Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi couldn’t stop glowing about the newest addition to his team.
“He loves defense. He’s really not interested in letting anyone score points,” Rossi said. “… He’s high-energy. He’s got good speed, good lateral movement. And, you know, he’s just lovable, wants to play all the time.”
Well, his name is literally Blitz.
Obviously, this isn’t one of the Gophers’ up-and-coming defensive stars: Rossi is assessing his new family pet, a 2-year-old chocolate lab.
Blitz — a name admittedly stolen from former Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s dog — is just one example of pets finding new homes during the coronavirus pandemic. Pet adoptions have skyrocketed in the past three months, and shelters and breeders are trying to post photos of their animals online fast enough to keep up with demand.
And while this is a trend across society with everyone spending far more time at home than usual, sports figures have taken particular advantage. Rossi, for example, would have spent his spring on campus for football, then traveled across the country recruiting. Instead, he’s posted up in his suburban home with wife Lynsey, 4-year-old Nico and 1-year-old Luca.
Wild forward Luke Kunin should have been finishing out the regular season in hopes of a long postseason run. Instead, he and his girlfriend are cooped up in their apartment and needed to find a positive in these hard times.
So they road-tripped down to Kunin’s native Missouri to pick up their new French bulldog puppy, Rocco. Kunin called it “the perfect time” to add to their household, since’ he’d have the downtime to train Rocco and spend time with him.
“I’ve had more interviews in the last little bit about Rocco than I have hockey,” Kunin said. “I’m not used to that. It’s kind of funny.”
Kunin said several of his teammates, including defenseman Matt Dumba and forward Ryan Donato, also just took in dogs. And they can probably relate to how Kunin tried to stickhandle a toy ball with Rocco, hoping Rocco would chase it. But the puppy was more interested in chewing the hockey stick.
Olympic-qualified rock climber Kyra Condie of Shoreview adopted two cats, Pika and Pepper, where she lives and trains in Salt Lake City. They just recently explored Condie’s in-home climbing wall.
“They got just super in my way,” Condie said. “But it was so cute that I didn’t mind.”
While her cats enjoy sprinting up and down her stairs every morning at 6 a.m., she said the climbing wall is a bit too steep for them.
Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck and his wife, Heather, already had planned on getting a puppy before the pandemic hit. And she might not know it, but Bella the Maltipoo is enjoying some rare quality time with her busy parents.
“It’s been awesome, especially for P.J.,” Heather Fleck said. “… If she does get up early in the morning, he lets her out. He feeds her, and he takes her on his little Starbucks or Caribou runs. She likes to go bye-bye in the car with Dad. And it’s been nice.
“… Now, all these dogs across America right now are going to have serious separation anxiety once everybody goes back to work. But it’s been fun.”
Bella has popped in on media video conferences and FaceTimes with recruits. And she has a basket full of Gophers gear — raincoats, bandannas, collars — at the ready for the next game day.
These pets are lucky to have found loving homes, but their humans are benefiting even more. From Pika chasing a ball down the stairs again and again, to Rocco slipping while running on the hardwood floors and jumping into his toy basket for a soft landing, to Blitz chasing two toddlers around the kitchen island, to Bella making off with a paper bag bigger than she was while her parents put away groceries.
Witnessing these moments, in a world where there’s so much to feel down about, makes their owners truly happy.
“It’s a stressful time,” Condie said of deciding to become a pet parent.” So anything that can bring you joy is not a bad decision.”