Erika Allen, owner of Make-Modern Crafting Studio, says she believes Mr. Squiggles, the official pig of Darien, cheers residents up because pigs are “Inherently silly.”

“During this tough time, people can be driving down a street and they see Mr. Squiggles in the front yard and they are like, ‘Is that a pig?’” she said.

“Everything is so serious right now and just seeing him makes people do a double-take,” she said.

“Pigs are just inherently silly,” Allen said. She has found that children especially are cheered by seeing Mr. Squiggles.

As the town, country and the world face a pandemic that keeps us feeling isolated and uncertain, many turn to learning about, watching or just hugging our animals for comfort.

Adoption

Many are choosing to adopt dogs and cats right now — often citing the time at home helps to train and acclimate.

Friends of Felines in Stamford has said their adoptions seekers are up.

Ellen Simmonds, executive director of PAWS in Norwalk said they have “certainly seen an outpouring of kindness vis-a-vis fosters/adopters.”

“I think it's a combination of wanting to give back to society but more importantly, that people are lonely and want a companion during these uncertain times. And there is no better or more loyal companion than a companion animal,” Simmonds said.

“There are people who want to surrender their animals because they can no longer afford them but the number of owner surrenders seems to be the same number now as it was before COVID-19. The foster/adopter list however, has burgeoned since COVID-19,” she said.

Pam Zangrillo recently adopted a new puppy from the same breeder her older dog came from, the Kamermans.

Enzo arrived via RV all the way from Montana on Thursday, April 23. The Zangrillos’ older dog, Marley, is also a Kamerman Golden Retriever.

RTM member Patti Bumgardner’s husband, Dan, is on the town’s Board of Finance. Bumgardner, a long-time friend of Zangrillo, said she had not planned on getting a new puppy but heard another adoption had fallen through.

“However, with three young adults now home, two whose college year was abruptly upended and another who is now working from home, it seemed like the perfect time to bring some added joy into our lives,” Bumgardner said.

With her son turning 21, she said “If he couldn’t be with his friends in college celebrating finally turning legal, what’s better than getting a new puppy?”

As far as the name, Bumgardner’s son Brendan wanted a name that had a family connection.

“We had loved watching the series Friday Night Lights together so when we found out we were getting a girl, we decided to name our beautiful baby girl puppy Lyla Garritty Bumgardner,” she said.

Keith, Lori, Ben, Will and Andrew Olson of Darien welcomed Pearl the puppy in March. The family lost their 13-year-old Samoyed in November and had wanted to adopt a new dog before the pandemic and staying home hit.

“She has been amazing and has made our lives so much better during this shelter in place. We’ve been walking her several times a day, so it helps us stay active. All the new puppy products we needed were procured at local Darien shops —Paw Prints and Petvalu —so hopefully that helped them,” Lori said.

“While we all can’t wait to get back to our normal everyday lives, Pearl’s entire life has been us home 24/7. Hopefully, her adjustment will be smooth when the world returns to normal,” she said.

Ox Ridge Riding and Raquet Club

Riders have been getting solace and enjoyment from safely social distancing but riding their horses at the club, according to board member Susan Mackenzie.

“Our horses bring us so much joy, especially at a time when connections to others are limited,” said Mackenzie.

“There is a strong bond between horse and rider, one built on trust. The highlights of my week are when I am in the saddle exercising my horse and the quiet moments grazing him on a sunny day,” she said.

Bird watching

Wildbirds Unlimited owner Joe Warren said he has noticed “a sharp increase in the attention people are paying to their bird feeders and nesting boxes.”

“My seed sales have been up dramatically in the last month. While my total sales are down from last year, my seed sales for April are up by 14%,” Warren said.

People are home all day, Warren said, and therefore are spending much more time looking at their bird feeders.

“For some people, it is a major source of enjoyment during this confinement. I am constantly told by customers that they are very happy that we are able to continue meeting their bird feeding and bird watching requirements,” he said.

