HELENA — Anyone who has ever had a pet knows just how much of an impact that animal can have on their lives and for many people during the COVID pandemic, those bonds have been more important than ever.
Andy Jacobs adopted two cats, Felix and Sarah, from the Lewis and Clark Humane Society (LCHS) in June of 2020 just to have some more company. He says the benefit of having them both during a stressful year was an incredible blessing.
“It’s been a really big relief. They’ve provided a lot of joy and a lot of reducing of anxiety and things like that because they’re around,” explained Jacobs. “I have something to look forward to every day when I get home from work.”
Animal shelters across the country saw a surge in adoption rates last year, particularly in the first several months of the pandemic. Jacobs is just one of hundreds of thousands of Americans that adopted a pet since the pandemic began.
The benefits pets have on humans have been well documented over the years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says studies have shown that pets can help decrease blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and help with feelings of loneliness and depression.
However, the observed health benefits go both ways and can help the animal just as much as the human.
Missoula resident Jennifer Tolan who works in real estate and was already working a lot from out of the office before the pandemic began. When she started working fully from home due to COVID and everything shut down, she noticed a change in her emotional well-being and was having difficulties finding reasons to get out of bed in the morning.
“I can work from my computer anywhere. So I just started getting way more depressed and I was like I need a reason to get out, I need a dog in my life,” said Tolan. “When I saw nothing in Missoula was working, I looked in Helena and when I read Rambo’s story I knew I just had to have him.”
Rambo had been at LCHS for over a year. While he did great with the staff, he was an anxious dog that had difficulty with new people.
LCHS staff work with every animal and adopting family to make sure it’s a good fit. They were also bluntly honest about how much work will need to be done between Tolan and Rambo before they can okay an adoption.
Yet even with the challenges, Tolan was positive Rambo was the dog for her.
“I’m sure I annoyed [Dog Program Coordinator Rebecca Howard] with my regular emails checking in to see how Rambo was doing and if COVID restriction had lifted to the point where I could come down,” said Tolan.
Howard says she was just happy to have someone interested in Rambo that was willing to put in the work and was excited once the shelter was able to let Tolan visit Rambo in person toward the end of May.
“The first couple visits were a few minutes just throwing kibble while he was just barking as if to say, ‘Okay I ate the food now you can go away,’” recalled Tolan. “I was told most people would just meet him the first or second time and not come back. But I knew he was going to be worth it so I put in the time.”
For weeks Tolan would drive hundreds of miles from Missoula to Helena and back again on an almost daily basis just to spend time with Rambo. The more time she spent with him, the more comfortable he became and the length of the visits grew each time.
Then one day she was sitting next to his kennel when he started licking her hair through the chain link.
“So I texted Rebecca and asked if there was any way he could come out and we could try meeting and just see,” said Tolan.
Not one to hide just how he feels about a person, Rambo showered Tolan with affection once the barrier was removed.
“He just gave me so many kisses and it broke my heart having to leave him that day, but a couple of days later I got to take him home,” she said.
The relationship Rambo and Tolan have forged has improved both their lives. The pup is a regular companion while she works and has greatly helped the last year seem more manageable, and Tolan is his person who he can depend on.
“He’s made me so much happier. I’ve had him almost 10 months and it has been the best 10 months ever,” added Tolan.
LCHS is more than just a soft landing space for the animals that come through their doors. They help build and connect families.
The shelter has continued to see animals come to the shelter during the pandemic that are in the need of a home.
They’re only able to care for those animals thanks to community support, and will be holding a virtual fundraiser “Stay-Ghetti” on April 29.
A replacement event for their 20th annual “Spay-Ghetti” event, all funds raised will to directly supporting the mission of the shelter and the animals they care for.
More information about how to support LCHS, and animals currently available for adoption can be found on their website.