Pets in a Pandemic: Did a furry friend get you through lockdown?

I don’t know about you, but my dog has got me through the last 12 months.  I’ve told him all my worries, I’ve cried into his furry neck, I’ve cuddled him, I’ve walked with him and I’ve sat and stared into space with him.

Apparently, I’m not alone when it comes to turning to pets for comfort.  Many of us have been leaning on our furry friends to help us cope.

I wonder what their conversations have been about?  My dog and I have spoken about the weather. I’ve also asked him about his day, what he thinks we should have for dinner and even shared my laptop screen with him for his expert opinion.

He has sat there, listening carefully as he lends a sympathetic ear.  It has all felt perfectly normal.  Being alone together each day, unless I was in a Zoom with a colleague or client, I never felt strange saying things out loud to a dog.

He would respond with a tilted head, a cocked ear or a waggy tail.  He had no idea how helpful these responses were – my wellbeing was lifted by him each day.  He was totally unaware that we were in lockdown – his feeding times and exercise didn’t change at all.  Apart from the conversations, of course.

My job is quite sociable and I get to speak to lots of people, so to be suddenly finding myself at home was a huge shift.  Without my dog I think I would have felt incredibly lonely.  He has also helped me emotionally and our walks have kept me fit and active.

I’ve often wondered if other pets have provided a similar kind of support.  Have cat lovers, or rabbit owners gained the same benefits from their furry friends?  Maybe you can let us know in the comments.

I do worry about my dog’s needs too, though.  Usually, he gets a few hours alone each day where he can rest, sleep or do whatever it is dogs do when they are alone.  I’m guessing I’m disrupting his routine in that respect.  When he hears stress or upset in my voice, do I cause him concern?

Apparently puppy sales have been at an all-time high in the past 12 months.  I’m really hoping that doesn’t have some unintended consequences.  Dogs are a lot of work and need training – they aren’t a toy or an accessory for social media images.  I even read research by Itch that as many as 3 in 5 dogs have not left their homes, 2 out of 5 puppies had not been introduced to other dogs and almost half had not met a child.  Even worse, 40% of the owners had experienced regret at buying a puppy, not realising the amount of care they need.

At some point we are going to have to get our dogs used to the outside world again. My dog was a young adult at the start of lockdown, so although we worked hard to socialise him, apart from the dogs and owners he meets on our walks he hasn’t really had much time with other people in the last 12 months. Just like us, he is going to need to readjust to a post-lockdown life.

As lovely as it would be to have friends or family round for a socially distanced get-together in the garden, I’m going to have to slowly re-introduce him to people he hasn’t seen for a while. He might get a little bit overwhelmed or over excited by eager children desperate for a cuddle.

He hasn’t been anywhere busy for a while either, so as much as he loves going to the pub with me, I’m going to have to get him used to being around lots of strangers again.  I’m sure a pocket full of treats and his favourite tennis ball will make it all feel like a game and distract him.

And then of course there’s the potential of separation anxiety.  Knowing him, he’ll be quite happy to sleep and enjoy the peace when I do go back to work.  In fact, I think it’s me that’s going to suffer the most.

Thank you my furry little man – I couldn’t have done it without you!

SJB

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