Pandemic Pets and Other Blessings
Those of us who are pet owners know the joy they bring to our lives. Personally, even when my dogs are away from me for a short time, I feel like a part of my heart is missing. Pets provide a strong emotional connection that relieves stress and other psychological challenges, so it’s no surprise that rescue adoptions and pet ownership soared by 20% during the pandemic. Shelters were empty in no time as families headed home to hunker down with their newest family members and stay healthy.
Why are pets the most magical members of our family?
Pets provide love and support when we need it most. This is true for every member of your family—adults and children alike. In fact, pets rescue us from stress, fear, insecurity, and loneliness. There is a reason that we are seeing an increase in ESA certified companions (emotional support animals) who are capable of literally bringing down blood pressure and providing a sense of security has never been more helpful than in the age of COVID-19.
Pets keep us active. This is particularly true of dogs who require regular walks and playtime. Weight loss is easier when you have an exercise buddy with a wagging tail reminding you it’s time to leash up, get outside, and enjoy nature.
Pets inspire an active social life. Spending time with your dog can be a very social experience. I’ve made many friends while on a walk, at a dog park, on a pet-friendly patio, or at the vet. Dogs are a natural conversation-starter between strangers and they immediately provide a common ground on which to build a friendship. This is especially great for children who might be shy; having a dog or cat is the perfect icebreaker for kids, making combo playdates possible between children and their pets.
Pets accept us as we are. Even the most confident among us occasionally suffer from insecurity or low self-esteem. This can be particularly true for children and adolescents. Our pets don’t care what we look like–if we win or lose, pass or fail—they simply love us just the way we are. We are the center of their universe; we are their heroes.
Pet ownership teaches responsibility. Pets require us to think about and plan for them. Kids should be required to take part in feeding and exercising their canine and feline siblings. Understanding their dependence upon us and their needs teach empathy and nurturing as well, skills children need to succeed in their personal and professional relationships.
I’m going to share a personal story to support this one. When my nephew Charlie was a small child, he desperately wanted a dog–so much so that he fashioned a collar and leash from an old belt for his stuffed dog, “Hank.” He would regularly “walk and feed” Hank and take him outside in the yard, plastic bag in hand, so he could pick up after him. Sadly, a family member’s dog allergies kept him from realizing his dream, twenty-one years later, upon finishing graduate school and securing a job, Charlie got his very first dog, a soft-coated Wheaten terrier he named Hudson. As fate would have it, he met his wife through Hudson, and thanks to Hudson, he is now a stellar husband and father who understands the importance of responsibility and nurturing his loved ones. Charlie learned those caretaking skills at a tender age and applied them to his young family and a very successful career. Pets are powerful, indeed.
Pets teach us about death and dying. This is a tough one, in fact, I tear up just thinking about my very special pets who have crossed the “Rainbow Bridge,” but knowing that our animals live shorter lives helps to prepare us for the other inevitable losses we experience in life. Understanding that there will be a time when we must say goodbye to a beloved pet helps children process grief and to realize we can heal afterward.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to see that pets teach us to appreciate the simple things in life; the joy of caring for another, a wagging tail, a belly rub, and most of all, unconditional love.