Welcome a dog or cat into your home and hearts—safely.

Cute Cat to Adopt during quarantine
Credit: Getty Images

One of the bright bits of good news in the midst of the coronavirus crisis has been the huge increase in dogs and cats finding new homes, as people heed the call to help shelters by fostering or adopting new pets.

Millions of Americans have stepped up to take care of dogs and cats in the shelters—to the point where some shelters are completely empty at the moment. "People are just being really incredibly generous right now, opening their hearts and homes," says Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society. "In just one week we saw a 25 percent increase in adoptions, and almost a 26 percent increase in foster."

So if you're looking to find a little someone to cuddle with while you're on quarantine, here's how to do that safely now.

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Consider Your Lifestyle Now—and in the Future

It can be tempting to get an adorable pet or dog to keep you company when you're at home 24/7, but think about what life will be like when the lockdown is over—and if you'll be able to give your pet the proper exercise and attention.

"All cats and dogs have different personalities, and some may not require as much exercise as others," says Kelly DiCicco, manager of promotions at ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City. "For example, while some dogs may benefit from living two streets down from a great dog park, others may show no interest and will prefer a nice, quiet walk around the block. Likewise, some animals may enjoy having long periods of alone time once you go back to work, while others may not enjoy being left alone so much."

You should also consider how your finances may be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak—vet bills and pet food costs can make the cost of pet ownership prohibitive if your family has had layoffs or other financial setbacks.

Related: Do These 3 Things Before Adopting a Pet

Find Your Pet Match

Sites like Petfinder and AdoptaPet.com let you look at pets from a wide range of shelters and rescue groups near you, filtered by age, energy level, comfort levels with other pets and kids, and special needs. You can also select a certain pet rescue and check out their website to see who might be available—or fill out an application with them and wait for an adoptable pet that suits your family.

Keep in mind that talking with the shelter staffers may be the best way to find your match. "Every shelter has a unique population of animals and no one knows them like the people who work with them every day," DiCicco says. "Plus, shelter staff have expertise in making successful matches and can help prospective adopters or fosters decide whether an animal is a good personality and lifestyle fit."

Understand the Adoption Process

While in the past, you might have been able to go in and meet with the staff and your potential pet, most rescue groups and shelters have adopted new methods to keep everyone safe. Intake interviews and home visits may be virtual, as may your initial meet and greet. However, coronavirus quarantine hasn't kept them from properly checking up on potential adopters or fosters, so expect that you'll still need to provide personal references, a vet reference (if you have/had other pets already), and your landlord's information.

And you'll need to be a little patient, as well. Many shelters are operating with reduced staff to properly vet new applications, and have already been inundated with potential adopters—so it may take time for them to check your references and approve you.

Get Ready for Your New Arrival

Your rescue group can provide you with info on what your pet's currently eating, and what sort of gear he or she will need. Try to get that info in advance, as it might take some time to find and source everything right now. To help out, the shelter may even provide some of the items to get you started. "We try to provide those initial supplies to make it as successful as possible," says Castle.

And don't forget to pet proof your home. "Make sure big objects can’t be knocked over, small objects can’t be swallowed, electrical cords are not accessible to pets, and food and toxic items are put away," says Julia Poukatch from PAWS in Chicago.

Finally, make sure that everything's in place to make them feel right at home. "Set up their bed and food bowls ahead of time to give them a place to rest and get comfortable without feeling too overwhelmed," says DiCicco. "Many pets enjoy having a quiet, zen-like, covered crate or area where they can get away from whatever feels overwhelming."

Related: Everything You Need Before Bringing Home a New Puppy for the First Time

Bring Them Home Safely

Most rescue groups have created new procedures to make it safer to bring your new pet home. Staffers may be masked and gloved when they bring the pet to you, and you may meet them outdoors or even do a "curbside" pickup.

There has been no evidence of people being infected with COVID-19 through interaction with pets, but if you're concerned, you could make a bath one of the first bonding activities with your new pet for your peace of mind. "It’s a smart thing to do, and it’s an opportunity for you to really understand that pet a lot better too," Castle says. "If the pet is skittish or scared, use pet wipes instead."

Give Your New Pet Time to Acclimate

It may take some time for your new pet to get used to your home, and all its new sounds, smells, and experiences—so don't freak out if it takes time for you and your pet to get to know each other. "Introduce your pup to new experiences, objects, places, and people in a fun, positive way that allows your pup to feel safe," DiCicco says. "Use your pup’s favorite treats and toys to help create positive associations with all the new things they are encountering."

"Owners should think about what their neighborhood and household is like under normal circumstances and find ways to get their dog or cat familiar with that type of life, getting creative with socializing them to the world in and outside the home," says DiCicco. If traffic around your house is normally noisier, play sound clips of that noise to help them get used to it. "If your puppy seems distressed by the sound, start with the volume at a low level, increasing it just a little every day," DiCicco says.

Go Online for Training and Advice

Most pet rescues and shelter organizations have plenty of articles and videos on their sites with tips and advice to deal with common training or behavioral issues that you might encounter with your new pet. Some trainers and groups—including PAWS—have started offering virtual puppy kindergartens and training classes to help your new pet learn basic obedience commands.

And of course, your rescue group or adoption group should be available to provide individualized guidance. "We know that that first period of time for foster and adoptive parents is the make or break period, and we make sure we provide them with every resource," says Castle. "We will do virtual chat, FaceTime, whatever is conducive for helping out that individual who has taken in that animal."

Vet Visits May Be Delayed

Most rescue groups will have their pets up to date on vaccinations and ideally, spayed or neutered as well. But right now, vets across the country are operating on an emergency-only basis, so there may be a delay in additional vaccinations and elective surgeries like spaying and neutering.

Check in with your vet regarding any additional medical care your pet may need—many vets have adopted new rules, such as curbside exams and telemedicine to keep you and them safe.

Get Creative With the Grooming

Your hair may be looking a little shaggy—and soon your dog's coat might be, too. Since groomers are closed at the moment, you may need to get your scissors or clippers out to help manage his style. "We're all turning into DIYers in this crisis," Poukatch says. "We recommend finding a gentle pet shampoo and bathing your pet at home if it's necessary—but keep in mind that pets shouldn't receive baths too often as it dries their skin. We've had adopters buy clippers and start shaving their own pets while groomers are not an option. YouTube offers great videos to help!"

Have Fun With Your New Pet

Playing with and exercising your pet are essential to help keep bad behavior at bay. "Boredom and excess energy are two common reasons for undesirable behavior in pets," DiCicco says. Try to vary your walk path to keep your dog (and you) from being bored, and set up fun obstacle courses around the house for your pets to explore, using boxes, toilet paper rolls—and a few treats, too. Puzzle toys can help keep cats and dogs entertained while you're working from home, until you're ready to play again.

Related: 5 Pet Cleaning Products All Pet Parents Need