How the coronavirus pet adoption boom is reducing stress

As discussed in many articles, sharing our life with pets is good for our health. Not only do they make us healthier in normal times, but in times of stress, the benefits of a pandemic puppy (or cat), or other non-human companion, go even further.

Read more: When pets are part of the family, the benefits extend to society

During a pandemic, people can be stressed and afraid for their lives and the lives of those they love. Research has shown that where there is a human-animal bond, the presence of a non-human companion – particularly a dog – decreases psychological arousal and stress, and creates physiological changes that make us feel better.

Pandemic pets

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of animals were abandoned in Wuhan, China. Fearing that the same could happen locally, many animal rescue organizations decided to empty their shelters. Worldwide, there has been an unprecedented increase in adoptions and placements.

Although many people have done this for animals, they have, perhaps unwittingly, set themselves up for better mental health during the pandemic. In addition to the stress-relieving effects of pets mentioned above, having a pet can be a powerful influencing factor in maintaining health-protective behaviors, such as eating well or going outside. to take a walk.

Dogs and cats can augment physical rehabilitation goals through behaviors such as “bending, reaching, walking, and functionally using both arms to provide food, water, and grooming.” These basic activities involved in animal care actually provide exercise, which is very important for people who spend the day in a stationary position.

With stay-at-home orders required in many places, having a pet at home can help reduce feelings of anxiety and frustration.

Human-animal relationships

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I had just started a research study asking people about their relationships with their nonhuman companions. Preliminary results from this online survey include people between their late 30s and early 90s. They live in Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland and are from all walks of life. One-third have completed high school or less, 30% have completed college and/or an apprenticeship, and the remainder have completed some university degree. At the time of the survey, they spent almost all their time at home, some were alone, others with family and for others pets were their only companions.

When asked, in an open-ended question, what it was like to have animal companions with them during the pandemic, their answers included words like “comforting”, “good/awesome”, “helpful”. Several people said they worked full time, so they enjoyed time with their pet and saw what their pet was doing all day. Several people have indicated that they would be lost without their pet.

One participant said, “I don’t know what I would do without my dog’s company, she kept me going. Another said: “It’s the only thing keeping me sane.” And others said the presence of a pet was salvation (a lifeline) and brought joy. There were also those who said they talked with their pet and it helped stave off loneliness.

Artificial pets?

Another question I ask in my research is whether pet robots can be used to replace live animals, so it was interesting to see pet robots being provided to older people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Robopets: Using tech to monitor the elderly raises privacy concerns

In my survey during the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents were asked whether, if given the choice, they would choose a pet robot or a live animal. Of 102 people who answered this question, none said they would choose a pet robot – even those who didn’t currently have one didn’t want a pet robot. The vast majority said they would choose a live pet, and a few said they would rather have no pet at all.

When asked why, they said things like, “It’s not just about the company. It’s about the emotional connection. Getting that from a robotic creation is not love. We need the love that comes with these pets. It was very clear that robots were “not the same as a living, breathing animal”. That a robot could not replace a pet because pets are “unique and make me smile and love them”.

A Washington Post video comparing Sony’s Aibo robot dog to a live puppy.

The results of this survey are similar to those found in non-pandemic research: pets avoid loneliness and living with pets helps people be more active, even if it’s just the associated movements basic tasks, such as cleaning the litter box. or fill food bowls. More importantly, we are comforted by these nonhuman companions. The presence of a dog or a cat in the house can be the only thing between an isolated person and despair.

Given the importance of dogs, cats and other non-human companions to our well-being, it is important to keep this in mind when developing support programs for isolated people. When there isn’t enough money for everyone, “it’s not uncommon for people to feed their dog before they feed or acquire medicine for themselves.”

As the economic reality of long-lasting unemployment grows, it is important that public services take into account not only the food security of humans, but also that of their non-human companions in order to prevent the possibility of a tsunami of pet abandonments due to an inability to provide care.

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