my experience adopting a puppy in the middle of a pandemic
Image: Small Door Vet

My Experience Adopting a Dog During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Our editor's journey from fostering to owning her own dog.

I told myself that in the next two years, I’d be ready to get a dog. Plans of travel, commitment, and many other things were clouding my decision. Little did I know an entire pandemic would sweep the world. And that this would put me in the perfect position to raise a little puppy on my own. At the start of COVID-19’s reign on the planet, my roommate and I decided to take on fostering as a way to try and relieve some stress off of the many panicked shelters here in New York City. Soon after, we were given a Chihuahua mom and her three little puppies to take care of. The shelters here in New York were experiencing closure warnings and fostering and pet adoption was soon on the rise.
My roommate is a seasoned dog mom (fostering dozens of dogs and raising her own), partnering with Hearts & Bones Rescue often to save many a young pup. The minute I saw my soon to be son, Lava, I knew he was perfect for me. A sweet young Chihuahua mix, I immediately felt like a mother and could not wait to have him in my life. Fostering his little family, I saw just how much joy a dog can bring into someone’s life. I decided that now, due to COVID-19, I was able to raise him. He is currently 4 months old, so being around him right now, teaching him everything he needs to know to be a good companion is easy to do when you have all the time in the world.
After the adoption  (we totally recommend Hearts & Bones if you are here in New York City), I went to Small Door Veterinary clinic to get Lava on the right path to health! I met with Dr. Jamie Richardson, Medical Chief of Staff at the NYC-based Small Door Veterinary. Dr. Richardson spent 4 years working for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Hong Kong and is armed with years of both national and international experience in shelter medicine, emergency care, and complex cases. We asked her all you need to know when you’re a new pet parent! Keep reading for more!

my experience adopting a puppy in the middle of a pandemic
Image: Small Door Vet

Pet Adoption 101 With Small Door Veterinary

1) What is recommended for a first-time vet visit for a newly adopted pet?

After you’ve brought your adopted pet home, we generally recommend letting them settle in for a few days. Taking them for a wellness exam within the first week is ideal.

  • Scheduling vaccines: Typically, core vaccines for puppies are given at 8, 12, and 16 weeks. However, depending on the size of your pet and the vaccines you choose to give them (plus any vaccines they have already received) these dates may vary slightly. Your vet can advise on what’s suitable for your pet and provide a timing plan for when they should receive any required boosters.
  • Plan ahead: If you know your pet doesn’t get along well with other animals or has anxiety issues, consider taking them to the vet at off-peak hours. You can ask your vet for information about this. Additionally, some veterinary offices are cats-only or offer separate cat and dog waiting areas, which can alleviate cross-species aggression.
  • Use a Carrier: If your pet is small enough, use a carrier to transport them to the vet. The carrier will protect them from other pets and distractions, and provide a safe space that they’re comfortable in. Lining the carrier with a blanket or toys that smell like home. This can help calm your pet in an unfamiliar setting.
  • For Dogs: Before the visit, give your dog a few extra potty breaks leading up to the vet visit. Accidents in the practice do happen and aren’t generally a big deal. They will only add unnecessary stress and chaos to the environment. For older dogs, consider stopping by the practice for a few friendly, non-medical visits work. This way, they learn the practice is a safe and happy place, not just somewhere they are poked and prodded!

2) How should a new pet be settled into a new home?

Make sure you’ve got all the necessary essentials on hand to help your dog settle in. You’ll need:

