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Meet Our Pandemic Pets

As we celebrate National Pet Day in April, we check on some of the COVID-19 additions to Duke employee households

A collage of pet photos.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several Duke staff and faculty members added pets to their households, including these.

In October of 2020, Karen Abramson, manager of the molecular genomics core at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, adopted a puppy named Zoey. With black, gold and white fur and big eyes, Zoey quickly won over her hew family.

Karen Abramson's dog, Zoey, has become a beloved part of her family. Photo courtesy of Karen Abramson. A year and a half later, with Abramson working from home, spending time with Zoey has become a happy part of her daily routine. 

“I don’t think Zoey ever wants me to go back to work,” said the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute's Abramson. “She hangs out by my desk most of the day and loves our daily walks. Working from home finally gave me the opportunity to get a puppy and she’s been a welcome addition to the family.”

A survey released last year from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed that during the first year of the pandemic, around 23 million American households added a pet.

Vanessa Woods, a research scientist with the Duke Canine Cognition Center and author of “The Genius of Dogs,” said that the rise in pet ownership during the pandemic likely stemmed from people spending more time at home, where they could be with their new pets more. 

“The important thing about pets, and it’s something people underestimate, is that it can be helpful to simply have someone there to bear witness,” Woods said. “Just having that someone there to be with us without demanding or speaking, but just being there and being part of our lives can be incredibly precious and I think that’s the value that people have really found.”

Since COVID-19 arrived, we heard from a handful of Duke employees who added pets to their households. In celebration of National Pet Day, which was April 11, and as we pass the two-year mark of the pandemic, we checked in with some of these colleagues to see how their companions are faring.

A Strong Bond

Stephanie Woodside's dog, Maya, has been a constant companion during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Woodside. Maya, a Siberian Husky, joined Stephanie Woodside’s household in December of 2019 when she was two months old. Once the pandemic hit, Maya spent her days next to Woodside, a staff assistant with Duke Health’s Division of Pulmonary, Allery and Critical Care, and her husband, who both worked from home. These days together allowed Maya to build a strong connection with her owners.

But now, with pandemic life giving way to a more normal rhythm, Woodside is trying to gradually get Maya comfortable with being alone for the times she returns to work on site.

“We are starting to leave her alone for an hour or so in order to get her used to being alone so we can start going out to dinner and doing things outside the house again,” Woodside said.

Party Animal

In May 2021, the Koen family celebrated the 10th birthday of their dog, Kramer. Photo courtesy of Bryan Koen. When Bryan Koen, a senior education program coordinator with the Duke University Energy Initiative, and his family added a 9-year old beagle named Kramer to their household in early May of 2020, it was a much-needed diversion during a hard time. The adjustment to home-schooling for his two children and remote work, as well as the general unease about the state of the world, had weighed on the family, so caring for Kramer, and taking him for walks near their Carrboro home, brought some daily doses of joy.

By May of 2021, COVID-19 numbers were going down, vaccines were available and the world was beginning to – albeit temporarily – return to somewhat familiar rhythms. That gave everyone something to celebrate. But for the Koens, there was an additional reason.

Kramer, who they found out was born on May 5, 2011 had a milestone birthday to celebrate. So in the sunshine on the family’s back deck, the Koens celebrated “Cinco de Kramo,” with margaritas, decorations and fun Kramer-themed T-shirts.

“There was a lot to celebrate,” Koen said. “Obviously we didn’t get him under the happiest of circumstances. We were going through it then, like everybody else. But I think everybody is really pleased that we made that addition. It’s been good.”

Taking the Leap

The antics of Jill Foster's cats, Arlo, top, and Aves, bottom, keep her and her family entertained. Photo courtesy of Jill Foster. Prior to the pandemic, Jill Foster, undergraduate program assistant with Duke Biology, had never been a pet owner. But with more time at home, she felt like the time was right to add furry friends to her household. In the spring and summer of 2020, she adopted a pair of kittens, an orange tabby named Arlo and a black and white cat named Aces.

While she said she was unsure how she’d adjust to being a pet owner, Foster jokes that she’d become the proverbial “cat lady,” referring to the two male cats as “the boys,” and looking forward to their warm greetings when she returns home from days working on campus.

“They continue to bring much-appreciated light and joy into our home every day,” Foster said. “They’re a constant source of entertainment and much of my family’s conversation and text threads revolve around our precious cats. We could not adore them more.”

Starting a New Chapter

Kim Burhop-Service's dog, Reecie, relaxes in the sun. Photo courtesy of Kim Burhop-Service. For the first few months on the pandemic, Kim Burhop-Service, Duke University Libraries’ director of Human Resources, was trying to make the best of the final days of her family’s elderly dog, Alex. At first after Alex died in mid-2020, Burhop-Service didn’t think she could welcome another dog into her home. 

But in October of 2020, Burhop-Service, who was working remotely, needed another canine companion and added Reecie – short of Reese’s Peanut Buter Cup – to the household. Now working a hybrid schedule with Duke Libraries, Burhop-Service said Reecie, who has gone through the training to become a certified therapy dog, has become a beloved part of her family.

“Reecie has been a wonderful companion,” Burhop-Service said. “She is my motivation to get up and get moving, even if these walks are more about sniffing than exercise.”

New Friends

During the pandemic, Susana Almeida-Peters added Finn, left, to her household to give Bella, right, a friend. Photo courtesy of Susana Almeida-Peters. Duke Clinical Research Institute Clinical Trials Coordinator Susana Almeida-Peters already had a 13-year old Shih Tzu named Bella when she adopted a 5-year old PekePomTzu named Finn from Saving Grace, an animal adoption organization in Wake Forest, in May of 2021. Almeida-Peters felt that Bella needed a friend since she’d begun to slow down. 

“She is more vibrant and energetic now, like she was when she was Finn’s age” Almeida-Peters said. “Both dogs love the fact that both my husband and I work from home. Us working from home means more veggies, fruits, treats, food, playtime, walks and more time to be loved on.”

See more of your colleagues' pandemic pets on the Working@Duke Facebook page. And if you've got a pet you'd like to highlight, tell us about them in the comments on the post.

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