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Coronavirus Culture Featured

How we pandemic: Adopt a pet

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El Pasoans love their furry friends. That’s why we reached out to you, El Paso Matters readers, for your input on the latest installment of How we pandemic, where we discuss why this unique moment in history is a great time to rescue a dog or cat in need of a home. 

Readers and community members shared stories of their pets, discussed how being a pet-owner has helped them cope with COVID-19, and offered tips for people who are considering bringing a new pet into their home. 

Read on to meet some of the great pets of El Paso, and to garner helpful and sweet words of wisdom from their owners.

Alexa Mendoza and her dog Brady

Alexa said that adopting her dog Brady has changed her life for the better.

“Brady has made me more patient and shown me how adversity only makes you better. She was adopted from the shelter emaciated terribly and had terrible separation anxiety. Getting another dog and just loving her has shown me how amazing and resilient she is to love people so much after being treated so terribly by them when her life was just starting,” she said.

Alexa’s advice for new pet owners? “Patience, patience, patience.”

She offers a caution to new pet owners to not lose their temper with their pets. 

“Pets will slip up and destroy some object or go potty inside the house. It’s just something that’ll happen regardless of how well trained they are. DON’T take it out on them. They didn’t do it on purpose and they’re only around for a finite amount of time so why spend even a second being angry?”

Michelle Herrera’s cat, Nucky Thompson

We didn’t hear from very many cat owners in the El Paso Matters pet survey, but the ones we did hear from were extremely enthusiastic about their feline companions. Michelle said of her cat Nucky, “He IS the best cat.” 

She named him after the Steve Buscemi character on the TV series “Boardwalk Empire” because, “(he’s) a smooth gentleman, kind, polite, sweet, and all that good stuff … but don’t cross him because he’d cut you in a heartbeat!”

Michelle said that Nucky has especially helped her kids cope with COVID-19, and emphasized that “having a pet is good for one’s mental health.”

Dusty Phillips’ dogs Coco and Elle

Dusty Phillips loves dogs so much that, not only does she have two dogs of her own, but she also has an in-home dog boarding business. She finds joy in caring for her pets and the pets of others.

“I’m retired and single so both my dogs and my guest dogs have been invaluable company. I literally don’t know what my mental state would be without them. I laugh every day with these pets,” Dusty said. 

Although she emphasized how positively having pets has impacted her life, Dusty cautioned potential new pet owners to not take the commitment lightly.

“It’s a big, lifetime commitment and the pandemic is temporary.” 

Dr. Fabrizzio Delgado and dog Kayser 

“I don’t see any down side of having a pet,” said Dr. Fabrizzio Delgado, psychiatrist with Texas Tech. His dog Kayser, an Akita, lived to be 13 years old, and passed away in 2012. 

Fabrizzio emphasized the mental health benefits of caring for pets, especially animals like dogs, who tend to prompt their humans to spend more time outdoors.

“Exercise in nature is a natural antidepressant. I always recommend to my patients who have any type of mood disorder exercise and nature because it’s just helpful. A dog is going to make you go outside, so that’s really useful.”  

Fabrizzio said that the COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of isolation for people who struggle with mental illness, and that having a pet can be very helpful for addressing the anxiety and stress of this time. 

“When people are caressing or petting an animal, it shows benefits in blood pressure and cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone. So there’s a lot of benefits including that,” he said. 

Laro McKenzie, daughter and puppy Cleopatra Rose

Laro McKenzie’s 6-year-old daughter had been begging for a dog for years, and when the pandemic began they took the leap and adopted one. The McKenzie’s brought puppy Cleopatra Rose home in April, who Laro describes as smart, sweet, tolerant, and cuddly. 

“We finally decided that we would have time to raise a puppy while we were locked down,” Laro said. 

Laro said the benefits of having a new puppy during the pandemic have been numerous. “She’s given us something new to deal with, and brought a lot of humor and distraction into the household. She’s been key for the mental health of our very social child. Our very-social 6 year old was truly suffering with being isolated with only her parents,” she said. 

