NEW YORK - Lala, a 3-month-old black Lab, romped into Ufuoma George's life a few weeks ago, just as she retreated into her New York apartment in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lala, she thought, would be company. But she's turned out to be so much more.
"Being alone at home kind of is hard," says George, "but with a pet you have someone to take care of, someone to play with you, someone to greet you in the morning, so it's kind of like really calming and comforting."
Whether it's a dog, a cat or, yes, a hedgehog named Quillie Nelson, pets are proving to be unexpected heroes in lockdown. They include the newly adopted and fostered like Lala; people have flooded shelters, looking for pets to fill their extra hours at home.
Laura Evans, her husband and their three kids brought 12-week-old Zoe to their Bethesda, Maryland, home after the pandemic hit. The squirmy Yorkshire terrier needs constant attention, and they're happy to oblige.
"We wanted to bring a little light and life to our house," Evans said. "She's a cuddly work, homework sidekick. Everyone wants to hang with her."
Nancy Karan said her pet Shadow gets her out of her New York apartment for quality time with her fellow dog walkers, at a safe distance. At night they sleep together, "because it's very comforting just to have his body on my bed."
In Houston, Quillie Nelson and other pets help maintain routines for Rachael Pavlik and two teens.
"I think having pets during a scary time like this is good for the whole family. It's good for the kids to have a sense of normalcy and a sense of responsibility, like they have to get out of bed before noon to feed their animals," she said.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, urged more people to foster and adopt as the health crisis worsens.
"It frees up space in the shelter to take these animals in that may be displaced because their family member, their owner is ill or financially in a troubled situation," she said.
While many people seek comfort, some frustrations have surfaced with all the togetherness. Professional dog trainer Nicole Ellis in Los Angeles, of the service Rover.com, said owners should make a conscious effort to tire out their animals before a Zoom meeting or important phone call.
"We can't blame them if they're like, 'I'm bored! I'm bored!' and they haven't done anything all day. It's not their fault," she said.
That doesn't seem to be a problem for Squiggles, a bearded dragon in South Orange, New Jersey. Dan Cohen's 13-year-old daughter, Julia, has survived with help from her chill lizard, who has her own emotional support vest and tiny mask.
"We don't want her catching coronavirus," he joked.
Aubrey Fine, a licensed psychologist and professor emeritus at California Polytechnic State University, said the relationship is mutually beneficial between humans and animals.
"In a time of tremendous and unique life challenges, goodness is still around us. When you're looking at souls, animals touch human souls and humans touch animal souls. And together serendipity can happen."