It’s easy during this pandemic to feel very alone. But it’s equally easy to get relief if, as baby boomer Jeri Fink writes from Bellmore, New York, you have a pet.
“So Tuck, what would you like for dinner?”
He stared at me, eyes brimming with empathy.
“Burger? Taco? How about a juicy steak?”
Tuck, skillfully calculating my mood, leaped into my lap— all fifty-five furry pounds of him. Then he licked my face.
What would we do without our pets— furry, scaly, feathery, or otherwise? Whether a dog, cat, parrot, or iguana, they represent a special “army” of responders who don’t have to wear face masks.
Our best research says, dogs were first domesticated more than 15,000 years ago. Cats followed 7,000 years later. According to the American Pet Products Association, 67% of Americans own a pet. They range from dogs and cats to pigs and hamsters and horses. No one really knows when the first animals joined human households as pets, but throughout history they have served as companions, guardians, workers, hunters, and entertainers. And, of course, givers of unconditional love.
“That’s you, Tuck,” I say out loud as I write this blog.
Now add pandemic pet jobs: isolation buddy, exercise consultant, companion, playmate, dinner date. Simply put, Tuck and his “tribe” are the self-appointed pals, shrinks, protectors, and loyalists who are pandemic responders. Studies have shown they can reduce stress, ease anxiety, encourage playfulness, and relieve isolation.
According to the National Institute of Health’s News in Health, research has shown that pets can also lower blood pressure, reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost moods.
You hear that Tuck?
Even though they can’t talk or smile quite as broadly as we can, anyone who has a pet knows when they laugh, grin, and beg to play. Tuck jumps into my lap. His “sister” Coco wildly paws at my legs.
Together they entertain me with puppy-like antics, even though Coco is 17 years old and Tuck is seven.
They make me laugh even during pandemic days when everything feels so dark. They hang with me, ignore my stained pajamas, and binge on Animal Planet.
“Dogs are very present,” says Dr. Ann Berger in News in Health. “Their attention is focused on the person all the time.”
Mindfulness? Meditation? It’s essential to isolation buddies.
It can also take a toll. Tuck and Coco fight about dog chews and the best seat in front of the TV. Tuck eats too much and Coco eats too little. Increased clinginess and separation anxiety are some of the symptoms of critter stress. Coco got sick and my husband and I brought her to the vet. We sat curbside during her exam. The vet came to our car in the parking lot and reported her diagnosis: pancreatitis.
“I get three or four cases like this every day,” the vet said, staring at us like a criminals in lockup. “People are sharing their food with their pets and the animals get sick.”
She plied Coco with meds and we stopped sneaking mouthfuls of our dinner.
Be gentle with your isolation critter. If they scratch, chew, and have accidents, be patient. They’ll do anything for your love and attention.
We’re all in this together.
Jeri’s book is, “Is Your Wonton Soup Endangered?: The Survivor’s Guide to Food in The Age of Climate Change (Book Web Minis)”