When four dogs — Oliver, Winston, Isabelle and Izzy — entered a shelter last month, their stay was supposed to be temporary.
Their owner, Jennifer Stein, had been hospitalized for COVID-19. Her father, Barry Stein, was also battling the disease caused by the new coronavirus from home while caring for her dogs but found it increasingly challenging to do both. So he called the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York and asked for help.
“When I spoke to him on the phone, he just wanted to make sure that his daughter was going to get her dogs back — her ‘babies,’ that’s what he called them,” Maria Mora, executive director of the Nassau County SPCA, told TODAY. “He told me that he wasn’t able to take them out anymore and it was becoming too much.”
On Feb. 3, when Mora arrived at Stein’s house to pick up the dogs, she noticed he had to stop several times to catch his breath.
“He was having a difficult time just bringing them out to us,” she said. “It was sad, but at the same time, he was happy that we were there to support him because all he wanted to do was just get better so that he could help his daughter recover.”
The coronavirus had other plans. The next day, Stein had to be hospitalized in the same intensive care unit as his daughter. Barry Stein died on Feb. 10, and his daughter, Jennifer Stein, died on Feb. 16.
Mora cried when Anita Miranda, Barry Stein’s girlfriend, told her the sad news. Miranda, 73, is distraught about the deaths and wishes she could take in the dogs herself, but she has severe allergies to them. She’d seen their sweet antics when they were outside in Stein’s yard and knows how much they meant to Jennifer Stein.
“All I want for them is what Jennifer would have wanted: a good home,” Miranda told TODAY. “Keep them together. I need that person who has a big enough heart to accept all four of them and to love them and be loved by them because they’re very loving, very affectionate.”
Despite the fact that Nassau County SPCA has never adopted out four dogs together, Mora is determined to do just that. In the meantime, the dogs have been staying together in a kennel and displaying a close bond with one another.
“We’ve noticed even though there’s a dog bed, in order for them to all snuggle together, they’d rather sleep on the floor,” Mora said. “They like to actually be bundled up together to sleep.”
Overall, the dogs seem to be doing as well as possible given the circumstances. The biggest dog is having the hardest time. Oliver, a 5-year-old black Lab mix, is shy and spooks easily, Mora said. Recently when she had to lead Oliver out of the kennel to take him to the veterinarian, he kept looking back at the door that led to his pack.
Isabelle, a 4-year-old black Lab mix, and Winston, a 5-year-old boxer, are happy-go-lucky types — “like, ‘Look at me! Play with me!’” — according to Mora.
Izzy, a 6-year-old Chihuahua, loves being held. Whenever Mora picks her up for a cuddle, the boxer checks to make sure everything’s OK.
“He comes right up to me, like, ‘What are you doing with her? Where is she going?’” Mora said. “They’re so attached. It’s going to be a little bit of a process, but I’m very hopeful that we’ll find a home that will take all four.”
Mora is grateful for all the “support and love” people are sending to Oliver, Winston, Isabelle and Izzy. The shelter has even started receiving emails from people interested in adopting all four dogs. Mora said the shelter is currently accepting adoption applications and will carefully evaluate each one to ensure the dogs find a good home.
Mora hopes this tragedy will motivate pet lovers to make contingency plans for their pets in case of emergencies, whether asking loved ones if they would be willing to take in a pet or donate to a nonprofit that will pledge to shelter and re-home the animal if need be.
“Make a plan for your pets just in case anything unforeseeable happens to you,” she advised. “It’s a conversation you should start having. ‘What will happen to my pets if something were to happen to me? Where would they go?’ We would love people to start having those conversations and making plans for their pets.”