Former Darien Land Trustee Chris Bosak, who writes and photographs birds for his site, birdsofnewengland.com, and its Facebook page, also said he has seen a rise in the popularity of bird watching.

“There has been a noticeable increase in the interest people are taking in our wildlife, including backyard birds,” he said.

“It is spring migration and different birds are showing up every day. Many of these spring migrants are very colorful and that will prompt even more people to take notice. New England has a great variety of interesting wildlife and it is nice that many more people are paying attention to how beautiful our area truly is. Perhaps it will inspire a more conservation-minded attitude going forward,” Bosak said.

During this difficult time, Bosak has been doing a daily post spotlighting one type of bird.

“I post a different bird photo every day to educate people on what is in their own backyard and also to inspire them to seek out their own discoveries. There are many to be had in our area,” he said.

Chickens

Darien resident Susan Daly, who runs the Facebook group Darien Chick Talk, said she started raising chickens over five years ago. She said the group is to support one another as “chicken parents.”

“Our group currently has close to 100 members, with almost 30 new members since we began our quarantine. They learned about the group after I responded to a post about raising chickens on a Facebook moms group. At least three new members have added chicks to their family,” Daly said.

Daly said she believes that the quarantine sparked a lot of interest in adding pets, including dogs and chickens to their lives, because they are finding themselves with more time at home and because of the comfort that they bring.

She said the process can be very rewarding.

“I personally found raising chicks akin to raising children, more hands on time in the beginning and less so later on. Also, once they are in the coop (full feathered), you can go away for trips and have someone drop by quickly to check on them and grab eggs (a definite perk!). There is usually a line of folks willing to volunteer for that job!” she said.

Daly said the her family has bonded with the chickens and they continue to bring them joy — as well as many colorful eggs.

“My daughter has named our chickens with certain themes in mind -- she has a bit of a sweet tooth and depending on their colors has chosen names like Marshmallow, S'mores, Oreo. She has also had fun training them to come back to the coop when they are called, hypnotizing them, and recently she taught one of our chicks to play dead,” Daly said.

The family got a new group of chicks on April 19 that they ordered before the quarantine because she likes unusual breeds. Daly said she had seen many reports of chicks and pellets being sold out during the coronavirus pandemic as people feared a food shortage.

Virtual visits

The Darien Nature Center is currently closed to visitors in light of non-essential business closures and adherence to social distancing.

Darien Nature Center Animal Care Director Molly Robertson said that pets at home are absolutely comforting during this time but another way to be connected with animals in a way that has health benefits is through hobbies like bird watching, or searching for critters in one’s yard on a nature walk.

“These are timeless activities that inspire people to get outdoors, and many recent studies show being in nature directly correlates with better overall physical and mental health,” she said.

The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk has been holding live virtual Q & A’s to showcase animal videos during its closure.

Tina Tison of the aquarium said they are very popular.

“All of the comments we receive are that people appreciate staying connected to the animals via the video segments,” she said.

Also popular are virtual learning offerings including virtual public programs and school distance learning programs, being booked by those across the country, in the U.K. and Canada.

“On all fronts, we're continuing to build out programs to meet the interest and keep people connected during this time,” she said.

Comfort

Most who weighed in on the positives of having animals pointed to the comfort they provide. Erika Allen said she cozies up in bed with Mr. Squiggles and her dogs at night.

She said when people spot Mr. Squiggles in town — they find it both unusual and comforting to see him.

“It’s just ridiculous to drive by and see a pig. They are just happy and silly and ridiculous. How could you not love this funny little creature?” Allen said.

Resources

Darien Nature Center — https://dariennaturecenter.org/

Darien Chick Talk — https://www.facebook.com/groups/701512659991529/

Kamerman Kennels — https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kamerman-Kennels/1808151276127319

Wild Birds Unlimited — https://darien.wbu.com/

Birds of New England — https://www.facebook.com/birdsofnewengland/

Maritime Aquarium Facebook page —https://www.facebook.com/maritime.aquarium/