By Nicolette Joosting
Every morning, the cats will follow me downstairs, carefully swirling around my legs, expressing their excitement for the morning ritual. We will snuggle safely together on the couch, coffee in hand, in time to listen to the latest COVID news.
Pets have been a boon to us during the pandemic. Our forever friends, they have been at our side throughout, delighting in our continuing company. They have helped us set up the home office, encouraged binge-watching, understood when every day is a pyjama day, and have been there to comfort us whenever the stress threatened to overwhelm us.
Collectively, we have reached out to animals to bolster our mental health in the last year. More than ever, we have flooded social media with happy animal memes. Significantly, we have encouraged unscrupulous and inhumane breeders in our desperation for animal companionship, paying premium prices for puppy-mill dogs. Ignoring the warning signs, we have “rescued” animals, falling for the numerous scams.
Shelters and animal welfare groups are frantically putting in place programs in anticipation of the flood of expected surrenders that will happen when we can no longer care for our pandemic pets.
But did we really reach out for pet companionship as mindless consumers, to discard them when no longer convenient?
Numerous studies tell me that my cats are lifesavers. They lower blood pressure and decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, significantly decreasing the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The sound of a purr, even recorded, is instantly calming.
While pets can be demanding and occasionally noisy, they are the greatest companions, absorbing our stress communication and offering a paw, lick or cuddle when needed. Caring for a pet gives us an anchor, staves off dementia and helps mitigate Alzheimer’s. Walking a dog will help keep you fit, socially engaged and mentally active.
The inter-species relationships we forge are essential to our survival as a species, our individual and collective adaptation to adverse events and our personal path through life. No technology can replace the real-life interaction, with all its ups and downs. It was our instinctive knowledge of this, I think, that helped foster the COVID pet boom.
This year, and especially on Valentines, let us not forget to appreciate the love and joy our pets give us.
They are weathering this pandemic and the resulting changes in our habits with us. It has been stressful for them too. Our faces are different, we smell of harsh alcohol disinfectants, our behaviours have changed, and we cannot comfort them at the vets. Despite it all, they still show us love.
My cats do not care for the news. Their best part of the day is when my behaviour is reassuring them of love and companionship. We thrive on these moments of togetherness. It is a symbiotic relationship, with all the careful give and take of any relationship, so incredibly beneficial to us.
We will get through February, and whatever the future holds, together.