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How pets help us face the pandemic

How cats and dogs have changed three students’ lockdown experiences
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Pandemic puppies and kittens have helped people navigate isolation. LEFT: REESE HALFYARD/THE VARSITYTOP: JAKE ROGERS/THE VARSITYRIGHT: JANINE ALHADIDI/THE VARSITY
Pandemic puppies and kittens have helped people navigate isolation. LEFT: REESE HALFYARD/THE VARSITYTOP: JAKE ROGERS/THE VARSITYRIGHT: JANINE ALHADIDI/THE VARSITY

Loss of physical contact and steady routines, as well as heightened anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused many to seek out additional support systems. Whether through adoption or a renewed connection, pets are a significant form of companionship to help brave the pandemic. 

Below, three contributors reflect on how their pets have helped them navigate this tremulous time. 

Raising a pandemic puppy, by Jake Rogers

In early February, I decided to adopt a dog — largely to fill the need for companionship and partly to ease my seasonal depression, which had been worsening for quite some time. I chose a breed, Samoyed, and a name, Crow. 

Adopting Crow was largely impulsive, but I did know what to expect as I had two dogs at home and understood that some lifestyle changes would be needed in order to accommodate my new roommate. So I began to save a bit more, stopped staying out as late, and carved my timetable around a walking schedule. 

However, I did not expect the state of emergency declaration from Doug Ford on March 17, not even a month and a half after I had brought Crow home.

When I made the decision to adopt Crow, COVID-19 was a foreign threat that seemed somewhat controllable. There was no indication that a lockdown, let alone any form of ubiquitous restriction, would occur. When lockdown restrictions were imposed, I had to find solutions to the impending end of my lease in April and dwindling job prospects in Toronto; my answer to these issues was to go home to St. Catharines, Ontario.

Crow had only recently become accustomed to her new surroundings, yet with all courses and subsequent exams now online, it seemed both safer and more economical to go home. Not to mention my parents’ two labradors, Cody and Cali, would provide some socialization for Crow.

I didn’t know what to expect. Cody was 12 at the time and has no tolerance for outsiders trespassing on his territory. Cali turned eight in March but needed a playmate as Cody had lost much of his mobility to hip dysplasia. I was also concerned that Crow might develop separation anxiety when we inevitably returned to Toronto.

On all counts though, I could not be happier with my decision. Crow and Cali have formed quite the team. Cali occasionally appears nearly maternal, often training Crow to do simple tasks every puppy must learn in early adolescence, such as traversing stairs, playing safely but aggressively, and, unfortunately, begging. Cody has not exactly warmed to his new housemate, but he is happy to share his backyard as long as Crow doesn’t come too close, and Crow has learned that his bark is much worse than his bite. 

Perhaps most importantly, Crow has made our family better. St. Catharines is now home for Crow and she has become a family dog as much as she is mine. While I still fear the implications that may have when we return to Toronto, I’m glad she’s had the opportunity to spend time in a family dynamic with two dogs who have been friends in a time when it would have otherwise been impossible to meet other dogs. 

Now, just this week, she celebrated her first birthday in a home in which I never intended for her to live, but with a family I’m glad she now has.

COVID-19 is ‘purr-fectly’ great with cats, by Reese Halfyard

COVID-19 has not made it easy to be home all the time. The days can be long and boring, especially when winter set in. However, despite the newest lockdown implementation, I’m grateful to have the home and family I have. My two lovely cats, Nikki and Zelda, make being at home much better. 

I find that people underestimate how amazing it is to own cats. Every morning when I wake up, they greet me, mostly because they take up half my bed. When I cook breakfast, they stand on the counter and watch over me. Or when I run to grab the mail, they’re at the front door waiting for me to come back. 

Nikki is a large fluffy cat who loves each person she meets. When my family adopted her as a kitten, I knew she would end up being a gentle and lovely soul. Before the virus, Nikki would wait for me to leave for school for the day and be sitting at the door as soon as I came home. I suppose it is quite weird for animals who have become accustomed to being alone during the day to suddenly always have company. 

For the past few weeks, Nikki has never left my side. Even while doing online tests or stressful assignments, she sits next to me. She offers a level of comfort and love that I never thought I needed. While this pandemic is stressful for us, it is equally as stressful for our animals. They lean on us for support, just as we lean on them.

My other kitten, Zelda, is my sister’s favourite. She practically follows her around the house. Despite what some people may believe about cats, Zelda knows her own name — but weirdly only when my sister says it.

My family has been home much more since the recent lockdown was implemented. In addition to this, we’ve recently moved houses, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment for the cats. This means getting used to the new litter box location and other surroundings. However, regardless of where we live, Nikki and Zelda help make our house a home. 

Nonetheless, I would not have been able to make it through the pandemic without my cats. As cheesy as it may sound, they are a significant part of my life and make my family complete. I have a newfound appreciation for my animals and the form of escapism that they brought during this pandemic. 

How my dog grounded me during COVID-19, by Janine AlHadidi

When the pandemic first hit in March, I was living in a small apartment with my roommate in downtown Toronto. The uncertainty of the months that followed felt like a recurring nightmare that would never end, and when the university announced that the rest of the semester would take place online, I panicked and frantically moved out to the suburbs to reunite with my family. 

In a time of extreme isolation, my family members, including my dog, Kermie, have grounded me and helped me get through lockdown, constantly reminding me to appreciate the little things in life. Kermie, a sweet seven-year-old labradoodle, has played a major role in calming my anxiety, forcing me out of the house to go on walks and giving me a reason to wake up in the morning when getting out of bed was a struggle. 

Pets do more than just nap all day and cuddle with us when we can’t sleep at night. They are a form of casual magic and perpetual joy that help us with our day-to-day struggles, even more so during a time when seeing other people has become a source of distress and worry. 

During the beginning of the fall semester, I found myself overly committing to all-nighters to complete my papers, and my dog ended up staying up with me for each one with droopy eyes and a soldier attitude. At least I always knew that I was not alone with my long papers.

Moreover, during this semester, I have also found myself yearning for the serotonin rush of physical contact. My dog has given me the physical comfort I needed when the most physical contact any of us could get was elbowing one another from a distance. During such an isolating time, dogs have provided us with a non-judgemental support system that both physically and emotionally calms our nerves and gives us a reason to smile. 

When it comes to our health during COVID-19, many of us have forgotten to take a step back and focus on our mental health. Our pets push us to channel our focus onto something other than academic work or jobs and provide us with the type of unconditional love that we need now more than ever. I can safely say that loving my dog has been the fluffiest and happiest coping mechanism during such an uncertain time.