Nicole Arellano’s dog Bentley

Nicole Arellano’s 9-year-old dog Bentley has a habit of sitting on your feet so that you can’t leave and must continue petting him. He’s a big cuddly friend, and Nicole said he’s been a needed companion through the pandemic. 

“He’s helped me get out of the house for our regular exercise, he’s been there to hug when we listen to the devastating news, he’s been there to binge watch sitcoms and movies, and he’s just been an overall great friend when my friends can’t come over,” she said. 

Jamie Fierro’s dog Midnight

Jamie Fierro said that her 7-year-old dog Midnight has helped her through grief, and has been a big comfort to have by her side. Midnight loves riding in the car. Jamie said she’s never met a dog that liked the car so much. 

Jamie’s advice for new pet owners is to be realistic and practical in their expectations.

“Make sure you’re truly ready! Pets make great companions, but it’s not always butterflies and rainbows. They require work and financial commitment as well. Spend time with them and pick up after them when you go out for walks,” she said. 

Kathryn Guerra’s cat Archie

Archie the cat was found in a dumpster as a kitten, and has been with Kathryn ever since. She said that Archie loves being around people, and in the ten years that she’s had him, has been a loyal friend.

“Archie has lived with me in three different homes, sat with me through two degrees, comforted me when I lost a parent, and hung out with me and my friends. He’s always just been there,” she said. 

During the pandemic, Archie has been especially helpful for Kathryn.

“I spend a lot of time inside of my apartment working, social distancing, and just living through a pandemic coupled with social unrest. When work gets stressful I take a break and hang out with the animals or Archie likes to lay on the dining room table next to my computer while I work. I would pet him while I planned or he would occasionally make an appearance on a class zoom. I feel like having stayed home so much these past few months, we’ve really bonded a lot more and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to spend time with him outside of just evenings and weekends.”

Lisa Sanchez and her dog Tubby

Tubby, Lisa Sanchez’s beloved rescue dog, is about 9 or 10 years old, and is mellow and independent spirited. 

“I live alone and having a dog kept me company and helped keep me active. I spend more time outdoors making sure he got the exercise he needed which helped me,” Lisa said. 

Zoë Gemoets’ puppy Stevie

Zoë Gemoets got her dog Stevie the same week that everything began shutting down in March, and describes her 8-month-old pup as a “curious cowgirl.” 

“She was a great distraction to have while the world seemed scary & unpredictable. She gave us a routine that we otherwise wouldn’t have had while sheltering in place. She got plenty of attention & love while learning basic commands & house training. The only con that we’re worried about is separation anxiety when life goes back to a resemblance of normal. However, we do practice putting her in her crate and leaving her home alone every so often,” Zoë said.

Zoë’s advice for other new pet owners is to do your homework, “especially YouTube tutorials & the puppy subreddit.”

Michele Anderson’s cat Papaya

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in fostering and adopting in general, just people interested in adding a new family member — whether it’s temporary or forever home, since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Michele Anderson, spokesperson for El Paso Animal Services. 

Michele says that pets offer many forms of help during this challenging time. She has seven pets at home, three dogs and four cats. Papaya is her most recent adoptee. “He came into the shelter last September unable to walk, super sickly, and we worked with him to build up his strength. He’s now a chunky happy boy,” Michele said. 

For prospective pet owners, Michele encourages them to adopt, not shop.

“It’s really important for people to adopt. There’s tens of thousands of animals looking for forever homes in the borderlands, not just with El Paso Animal Services, but with Humane Society and MuttLove and Animal Rescue League and Luna’s Fosters — there’s so many different rescue organizations that if you’re even looking for a specific breed there’s probably a rescue out there for you. You’re saving a life if you go through a shelter or rescue,” she said.

Cover photo: Reporter René Kladzyk fostered and then adopted her dog Penny this summer.

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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