“I probably use his Instagram more than my own”: How new pets helped these Torontonians get through the pandemic
The big Covid puppy boom gave a lot of Torontonians some hope, a schedule, and someone to pick up after. Here are seven stories from newly minted pandemic pet parents.
Arundhati Ganesh, a partner manager at Uber Eats, with her yellow English Lab, Nacho
“Nacho was born in March 2020, right about when the whole world shut down. I had always wanted a dog, but puppies need a lot of one-on-one attention. So when I started working from home, I thought, This is a good time for me to be at home with a dog.
“In April, I reached out to a breeder in Waterloo, looking to see if she had any litters available, and she said, ‘Someone just backed out. I need to know in the next hour whether or not you want him.’ I’ve always wanted a Lab because they’re friendly, have good temperaments and are good around other dogs. Two months later, I brought Nacho home. I had no idea what he looked like before I went. I had seen pictures of his parents, but none of his litter. It was a bit of a gamble, but everything worked out.
“I can’t imagine going through this last year without him. I’m getting out of the house at least three times a day for walks, and he’s helped me maintain a daily routine during the pandemic. I’m more responsible now that I have someone who depends on me to care for him and his needs. He gives me purpose to work hard and make sure he has a good life. He’s also the most emotionally aware dog I’ve ever been around. Whether I’m sad or happy, he always picks up on it and knows exactly how he can make me feel better. He’s a giant goofball who loves to play around, knocking things over with his massive tail.
“At first, Nacho and I were living in Markham with my parents, but in February, we moved downtown. I’ve met a ton of people through online communities of new dog owners, where we chat about training. Now, Nacho has about six to 10 consistent doggy friends at Clarence Square Park and Coronation Park. In June 2020, I set up Nacho with his own Instagram page. It’s small—he has about 200 followers—but I post every week and probably use his Instagram more than my own.
“I’ve also learned a few small home remedies for things that are totally normal but would alarm first-time dog owners. I now use coconut oil for almost everything, like rubbing it on his cracked paws and mixing it in his food to make his coat shinier. I mix him some lemon and honey for when he has a cough, and I crack an egg with his meals to add protein to his diet.”
Naomi Atkin, a hostess, and Kyle Buchanan, a server, with their Indian pariah dog, Rami
Naomi: “Kyle and I had been together for three years before the onset of the pandemic, and we wanted to adopt a puppy because Kyle had grown up around dogs. In October 2020, we were really close to an adoption but it didn’t work out, which was a bummer. After that, we had dog fever. We tried for months to find another dog and put in tons of applications, but we didn’t hear back from any shelters. It was very disappointing. Our hearts were broken over and over again.
“In January, I put a call out on Facebook asking for tips and a friend connected me with Pawsitive Sanctuary, an organization in Amritsar, India, that rescues dogs off the streets, provides them with medical care and adopts them out. The organization was fairly new and had only had one other dog adopted in Canada. We ended up choosing Rami, who seemed like a sweet dog. We wanted a dog that was cuddly, since we are both affectionate people, and the woman who runs the organization sent us tons of videos, including one of Rami running to her and getting a hug. We’re guessing he’s about a year old.
“The plan was to have a flight volunteer travel with Rami from India to Pearson, but then the two-week hotel quarantines for international travellers were announced, and the flight volunteer backed out. It cost about $2,500, but we eventually decided to fly Rami over as cargo. I didn’t want to wait—we didn’t know how the rules would change again. He arrived in early March, and we brought him home to our downtown condo.
“When we first got Rami, he was jumping up on the counters a lot. We had to make a barricade. We would sleep in the living room with him for the first two weeks because he kept getting into things around the house. Rami has severe anxiety and doesn’t want to go on walks. We’ve been staying with my mom at her house in East York to help him recover. We would sit on the porch and watch people and traffic until he got more comfortable, and my mom’s backyard has been a huge help.
“A little over a month later, he seemed to listen more. Now he’s starting to meet more people and go on longer and longer walks. He’s still very anxious but it’s so much better, and we’re working with a trainer who used to train police dogs and service dogs that help people with seizures. I was literally crying myself to sleep some nights because I was so stressed with Rami, but things have gotten better. Rami has opened up, and his personality is so silly and weird. I can feel the bond between Kyle and I growing stronger because we’ve got a little family now.
