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More people are leaning on pet adoption to cope with the pandemic

Austin Pets Alive! is seeing an uptick in adoptions, and The Zebra, an insurance comparison site based in Austin, is paying for employees' four-legged adoptions.

AUSTIN, Texas — An Austin-based company is giving its employees another benefit: covering pet adoption fees

The Zebra announced on Monday it is becoming the first employer in the U.S. to do this, covering up to $300 annually for employees wanting to add a fur baby to their family.

The Zebra is an insurance comparison site that compares more than 100 insurance companies, and its headquarters is based in Austin. In addition, employees will be able to use the company's paid time off policy to get acquainted with their new pet, which is sometimes referred to as "pawternity" leave.

Maribeliz Ortiz, an agency quality assurance coordinator at The Zebra, used the benefit to adopt Niko, a miniature long-haired dachshund. She said that was her "dream dog" since childhood.

"Since I was home, I was like, 'I can take this time to actually train them and spend time with them,'" said Ortiz. "It feels really nice to be supported by my company to help start a family in the way I can right now." 

The policy was born after CEO Keith Melnick wanted to be sure that anyone who wanted companionship from a furry friend could have that opportunity.

The Zebra spokesperson, Danielle Marchell, said so far six employees have used the perk, to bring home "furever" friends.

"We're not in the office getting that social contact," said Marchell. "So having a buddy that's with you to kind of give some love and some companionship is a huge boost in mood and quality of life." 

RELATED: A paw-fect ending: Trixie the tripod has been adopted

The Zebra employees are part of a wave of people leaning on pet adoptions to help cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

According to new data from Austin Pets Alive!, in July people adopted 700 cats, 50% more than July of 2019.  

"We have seen a 150% increase in first-time fosters, which translates to over 2,000 first-time fosters," said Austin Pets Alive! spokesperson Katera Berent. "It"s a really difficult time to be living in right now and pets are so helpful to making sure you feel OK." 

Ortiz said she is thankful for her new four-legged friend. 

"I'm grateful to be able to be there for every step of his new life," said Ortiz.

RELATED: Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness adopts dog from Austin Pets Alive!

Dan Kujanek, a senior manager in performance marketing, adopted his dog, Ripley, after moving to Austin from New York in 2017. He said after their recent move to a home with a large yard and COVID-19's stay-at-home orders, now was a good time to rescue their second pup, Romy.

Additional employee benefits at The Zebra include 20 weeks of fully paid parental leave for the primary caregiver (16 weeks of fully paid parental leave for the secondary caregiver) in birth or adoption of a child with flexible reentry to work, $100 monthly wellness perk, summer Friday release at 2 p.m., unlimited paid time off, flexible work-from-home options, weekly catered lunches, an in-house barista, standing desks, fully-stocked snack and drink pantries, subsidized parking at its East Austin office and more. 

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