Many dogs that were living in shelters are being fostered during the virus shutdown. Some are becoming permanent members of the households that took them in.

DESTIN — If Travis Goodman could rate his life, the numbers would be off the charts right now.


Given a scale of 1 to 10, his mom, Kristen Goodman, guesses he’d put it at a 15. All of his owners are home to walk him, tote him around and feed him. At 72 pounds, he’s very much a lap dog, and there is suddenly no shortage of laps in his life.


"He is definitely having a good life," said Kristen, his owner. "It’s all about Travis."


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As the quality of people’s lives dips low during the coronavirus pandemic, in many cases a dog’s life has never been better.


Many of their owners, including students of all ages, are home full time. There is less to do, which means more time to entertain and be entertained by pets.


Many dogs that were living in shelters are being fostered during the virus shutdown. Some are becoming permanent members of the households that took them in.


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Michele Nicholson, who with her husband Scott rescued four of their five dogs, describes this period as "heaven" for her pets. As she moves around the house, she brings the dogs’ beds with them, including a 4-foot long pillow favored by the largest, a 73-pound rescue named Friend.


"Their greatest joy is being beside you. Everywhere I go I have my pack by my side," she said. "If I take a shower, there are five dogs on the floor (outside), waiting for me to get out."


During normal times, Travis lives with Kristen on a busy street in a Destin neighborhood. He spends six to eight hours alone on the days she works. His other two owners, 16-year-old Kannon and 22-year-old Matson, are busy with high school and away at college, respectively.


In mid-February, Kristen had surgery, which meant Travis had company but wasn’t the center of attention. She also couldn’t take him anywhere.


Then life improved, at least for Travis.


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Matson came home on spring break, then returned to the University of Florida briefly before moving home for the foreseeable future when the campus closed. Kannon, a high school sophomore, also found himself learning online and around the house.


Almost overnight, Travis’ doggy dreams came true.


The boys compete to carry him around the house. Matson does squats holding a wriggling and tail-wagging Travis.


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The family has been eating more ice cream, his favorite treat. The back yard is littered with the cartons that Travis takes out through the dog door to savor.


His owners have determined that he prefers trotting alongside a bike to going for a walk, so bike rides are now a regular part of his routine.


He hasn’t been alone in more than a month, even for a few minutes.


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Part of each day is spent sitting on the front porch watching all of the people go by. Due to the limited number of approved activities, a higher number of people pass by their home walking dogs, running, biking or pushing baby strollers.


An added bonus has been the number of delivery drivers bringing groceries and other purchases to the house.


"He’s met a lot of new delivery drivers," Kristen said. "He likes to meet somebody new."


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Even if they get the same driver twice, Travis doesn’t notice. Every day is a new one for him.


Whenever the Goodmans take a car somewhere, Travis goes with them, hanging his head out the window.


The only downside of the pandemic for the good-natured dog is that he no longer gets to go to the Destin dog park.


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"It is open," Kristen said. "We’ve not taken him for about three weeks. It’s just not smart to be in public.


"We had to go to Publix the other day and we had to drive by (the park) and he was quite upset we didn’t stop."


Each of Michele and Scott Nicholson’s dogs has a story. One was saved from an owner who hated him. Another is diabetic. A third was so badly traumatized by a long-ago owner that she is terrified and neurotic, convinced someone is going to hurt her, even after years of living in a safe place. The fourth has only three working legs.


Friend, who Michele calls Boo, was saved last year from Danny’s Dog House, a Niceville facility where dozens of animals were found neglected.


Now, the five dogs — four small and one large — are Michele’s constant companions, scrambling to get close to her and crying when they can’t.


"They’re spoiled, and that’s the way I think they should be," she said. "They’re my shadows."


Last week, the Nicholsons learned that Friend, nicknamed for his ability to get along with everyone, has terminal cancer.


He doesn’t know he’s dying.


He spends his days sleeping in the sun by the pool or on his giant bed next to wherever Michele is working. He also likes playing with the neighbor’s dog.


"He’s living in the moment," Michele said. "Which teaches you how important it is to live in the moment. None of us know what’s around the corner.


"Although we think he’s 10 years old, he plays like a puppy, and we believe it’s because he’s home and his heart is wide open."


When they rescued him, he had limited use of his back legs, probably from spending too much time in a crate. It’s not fair, they say, that he is finally in a loving home after spending much of his life as a shelter dog.


"But lots of things are going on in the world right now that aren’t fair," Michele said. "And with some of those things, we don’t have the power to change the outcome.


"His last months on the planet are not going to be spent alone in a kennel. They are going to be months where he’s getting what all dogs deserve daily; big fluffy pillows, lots of treats, endless attention and whatever else he needs to feel loved and appreciated as part of a family at last."


She and her family are a refuge to these dogs, and they return the favor, she said.


"People say we rescue dogs. I think they rescue us."


A month ago, before most people could have envisioned how their lives would change, a giant coon hound named Huckleberry was sharing a cage with other dogs at the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.


As shelters started clearing out in preparation for an influx of pet surrenders for economic reasons, Huckleberry was adopted. But on the first day he chewed up his foster mom’s shoe and was returned the next day.


Enter Jeff Hayes and Brandee Ward, who both worked in the bar industry until coronavirus precautions closed them.


Hayes said Ward saved him about a year ago, inspiring his mindset about the importance of helping others. He went to PAWS and asked them to give him the "oldest dog they had."


Instead, they gave him Huckleberry.


"We were losing our minds," Hayes said. "He’s going to be the most well-maintained dog. He has completely changed us.


"Now we have someone to talk to besides ourselves."


A typical day for Huckleberry starts with him waking up on a cot placed next to the couple’s bed. He sleeps with his cuddle-buddy, a squeaking toy duck. He actually has his own bed elsewhere in the house, but doesn’t like being alone.


His favorite activities include wrestling with his owners, going into the backyard and barking at the wind and going for walks down to the bay where he watches the crabs.


His owners also spend part of every day training him.


"Dogs are going to be dogs," Hayes said. "No matter how old a dog is, they’re going to have the mentality of an 8-year-old (child)."


Huckleberry’s day, broken down to the basics, is train, sleep, play outside, repeat.


"All these people want perfect dogs, but they don’t spend the time working with them," Hayes said. "The pets won’t give up on us. We don’t give up on them. They just need time and love."


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