  • A crate with a cozy bed: Crate training is encouraged. Provide a safe space when supervision is not possible, plus it can be helpful for housetraining, as dogs generally do not like to urinate/defecate where they sleep.
  • Puppy food that the breeder/shelter fed: Even if you do not plan to continue that specific food, it is good to minimize changes in the first week, to avoid an upset stomach. If new pet owners plan to change the food after the initial settling-in period, they should do so gradually by mixing the new food with the old food over the course of 5-7 days.
  • Training treats: We encourage training through positive reinforcement techniques that use verbal or treat based praise. Since treats will be used frequently for reinforcement, they should be low-calorie. You can consider giving your dog’s regular kibble as training treats too.
  • A few toys and something for them to cuddle up with: To make sure your new pet feels as secure as possible, you should set them up with a blanket or t-shirt that smells familiar (if they’re a young puppy, something that smells like their mother or littermates if possible, or something that smells like you as their new owner
  • Dog-proof the home:  Cover outlets and install baby gates to limit access to certain aspects of the house and danger zones.
  • Introduce them slowly to family members and other pets: Stand still and allow your dog to come to family members, rather than them approaching the dog. Allow your dog to sniff and explore the home before introducing it to other pets. Ideally allow pets to meet and sniff each other while keeping them apart at first, for example through a baby gate. Watch your dog for signs of distress or aggression throughout. Generally, a wagging tail is a good sign, whereas a stiff tail, ears folded back, pulling away, or growling indicate they are distressed, and you should remove them from the situation, give them some time to calm down, and try more slowly next time.
  • Establish a routine: Routines help pets to feel settled and secure. Take them out for walks, feed them at consistent times, and ensure the whole family is consistent with rules and training.
  • Essentials for cats: some treats & toys, a litter box and a brand of litter they are used to, a scratching post and consider a pheromone diffuser like Feliway

3) When is it best to introduce a pet to new people and other animals?

For dogs, to ensure optimal socialization, dogs should be introduced to new people and other animals around 6 to 14 weeks of age. At this age, your dog will not have received their full series of vaccinations, but it’s important to begin socialization by carrying them outside, introducing them to other vaccinated dogs, dog-friendly cats, and lots of different (friendly) people. While socialization is most important for puppies, you may find you need to socialize an adult dog you’ve adopted too. Tips for socialization include:
  • Variety and habituation: Try to expose your dog to as many different sights, sounds, smells and experiences as you can, as many times as possible. For sounds, you can also play recordings of things like a cat meowing or a baby crying.
  • Handling: Ensure your pet is used to lots of people handling them – this will help with vet visits later in life. The moment you bring your dog home, start getting them used to be touched; rub their belly, gently put your fingers around their mouth, lightly pinch their toes and between their paw buds, brush their coat and handle their ears.
  • Rewards: Anytime you take your pup to a new place, or introduce them to a new person or experience – the groomer, dog park, and of course the veterinary practice – give them a new toy or a favorite treat. That way, new experiences will be associated with positive feelings.
  • Enroll in Puppy-training: A great environment for your puppy to work on socialization is at a puppy school or a puppy training class. In these classes, vaccinated puppies can learn essential communication skills, become accustomed to new sights and sounds, and begin basic obedience training.

4) How should you bond with your pet?

To bond with your pet, it’s important to provide them with a sense of security, stimulation, affection, and a dependable routine.
  • Routine: Dogs, in particular, feel safe and stable when their lives follow a sense of routine. If they know when they will be fed, have the opportunity to exercise, play, and do their business, this gives them a sense of stability, which in turn gives them comfort.
  • Safe space: Provide a safe space for your pet to retreat to if they feel anxious or overwhelmed. A crate for dogs and a quiet, dark den tucked away somewhere for cats works well. It’s important to respect your pet’s boundaries and not approach them/try to pet them if they have retreated to their safe space.
  • Training: It’s important to train your pets well and consistently. Knowing what the rules of the house are, that you are their loving “leader” also helps them to feel safe and stable. In addition, many dogs love learning new tricks! When you’ve mastered basic obedience, have fun seeing what fun tricks you can teach your dog.
  • Stimulation: Providing the right amount of exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation for your pet is important for their wellbeing. Pets love playing, and particularly love when we play with them!
  • Affection: As well as generally spending plenty of time with your new pet, show them affection! Cuddle, pet them, sit near them while you are both relaxing. If your pet enjoys grooming/brushing, this is another way you can bond.

5) What is the best way to potty train your pet?