“Caring for this animal has helped us figure out our other priorities. We want to get a house, have kids and start a family. The dog was the first step for us to become responsible for something other than ourselves.”
Cheyenne Gendron, a university graduate, with her Siamese cat, Finn
“I’ve wanted a cat for a long time, but my mom always said no. When we moved to a new place in Brampton in December and I had the whole basement to myself, she finally gave in. Soon after, I started posting in rescue groups, and a woman messaged that she had a seven-month-old Siamese. She got him from a breeder and quickly realized her husband was allergic to him. I picked him up a few days later. Finn bonded to me pretty quickly—within a few hours of him arriving, he lay on my chest and wouldn’t stop purring. He slept with me that night.
“He’s a very funny cat. He will run at the wall and jump off it. He does a lot of somersaults in the air when we’re playing. He isn’t the best trained cat yet—he scratches the furniture, even though he knows he’s not supposed to. He’s mischievous, but for the most part, he’s an angel.
“While I was studying criminology at Ryerson, he helped calm my stress and anxiety. He would sleep beside me throughout Zoom lectures. He’s really good at sleeping throughout the day. At the same time, he’s a high-energy cat, so I need to play with him to make sure he’s not acting up. Once, he jumped up on the counter and knocked down all my plants. Now, he’s always by my side.
“Finn enjoys going for walks and hiking with me. Everyone we pass gets so excited to see me walking a cat. They think it’s hilarious.”
Ann Miral, a sales executive, with her terrier mix, Gregorio
“I grew up with three family dogs and have fostered several others with a local rescue group, Fetch and Releash. Gregorio was a street dog picked up by one of the workers at a partner rescue in Mexico. He was really thin and sick. After the rescue brought him back to health and he was given all his shots, he came to Toronto and was given to me to foster in August. He was just over a year old at the time.
“When I met him, I had no plans to adopt him or any other dog. Pre-covid, my schedule was very busy and I travelled a lot for work. Gregorio was really high-energy. I live in a condo in Fort York, and we needed to go on three to four walks a day. That was fine during the summer, but I couldn’t fathom having to carry on during the colder months. Then he got sick—every two weeks, there was a new problem with his digestion, and the vets couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Gregorio was set to be adopted twice, but he got sick both times, and the rescue always cancels adoptions until dogs are well again. The adopters didn’t want to wait. Eventually he was put on indefinite medical hold with me. That’s when I grew very attached to Gregorio.
“In January, I had to leave the city for a week to visit family. I wanted to take Gregorio with me, but because he was a foster, he needed to stay with another volunteer. Every day, I was worried sick about his well-being. I would text the volunteer all the time to find out how he was doing. I had travelled while fostering other dogs before, but I was never as stressed out. It felt different with him. I had this pit in my stomach, and he started to feel like my dog.
“When I got back to the city, I realized Gregorio was responding well to training and learning the house rules. In February, I asked the rescue if I could put him on a raw diet to see if that would solve his stomach problems. Within two weeks, I saw huge improvements. When he finally got off the medical hold, I thought, The last three months have been really nice, Gregorio has adapted to my life and I’ve really enjoyed having him. That’s when I made the decision to adopt him, and he’s been with me ever since.
“Gregorio loves going on walks, hiking and being outdoors. That’s been a nice addition to my life. We have a true bond, and having Gregorio around has been the best change. Whenever dog owners referred to their dogs as their best friends, I never understood what that meant. But now, we’ve grown very very close.”
Sam Channon, a veterinary technician, and Scott MacKinnon, an investment wholesaler, with their Australian shepherd, Barley
Sam: “Scott and I both grew up with dogs, and he’s wanted one since before we met. We met in September 2020 and quickly moved in together in a condo near St. Lawrence Market. Four months after we met, we got Barley from a small breeder in Prince Edward County. We wanted an active medium- to large-sized dog with long hair, so we picked an Australian Shepherd.
