This was first published on Linkedin.
What strange and unsettling times these are. In nearly every country, the new normal of self-isolation and social distancing is forcing us to adapt in ways most of us could never have imagined. It’s a considerable challenge – and not just for us humans. Whether it’s a cat accustomed to having the run of the house while we’re out at work, a dog having to make do with just one short walk a day or any other animal whose daily routine has had to change, it must feel to our pets as if life has been suddenly and inexplicably disrupted.
Yet, despite this dramatic transformation in circumstances, the role of pets in our lives has actually become more important than ever. I’ve written before about my research indicating how animals may help people – especially older adults – cope with loneliness after losing a partner due to divorce or death. And right now, many people may well be experiencing similar feelings of solitude, not because of the loss of a loved one but as a result of having to isolate themselves against the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Same feelings = same possible solution.
It might be the physical benefits that come with heading out for a pet’s daily walk – something studies have shown can help people boost their activity levels, promote good health and even help increase rates of survival after coronary artery disease. It could be the sense of purpose and interaction that comes with having an animal to feed and look after. It may simply be the pleasure of having another friendly face around the house to share the day with or snuggle up to in front of the TV. Whatever the specific individual reason, there’s strong evidence that older people with pets find it easier to guard against the physical and mental challenges of spending lots of time on their own.
But if you or a loved one aren’t fortunate enough to have a furry, scaly or feathered friend to call on, don’t despair. For example, my 70-year-old neighbor, who is widowed and currently self-isolating, has found great comfort in spending some time every day playing with my nine-month-old puppy. Yes, the two of us can’t enjoy time in each other’s company right now, but it’s proving to be great fun for her and a lovely way for us to feel connected.
In fact, done safely, allowing an isolated, healthy person to ‘borrow’ your pet like this, even if it’s just for a cuddle or a run-around in their garden, can be hugely beneficial to both their mental and physical wellbeing. So, if you’re in a position to offer, please do give serious thought to doing so. And just in case you’re worried about any risks involved, the evolving advice from the scientific and medical communities around this new virus is that we should treat our pets as we do our family members. That means:
1. Keeping them away from infected people or anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms
2. Separating animals who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 from other unexposed people and pets
3. Always practicing good hygiene and proper handwashing before and after handling them
Of course, I’m not saying pets are a silver bullet solution for this extraordinary and stressful period of our lives. Which is why along with following the government’s health and safety guidelines, we should be all heeding the advice about calling people regularly on the phone, chatting to them via video conference or running errands for those not able to do so for themselves.
Yet, what’s clear is that for those of us who share a love of pets, now is the moment to truly cherish being together.
Dr. Dawn Carr is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology.
The feature image appeared with the original post on Linkedin.