In Moscow, a good time for pets

MOSCOW – Stuck at home during Moscow’s coronavirus lockdown, Alexandra Novatova opted to use a delivery service — a big decision, because she was ordering more than a pizza or a shipment of toilet paper.

She got a dog brought to her door.

She chose the shepherd mix from a 12-hour online broadcast in which animal shelter volunteers showed dogs and cats to try to match them with humans.

The lockdown has been hard on dogs in some ways — their daily walks are supposed to go no farther than 100 meters from home, and owners 65 years and older are told to stay indoors except for buying groceries and medication. But it also has some bright spots.

People in isolation, looking for animal companionship, are adopting dogs. And many dogs are making new friends, as volunteers walk the pets of elderly people.

“People are spending a lot of time at home during the pandemic. I realized that people now have more free time, they can adopt pets without taking a vacation or arranging extra days off,” said Anastasia Medvedeva, one of the organizers of the online adoption initiative “Happiness Delivered At Home.”

“Because when you adopt a pet, you need a certain amount of time for it to become accustomed to its new environment. Now it’s a perfect time to adopt a cat or a dog,” she said.

Medvedeva said her project tries to ensure that the animals aren’t adopted just as a temporary salve to the tedium and loneliness of lockdown. “We have quite experienced curators. ... They conduct rigorous interviews. We naturally ask: Do you understand what will happen next?” she said

Pensioner Margarita Donchenko knows how much attention a dog needs. And she’s glad when volunteer Nadezhda Minyaeva shows up once a day to give her fluffy little black-and-white pooch a walk.

“I saw right away that the dog is crazy about her. As soon as she wakes up, she runs to the door and waits for the doorbell to ring. She waits by her leash for Nadya to come,” she said.

“I tell her that Nadya will come soon and she replies with a ‘woof-woof.’ ”

Kirill Zarubin, Associated Press

Boxing for health workers

PARIS – Hassan N’Dam, former middleweight boxing champion of the world, wanted to repay the French hospital that cared for his father-in-law through his bout with COVID-19.

Perhaps with Champagne? Or chocolate? No, N’Dam thought: “These are things that won’t last. I wanted to leave something quite memorable.”

It occurred to him that he held the answer in his own hands. He would give the staff at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges hospital boxing lessons, to help them relieve the tension of long shift work during the pandemic — “letting off steam, getting rid of all one’s emotions.”

“They have seen so many [difficult] things that they came here looking for something,” said N’Dam. “Sometimes they came to laugh, to let off steam. Others came to discover something, others to learn, improve.”

The 36-year-old N’Dam, who represented Cameroon at the 2016 Olympic Games, has won 37 of 41 pro fights — 21 by knockout. His 30-minute training sessions have been immensely popular with the staff.

As a nurse in the intensive care unit, 27-year-old Marina De Carli has been on the front line of the pandemic since it hit France. “In the ICU we see things that are not easy,” she said. “So it feels good to let the pressure drop a bit.” Wearing camouflage-pattern shorts and a face mask, she threw punches into the burly boxer’s hands during her fifth and final class.

Operating theater nurses Kenza Benour and Nassima Guermat warmed up for their training by skipping rope — awkwardly, because their shoes were covered with blue plastic protective shields. Guermat’s strong left-right hook combinations pounded N’Dam’s hand pads, as his wife looked on.

The hospital boxing bouts also gave N’Dam valuable time to see his father-in-law, Jean-Claude Valero, as he recovered from the virus.

Surgeon Philippe Wodecke, 55, who works in part of the unit which treated Valero, was keen to learn from the ex-world champ. Light on his toes, the stocky surgeon unleashes a quick four-punch combination.

“A moment of escape, a moment of relaxation amid the torment,” Wodecke said. “He’s done us a lot of good.”

JEROME PUGMIRE, Associated Press

They call it ‘Quaranchella’

LOS ANGELES – For 15 years, Adam Chester has subbed for Elton John, performing John’s parts in rehearsals with the rocker’s band. But with John sitting out the pandemic, Chester had to find another gig.

And he did: weekly, socially distant concerts in his suburban Los Angeles cul-de-sac.

Which is how Chester has come to serenade a few dozen of his face-masked neighbors from inside a broad rectangle of rainbow chalk. They dance to John’s “Crocodile Rock” and sing along to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

They call this “Quaranchella,” and it has become a source of community and connection at a critical time.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” said Chester’s wife, Maria, who serves as his road crew along with their two teenage sons. “It kind of organically happened because he needed to play, and it’s been evolving.”

Chester jokes about his role as John’s substitute — “He’s Sir Elton and I’m ‘Sur’ Elton, with a ‘u,’ the surrogate Elton John.” He played a major role in the 2018 Grammy salute to Elton John at New York’s Madison Square Garden. And he also played his own club and party gigs, but the lockdown put a halt to that.

“I was going out of my mind inside the house here as a lot of musicians are,” Chester said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we take this outside once a week?’ ”

A show on Mother’s Day eve had a maternal theme. Chester’s own mother, who raised him alone after his father died when he was 11, sat behind him in his front yard.

Each show also raises money for charity. This week it was Single Mothers Outreach.

The response from neighbors has been overwhelmingly positive.

“All week I look forward to that Saturday show,” said neighbor Lisa Silver, who along with others pitched in to buy a tripod to hold Chester’s phone so the shows can be streamed on Facebook.

Exhilarated after the concert, Chester said these Saturday night shows may outlast the quarantine era. “I can’t imagine going back to anything normal after this,” he said.

ANDREW DALTON, Associated Press