“He was the last one of his litter and cried the whole way home. We had to stop a few times because he was so upset. We played music and petted him, which seemed to calm him down. Then, once we were back in our condo, it was smooth sailing.
“It was really nice to have a puppy, especially in the winter, because it forced us to leave the house every day for walks. He brought us quite a lot of joy and gave us something to do during the challenging Covid winter. It brings us so much joy to see how simple things excite him, like sticking his head out of the car window. We don’t have a backyard, so we take him to dog parks, and we’ve met a lot of new dog owners, too. Now, he has so many dog friends at the park. We took him on his first ferry ride to Centre Island recently. He loved it.
“Barley’s not a huge fan of humans other than us. I think it’s because we haven’t had any guests come over. Once all this blows over and people start going back to work, Barley and other new pets might have to face a different reality where we aren’t home all the time. We’re trying to prepare him by leaving him by himself at home when we run errands. Hopefully it will be an easy transition.”
Natalie Favrin, a stay-at-home mom, with her Maine Coon mix, Chester
“We had a cat for 18 years that passed away in July 2020. I’ve never lived without a cat, so I started looking right away. A few days later, I saw a picture of Chester on Kijiji. I knew I had to have him. Both my adult children were home because of Covid, and I surprised them. We live in Summerhill, in a four-bed detached, and at eight weeks old, Chester walked right in as if he owned the place. He still acts like that today.
“My son moved out in September, but my daughter is still here. Chester is my 10th cat, and he’s different in every way. Chester has a true Maine Coon personality, and acts more like a dog. He walks on a leash, chats at us (but rarely meows), likes to play with water and sleeps all night in my bed. He greets us at the front door and follows us around all day.
“We’re all spoiling him. He is literally with somebody all day long. If one of us gets busy, he’ll just find someone else to hang out with. I spend a lot of my time crawling around on the floor, looking for toys that went under the couch, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Sydney Somerville, a steelworker, with her husky mix dog, Harley, and domestic short-hair cat, Finley
“My family has always had pets, and I grew to love animals because I was always surrounded by them growing up. I checked adoption pages daily for years. In January, a friend adopted Harley’s littermate. Their Facebook post led me to Jinga’s Mission, a rescue that helps dogs from Armenia. That’s where I first saw Harley and fell in love with her. Harley had this massive grin on her face, and she held her head really high. She had a look that just drew me right in.
“In early April, she flew in from Armenia to Montreal, so my best friend, Chris, and I went to pick her up. Getting her through customs was a very long process. I went through at least three or four different agents at the airport just to get her cleared, because they’d ask questions I didn’t have answers for, like her breed or her exact age. I was at the airport for about four hours, but I wasn’t going to leave without her.
“When I brought her home to my apartment in Hamilton, she used to lie by the door, and she didn’t really come up to me much. At first, she didn’t really like to leave the apartment. She pulled on the leash and sat down when she didn’t want to go anymore. She’s a completely different dog now. She loves the dog park, and she’s comfortable sleeping in my bed and on my toes. She kicks me out of bed all the time. She’s come out of her shell quite a bit and it’s been wonderful to see the change.
“I wanted to get a cat, too, because I wanted Harley to have a friend. I knew Harley was a gentle dog, so it wouldn’t be an issue. In May, I posted on Facebook that I was considering bringing a cat into the home, and a friend said she was trying to rehome her five-month-old cat because she had a kid on the way. So I ended up bringing him home that night.
“The first day Finley came home, he swatted at Harley. Thankfully, he doesn’t use his claws and he doesn’t really bite, so when he hit her, it was just like getting hit by a toy. Since then, he learned her boundaries and they’ve been doing really well with each other. I put a kid’s pool in my living room because the air conditioning in my old apartment was terrible, and Harley dunked on Finley within the first three minutes.
“In June, I moved to a bigger detached home in Keswick, about an hour north of Newmarket. Nothing really prepares you for the emotional journey you’re taking with rescue animals, because you’re taking them out of a negative environment and showing them something entirely different. I’ve loved the experience so much that I’m bringing home another rescue dog next month. I’m thinking about opening my own rescue one day.”