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Opinion | Your Pandemic Puppy Was Not a Mistake

Now there’s a new rash of stories from places like Chicago and New York— and even Portland, Maine — where the housing crisis has hit especially hard. When there aren’t enough places to live, finding a pet-friendly apartment is even harder. And when prices skyrocket, people already living on the edge may not be able to afford the expense of a pet. It’s no wonder that shelter officials are dealing with a new round of animal surrenders: In one New York City pet shelter system, surrenders are up almost 25 percent over last year.

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But it’s important to consider these numbers in the context of a mind-boggling economy of scale. The number of pet adoptions and surrenders fluctuates all the time, and for many reasons. Millions of pets ended up in shelters every year before the pandemic, and millions of others will end up in shelters even after the economy recovers.

It’s true that a family’s circumstances can change, sometimes tragically, but it’s also true that too many people bring home a pet having no idea of what responsible pet ownership entails. Too many others think of animals not as family members but as expendable lifestyle accessories — Vox even included dogs in an article about pandemic impulse buys that people now regret. That’s why adopting from a rescue organization frequently involves an arduous application process: The hope is that carefully matching people and pets will limit traumatic surrenders.

Even with ample resources, living with an animal of another species has never been trouble-free. Our family dogs have chewed up our shoes and our furniture, peed on our rugs, barked furiously at people we love, thrown up in our cars and eaten all manner of things that would have killed them if we hadn’t gotten them to the vet in time. They have dug trenches in our yard, galloped through our house with a child’s irreplaceable lovey clinched in their teeth, left muddy pawprints on our white sheets. For decades we have walked through the world with dog hair on every pair of black pants we own.

It’s all worth it.

I’m not even talking about the well-studied health benefits, though the health benefits are extravagant. A beloved dog will lower a person’s blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, calm anxiety, even make it easier to interact with other human beings. You may think this rambunctious, ravenous, apartment-destroying puppy will be the death of you, but adopting a dog actually lowers your risk of death. And it’s all because dogs will love you till the day they die.

After our Millie died last year, it was months before I felt ready to look for another dog, and by then I’d learned that I needed major surgery. The unexpected health setback didn’t dismay me nearly as much as the need to call off the search for our next family member.

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