How pets are helping us through the coronavirus crisis

Animals are proving a lifesaver for many, providing companionship and consistency in uncertain times

After years of nagging for a pet, Barney, the cavalier King Charles spaniel, could not have arrived at a better moment, says Marie Brown. “We picked him up the day before lockdown. The timing is a godsend.”

The puppy has helped her children, aged 12 and 15, adjust to life at home in Sevenoaks, Kent, without school, sport or much of a social life.

“They entertain each other,” says Brown. “My daughter would have been bored witless without him. He’s brought structure to the day, and is getting us all outside in the garden.”

The benefits of pet ownership for health and wellbeing are well-documented, reducing loneliness and anxiety, lending daily structure, and lifting mood.

And that’s in normal circumstances. In lockdown, pets are proving a lifesaver for many, providing companionship, consistency and even joy.

“Barney is definitely reducing the stress levels and upping the fun in our house,” says Brown.

Dogs in particular have helped to keep their owners active, demanding daily walks, pandemic or no.

Bethan Taylor-Swaine, who lives in Brixton, south-west London, has been lending her brussels griffon dog, Loki, to her neighbours – for their benefit, and his.

Alexander Phasey with his tegu, Lily.
Alexander Phasey with his tegu, Lily Photograph: Supplied

“He’s super social, and he just can’t fathom how he’s gone from essentially being treated like a boy band member to only really seeing me and my husband.”

Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne, from Highgate in north London, says Honey, a two-year-old cockapoo, has helped keep her husband sane as he weathers the coronavirus crisis as a hospital consultant.

“He walks through the door and she’s waiting for him, and he’s on the floor playing with her. You can visibly see the day’s stress and anxieties diminishing,” Parvizi-Wayne says.

Rachel Conlisk, who lives in Birmingham, says her cats, Belle and Little Tyke, have been a great comfort to her and her 11-year-old son, Sam. “They’ve been happy having us home – they’re always on our laps,” says Conlisk.

“We’ve found that when everything’s so crazy out there, it’s been really nice having them around – they remind you that life goes on.”

Sam says when he has felt worried or sad, cuddling Little Tyke has made him feel better. “She’s a tabby cat. She’s got a small head and a big body. She sleeps on my bed.”

Conlisk says Little Tyke is “really tolerant”.

But it is not only dogs and cats that bring benefits. Alexander Phasey, 18, from Newport in south Wales, says his reptiles have been key to managing his severe social anxiety and depression.

He has about 18 animals, including bearded dragons, leopard geckos, corn snakes, tortoises, and monitor lizards, the largest of which is about three-quarters-of-a-metre (2.5ft) long and growing.

His “baby” is Lily, a nine-month-old Argentinian black-and-white tegu – a large tropical lizard. “I’ve got a proper bond with her. I’ll tap my hand to the floor and she’ll come running out like a puppy, tasting everything with her tongue.”

Coronavirus has had minimal impact on his ability to care for them, says Phasey, though his pet food supplier is struggling to meet demand from reptile owners stockpiling for their pets: “There’s a shortage of locusts.”

Some people without pets have seen lockdown as an opportunity to bring one home. Many animal charities have reported an increase in fostering and adoptions, despite most centres being closed to the public.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home rehomed 86 dogs and 69 cats in one week in mid-March, more than double the animals placed during the same period last year. One dog, Tulip, had been at the centre for 110 days.

Dogs Trust has reported a 25% increase in adoptions, but warned that “a dog is for life … not just for lockdown”.

“We really need people to think about what might happen on the other side of this outbreak when people are hopefully back to their usual routines and have other commitments,” said the trust’s operations director, Adam Clowes.

Some animals appear to be struggling with the disruption to their routines. Livi Perkins, a pet sitter in Rock Ferry, Wirral, has been put out of work by the pandemic and says a client sent her footage of their dog reacting to a video Perkins posted on Instagram. “She heard my voice and ran around looking for me.”

Caroline Wilkinson, an animal behaviorist and dog trainer near Bristol, says dogs in particular can become needy or prone to barking with their humans more available.

She recommends keeping their mealtimes and bedtimes consistent, and ensuring they have some time by themselves. Dogs may even need “a rest day” from all the exercise.

For now, many pets are relishing their owners’ extra attention and new enthusiasm for walks. Brown – who has always worked from home, as a website designer – worries for Barney, who will have never known any other life.

“When this is all over, and everybody goes back to work and school, I’m going to have a dog that is suddenly wondering where everybody has gone.”


Elle Hunt

The GuardianTramp

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