Providing a set routine is essential to successful potty-training. Being consistent about the following will provide structure to facilitate potty-training:
  • Location: Pick a dedicated location for your dog to go. Don’t change the chosen location, as this will confuse them. Using the same spot will build up an odor that your pet will detect and want to re-mark with their waste. A marker or visual aid can also help.
  • Timing: In the beginning, you’ll want to take your dog to the chosen spot every two hours.
  • Key Phrases: Each time you take them outside, use the same phrase of encouragement, whether it’s “Go potty,” “Time to pee,” or “Do your business.”
  • Positive Reinforcement: Immediately after, provide praise and a treat. They’ll come to associate the desired behavior with the treat. That’s the best way to encourage them to go to the right place.
  • Respond appropriately to accidents: If you witness your dog in the act of having an accident indoors, a loud clap, spray from a water bottle, or verbal command such as a firm “No!” is an acceptable expression of disapproval. Immediately after they stop eliminating in the wrong spot, quickly take them to their established bathroom spot. Once they successfully pee or poop there, reward them with lots of praise and treats. If you did not catch them in the act, ignore the accident altogether, as the opportunity to correct their behavior has passed.
  • Clean the area thoroughly and try to neutralize it: Use sprays or a cleaning solution, because leaving trace odors of urine or feces will confuse your dog. Dogs do not like to eliminate in their sleeping or eating areas, so placing food bowls or bedding in previously soiled areas will discourage future accidents in those locations
  • Learn your dog’s signals: Sniffing, whining, or pawing at the door can all be indications that they want to go outside. Potty-training is considered “complete” after your dog has gone 4 to 8 weeks without an accident.

6) How to discipline a new pet that may be getting into garbage, chewing on furniture, etc.?

We recommend using positive reinforcement as a training method. This involves focusing on rewarding your pet for good behavior, rather than punishing bad behavior. Giving rewards when your pet obeys you or behaves well in specific ways encourages them to repeat these actions or behaviors when given the command. Good behavior becomes inextricably linked with a reward. This training method has been associated with successful outcomes and good relationships between pets and pet parents.
  • Ignore unwanted behaviors and demands for attention: Verbal punishment can result in fear or aggression toward people or things associated with the negative experience. That’s why we prefer positive training methods. Never physically punish your pet. Not only can it induce anxiety, it’s also cruel, leads to a negative relationship with your pet, and can result in bites (and escalate from there!) If your puppy can sit, get them to stop the unwanted behavior by having them sit, then reward them for responding to your command.
  • Make sure your pet is stimulated: A dog who lacks physical or mental stimulation often ends up letting out their pent-up energy in an undesirable manner, such as chewing their owner’s socks or destroying a piece of furniture. Slow feeding bowls or puzzle toys can provide your dog with a tasty distraction while you are gone. For cats, the Indoor Hunting Feeder by Doc and Phoebe works well.

7) What is Small Door and how is it different from other vets?

Small Door is a New York-based veterinary experience revolutionizing the industry standard. Small Door was founded as a solution to antiquated processes including confusing & unclear pricing, cheerless waiting rooms, lack of same-day appointment availability, closely guarded medical records, no direct communication with a doctor, by phone, or otherwise. We are founded on accessibility and pet-centric care, Small Door employs a membership model, that provides members with access to:
  • Personalized Care: We focus on what’s best for your pet. We’re not one-size-fits-all; we take the time to discuss your pet’s wellbeing holistically, covering nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and behavioral factors as well as health issues, to put together a personalized plan to help your pet live the happiest, healthiest possible life.
  • Appointments when you need them: We cap our membership numbers, to make sure you can always see your vet when you need to, same-day or next-day.
  • Understandable Information: Rather than prescribing the next steps without any time for conversation or questions, we explain all options and work to find the best treatment plan for both the pet and their parent.
  • Transparent Pricing: Small Door provides fair, easy-to-understand pricing in plain English. Traditional veterinary clinics usually address billing at the front desk which leads to invoices with hidden charges and unknown fees. Prior to proceeding with a medical procedure, we go over plans and pricing in the privacy of patients’ exam rooms to ensure there are no surprises.
  • Modern Convenience:  Members have access to a mobile app. Here they can book appointments, view their pet’s medical records, and refill their prescriptions.
  • Telemedicine: The app also enables 24/7 to chat with the medical team with a 5 minute response time. Small Door also offers video consultations for those unable to come to the practice.
  • Stress-free spaces: Every detail of Small Door’s layout and design elements were specifically chosen by animal behavior specialists to make pets feel comfortable and relaxed. Our staff is also Fear-Free certified.
  • Best-in-class medical care: Our facilities are state-of-the-art. We offer priority access to specialists, and all of Small Door’s doctors are thoroughly vetted from the top veterinary schools.

