had to wait a really long time until he could safely approach other dogs. It was also difficult to teach him that we shouldn’t be scared of other people, just that we couldn’t always run up to them. We’re still working on that. He’s still got that puppy energy, so he still wants to say hi to everyone, but he doesn’t yank his leash so much anymore.
“There are a lot of things going on around the world that are a cause for stress, sadness and anger. Pippin doesn’t see any of that—he just wants to play, eat and snuggle (and occasionally bite, but he’s teething!) He brings me joy in moments when I would’ve felt isolated and frustrated.”
Reva White, 27, urban planner, with her four-year-old cat, Atty
“I first considered getting a cat when I moved into my apartment two years ago, but it wasn’t really possible until September 2019, when my roommate moved out and my boyfriend moved in.
“We liked the idea of the companionship of a pet to break up the monotony of being at home all day during lockdown. I reached out to multiple agencies and either heard nothing or got a response saying adoptions were closed. Eventually, we got through to someone at AVA Cat Rescue. Ideally, we would have gone to a shelter to pick out a cat in person, but we couldn’t, given social-distancing restrictions. So we had a short video call with Atty’s foster mom. I fell in love with her eyes and her face.
“My partner and I were at home 24/7, which helped her get used to us. Initially, she was scared. After she ran around getting the scope of our place, she hid under the couch. It took her a couple of hours to be coaxed out with treats and words of encouragement.
“Atty is a small cat but she runs around the house like a large dog. She’s very loving and has a habit of throwing herself onto your lap for a cuddle. We have toys for her, but she prefers toilet paper rolls and paperclips. One of her favourite spots is the door mat, which is kind of weird. She also loves sleeping on the bath mat when we’re showering. It’s sweet.
“Atty has been a great source of entertainment and companionship during Covid. My partner isn’t huge on cats but he’s very happy that I now have someone else to rely on and occupy my time.”
Ikram Kohli, 27, senior data ops analyst, Noor Anand, 24, customer success manager, and their four-month-old black lab–golden doodle mix, Shrimp
Noor: Ikram and I had been talking about getting a dog for almost a year but we put it off since he travels a lot and we’re both so busy. As the pandemic spread, we realized travel wasn’t going to be an option for a while and we’d be spending a lot of time in isolation. So we took the plunge and got a dog. We figured that in quarantine, we’d have time to properly bond with her, train her and acclimate her to her new home.
It was hard finding a dog at the start of the pandemic because everyone in Toronto was also looking. We were trying everywhere—adoption agencies, Kijiji, breeder websites—but every pup was claimed. Then we stumbled across an ad for Shrimp and her siblings on Kijiji.
Ikram: Shrimp was part of a litter of 10 puppies. We went to meet the litter when they were four weeks old and fell in love with Shrimp instantly. Most of the puppies were pretty lazy and drowsy because they had just played with some kids, but Shrimp was active, and we knew she was the one.
Noor: We picked her up on April 4, when she was seven weeks old.
Ikram: She started whining in the car—it was heartbreaking. She knew she was being taken away from her family. Eventually she fell asleep in Noor’s lap.
Noor: Shrimp has always been a really good dog. She has been super patient with us and is a very calm dog. When she was nine weeks old, she was exploring the apartment, as she often does, but after a few minutes, we couldn’t find her anywhere. Finally, we looked into the neighbour’s balcony—there she was, sunbathing. She had slipped through a six-inch gap in the divider, 15 storeys up. We tried to coax her back, but eventually the neighbour had to come out and pass her back to us.
Shrimp needs stimulation every minute she’s awake. That’s been stressful alongside work and other responsibilities, but it all got easier with time. Ikram and I divide responsibilities so neither of us feels overwhelmed. I handle the fashion, pampering and social media love. Ikram started training her three days after bringing her home, and within a month she was very well-trained. Potty training while living on the 15th floor of a condo was the biggest challenge.
Ikram: We had bought pee pads, a turf mat with natural-grass scent and several household cleaning chemicals in preparation for the deluge of pee we thought would inundate the apartment. Fortunately, Shrimp was very receptive to the training. Initially, she needed to go every 30 minutes, so we would take her out onto the balcony. There were a few accidents, but now she only goes to the bathroom outside the building.
Lauren Khalil, 26, PR manager, with her 10-month-old cat, Mowgli
“I’d been wanting to get a cat for a few years, but I was living with roommates, so having a pet wasn’t ideal. I moved into my new condo at the beginning of May—right in the middle of the pandemic—and decided it was the right time to adopt a cat. I brought Mowgli home before I even had the condo furnished.
“I got Mowgli from Annex Cat Rescue. I only saw a few photos and videos of him, but he was super cute and full of energy and I decided right away that I wanted him.
“ACR warned me that Mowgli hadn’t been around people much and he was quite skittish. I insisted I was happy to work with him on his behaviour. When I brought Mowgli home, he stayed in his crate, then hid under the bed for hours. Now, two months after adopting him, he’s a totally different cat. He sits with me when I work, sleeps at the foot of my bed, loves cuddles and constantly demands scratches.
“Having a pet has helped me cope with the isolation. There have been some pretty cute moments, too. During a team Zoom call, my co-worker’s cat was meowing very loudly in the background. Mowgli came running down the stairs and started meowing back.”