PARIS — A surprising trend has emerged as families have taken to sheltering at home with parents being laid off or working remotely and kids suddenly experiencing education alone. Animal shelters and rescues are closed to the public but pet adoptions and fostering have skyrocketed.

Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills  is adopting out animals throughout the day – the shelter’s Facebook page is a constantly updating feed of cats and dogs bidding farewell with their new humans. Many of the animals are going in pairs. While there is no shortage of available pets, the time spent at shelters waiting to meet the right family is dwindling.

Hugh Freeman and Heather Carver of Bethel had been thinking about a dog for a while when Bentley became available for adoption at RPC.

“We wanted a smaller dog, an athletic one,” said Freeman. “We do a lot of hiking, and we wanted one we could take kayaking with us.”

Bentley, a young Terrior/Mini-Pinscher mix had been sent to RPC when his elderly owner suffered an injury. Freeman and Carver quickly made arrangements to meet him. It was love at first sight.

“Getting a dog is like getting married,” Freeman said. “He had the right personality for us.”

A new family formed at Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills. L-R: Trey Boucher, Lulu the dog, Nan Boucher, Charlie Rooks, Maci the dog, Meg Rooks, Jane Rooks. Supplied photo

For Nan Boucher and her family of five, it became clear they had room for a rescue dog when the older kids returned from college and everyone hunkered down to shelter at home. She and her partner Meg Rooks established their household together in 2018, bringing her eight-year-old son Trey and Meg’s college-age kids Jane and Charlie together into what they call a modern, blended family.

“We were used to going on ‘pack walks’ with our neighbors,” Boucher explained of the realization that one dog wasn’t enough. “We’d meet up at different places to walk with our kids and dogs and it would be our social hour. Sharing coffee, kids in one direction, dogs off to play in another.

“When we had to build a sanctuary in our house we saw that we had space to add a dog in with us. We already have an awesome dog Lulu, who is nine. So it was important that an additional pet be able to match up to our family dynamic.”

Boucher began looking online at available dogs. As soon as she saw Maci at RPC she started the adoption process and made an appointment to meet her. She grew up in nearby Sumner – a road trip to her old stomping grounds to get the family out of the house for a bit would be a second, welcome diversion.

“RPC did a great job working with us virtually,” Boucher said. “It’s hard to work that way, and the ultimate test comes when you meet the dog face-to-face.”

On Mar. 28 the family went in with Lulu for their introduction to Maci and Lulu immediately approved.

“Lulu gave Maci a true sign of respect,” said Boucher. “She walked over to her, gave her a good sniff, turned away from her, and sat down. And Maci did great. It was a lot of commotion and she hid her face at first but she didn’t shy away. They allowed the other to sniff around and it was a very natural acceptance.”

Not much is known about Maci’s backstory. Estimated to be between one and two, she was picked up as a stray and fostered out of state before being transported to Paris and RPC. What was clear is that Lulu, who Boucher adopted as a young stray while living in St. Croix, understood Maci perfectly.

Maci, who was recently adopted from Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills to the Boucher-Rooks family in Portland. Supplied photo

“She has just taken Maci under her wing. I think dogs understand each other. Lulu started out as a stray, timid and hungry. She has been so patient with Maci and they sleep together, play together,” Boucher said. “And having another dog has changed Lulu. She’s always been a bit introverted. Friendly but cautious and having Maci around has really brought her out of her shell.

“Maci has a more dominant personality and having her come into the household and take charge has allowed Lulu to relax.”

The family’s routine social interactions with friends has been reduced to waving and small talk from a distance. But having a pair of dogs means that pack walk time is still a priority and rewarding, even sans neighbors.

“These two dogs make us laugh every day,” said Boucher, who works as a nurse practitioner. “It has helped us cope emotionally and keep the kids grounded. They are great partners. This pandemic is in our faces but at the end of the day, we immerse ourselves in the dogs. We’ve been able to stay connected with nature with our walks. We’ve gone geocaching with them.”

The outside world is roiling around the pandemic and faltering economy but Maci is thriving in her new life. Sheltering in place and bonding with her kid and canine companions is a dream come true for a rescued stray. There will be future adjustments for her to make once things return to normal and the kids return to school but Boucher is confident it will go perfectly.

Hugh Freeman of Bethel with Bentley, his new kayaking partner. Supplied photo

“She is living her dream,” Boucher said. “The dogs sleep with us but they have a doggy door and can go out into the yard whenever they want day or night. Maci and Meg’s daughter Jane have made a really tight connection. It’s very much about the sanctuary of home.

“Right now Jane is the cherry on top of Maci’s sundae. Regular life will return and Jane will leave us to go back to school in Manhattan, but Maci will get more new experiences to fill her life. She’ll meet our neighbors’ kids and dogs. She will have so many new cherries for her sundae.”

Over in Bethel, Bentley is two weeks into his marriage to the Freeman/Carver family and things are going swimmingly. Bentley has his own lifejacket and is the perfect sized kayak mate.

“It’s great,” Freeman said. “He is well-trained and house broken. He needs lots of exercise, and that’s what we wanted. He fit right in with us.”


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