8) Tell us about Small Door’s membership plans?

There are 3 tiers of membership: Access, Premium, and Premium Plus, for dogs and cats respectively.
  • Access: The most affordable plan provides members-only quality of care and personalization. There are additional products and services billed as you go. The Access tier includes 24/7 chat with our medical team, via our app.
  • Premium: The most popular plan covers annual preventative plan. It covers wellness needs, including two annual exams, all vaccinations, comprehensive annual blood panel, advanced annual biomarker screen, twice-annual fecal (4x puppies), tick-borne and heartworm screen (infectious viruses screen for cats), deworming (parasite prevention),  and anal glands/nail trims at exams
  • Premium Plus:  All of the services in the premium tier. In addition, flea + tick preventative treatment, 12 month supply delivered, heartworm preventative treatment, 12 month supply delivered

9) Best way to go about getting insurance for a first-time pet owner?

We recommend that pet parents strongly consider a pet insurance policy. Different pet insurance policies can vary greatly, so it’s important to research and compare policies before purchasing. A good resource to utilize is www.pawbamacare.com, which provides comprehensive break-downs of policies so new pet owners can choose the appropriate coverage that suits their needs. Pet insurance helps cover the cost of the unpredictable and typically covers expenses related to injuries or illnesses. New pet owners should keep in mind that insurance typically does not cover wellness checks or regular preventative care.

10) What else does Small Door offer besides veterinary services?

Small Door’s goal is not only to provide premium healthcare and services for their pets. It’s to foster a larger community for owners. Membership to Small Door grants accesses to events, from puppy yoga classes to pet-pampering sessions. We also have educational seminars, for you and your pet to meet new friends, network and learn with fellow animal-lovers.
Due to the stress and depression caused by compassion fatigue, long hours, and student loan debt vets face daily, the industry has one of the highest suicide rates among medical professions, with 1 in 6 having considered suicide. Small Door is combatting this stigma with special perks, fair pay, and employee benefits to mitigate these concerns. Small Door prides itself on offering its employees a full benefits package, unlike traditional veterinary offices. Additionally, they provide constant check-ins and offer various wellness services for mental health purposes.

Some of Our Favorite Pet Products Right Now

1) Wild One’s The Harness Walk Kit (in Lilac) ($98)

best doggy products
Image: Wild One

The minute we’ll be able to go on a walk with our little one, we’re getting this ultra-chic set from Wild One. Set yourself upright with their popular on-the-go essentials. The Walk Kit comes with a super comfy, lightweight dog Harness, dirt-resistant, water-proof Leash, and color-matched Poop Bag Carrier — the perfect home for the plant-based, biodegradable poop bags.

2) Maev Bone Broth (3 Jars for $30)

best doggy products
Image: Meet Maev

Maev’s bone broth is incredible. It’s a soothing ritual that builds immunity, detoxes the liver and strengthens your dog’s skin, coat, and gut health. It’s also a collagen powerhouse, supporting healthy joints and cartilage. Health is wealth, people!

3) The Basic Concept Dining Set (in Pink) ($165)

best doggy products
Image: The Basic Concept

Minimalist elevated dining set for the modern dog and cat. For the fancy pet in your life.

4) The Bear & the Rat Frozen Treats ($45)

best dog prodcuts
Image: The Bear & the Rat

These are incredible, all-natural dog treats with real yogurt. Spoil your little one today!

5) Casper Dog Bed ($125)

dog bed
Image: Casper

Casper combined pressure-relieving memory foam and durable support foam to create a bed that loves your pup will love. The supportive foam bolsters of the bed also create a safe space for dogs to lay their heads, literally and figuratively.

6) Embark Breed Identification Kit ($129)

best dog products
Image: Embark Vet

Discover your dog’s ancestry and breed details. Over 350 + breeds and counting! I know I’m using this to figure out who my puppy’s father is. W

7) Cat Person Cat Nip Toy “Jackson” ($7)

best pet products
Image: Cat Person

Spoil your favorite feline with a toy that has it all: a string, bell, plush toy, and everyone’s favorite—catnip.
While you’re here, check out this article on ways to get creative with your fur baby.

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