August 21 was three months since losing my cat Lizzy. Too long living without another sentient being, especially during these days of isolation.
So I started to look at the cat pages on the website of PAWS, where my friend Bobbie, a volunteer, encouraged me to find my next feline companion. The winner, whom I named Fanny, was suggested by the adoption counselor and looks uncannily like Lizzy: the same charcoal-colored fur and petite body. Maybe Lizzy was glancing down from cat heaven, realized that I miss her, and sent me her lookalike.
My friends who live with four-legged roommates and no other humans all say that their pets have helped them get by as we’ve had to keep distant from people. While a hug or a clasped hand have been off limits, ankle rubs and head butts supply a needed touch.
The coronavirus is too recent for research reports on how people coped with isolation, but ample studies previously showed that pets have emotional benefits for their humans.
“[C]ontact with pets help reduces stress and anxiety, particularly when you are experiencing a stressful situation,” Tufts University professor Megan Mueller, who researches how pets help people, told a TuftsNow writer. “[P]ets are physically present in a way that other forms of social and emotional support aren’t these days for many people, and there’s really something to having that tactile component of petting or touching a pet.”
Researchers have found that pets help reduce anxiety and depression and further recovery from trauma. We feel less alone and isolated when there’s another living creature in the house. Dogs and cats listen to us as if they understand, give us warm bodies to stroke and snuggle with, coax us to play with them, and amuse us. They deflect our thoughts away from worrying about the uncertain future and invite us to take a break and chill. They fulfill our need to take care of a living creature. There is nothing like a cat or a dog for feeling loved and needed. Feeding, playing with, and grooming a pet can put structure and meaning into days that can seem like shapeless blurs.
Isolation seems to be driving large numbers of people to pet shelters to adopt furry companions. The New York Times has reported that shelters are seeing increases in applications for adoption and fostering. My friend Bobbie says that PAWS has an incredible 22,000 applications at present, compared with a couple hundred a week in normal times. Having more time at home to attend to a pet is a factor in the increased interest, but many applicants also say they want company when they’re trapped indoors.
Lizzy was supposed to be my snuggle buddy during isolation. She excelled at lap sitting during the day and curling up by my shoulder overnight. “So glad to have Lizzy now,” I wrote in my journal in March as the lockdown began. Although she was almost 15 and had a medical condition, I didn’t expect to lose Lizzy in May, especially not when I needed her more than ever. I might have looked for her successor sooner if not for a remodeling project that dragged on longer than expected.
If folks without pets are thinking about bringing an animal into your home, but you’re not sure about a long-term commitment, fostering for a limited amount of time is an option. If you still hesitate, you can get some of the stress-reducing benefits of pets just by watching funny cat and dog videos online.
Fanny has been here three days now and looks to be a sweetheart. This morning she’s been following me around and, when I sit down, places herself about two feet away. It feels wonderful to touch fur again. Fanny is only 2, so with luck she’ll be with me many years after we emerge from the pandemic. Animals are helping us get through this, but it’s not like they won’t be needed afterward. Those of us who have had cats and dogs know their value in any scenario.
MICHAEL MOORE SENDS A WARNING
This sent shivers down my spine: Filmmaker Michael Moore, who predicted that Donald Trump would beat Hillary Clinton, warned us anti-Trumpers not to let the current presidential polls bring on complacency. “I’m warning you almost 10 weeks in advance. The enthusiasm level for the 60 million in Trump’s base is OFF THE CHARTS!,” Moore posted on Facebook Friday. “WE have to wake up every day for the next 67 days and make sure each of us are going to get a hundred people out to vote. ACT NOW!”
It can be hard to figure out how to help a Democratic presidential candidate when your state is a given for that candidate. Texting and making phone calls for the Biden campaign are actions we can take from home.
ANTI-TRUMP COMMENTS: 127TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“[T]his is the core of Trump’s reelection message: You should give him credit for the economic recovery he inherited from Obama. And you should blame someone else for the disastrous response to the coronavirus. Inspiring stuff.”
— Ezra Klein, Vox