According to a study from the UK, pets are an important source of emotional support for many people during lockdown, reducing loneliness and improving people’s mental health. But not everyone recognizes the long-term commitment required with owning a pet. I invited experts to comment on the study findings and offer recommendations for people considering pet ownership.
Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD has seen an increase in dog adoptions among her patients during COVID-19. Romanoff said, “My patients said their dogs tend to be in harmony with them. Although they do not speak a shared language, dogs respond to the emotional tone of their owner’s speech, instead of what is actually said.” Kitty Smith, the Editor and Founder of Meow101, believes that pets are more than faithful companions. Smith said, “They are an endless source of love and physical contact meeting two basic human needs were taken away from many of us during this time.” Veterinarian Dr Joanna Woodnutt added that pet ownership “reduces loneliness, increases confidence, lowers blood pressure, and forces people to exercise. Taking care of a pet is even shown to reduce episodes of anxiety and aggression in Alzheimer’s patients.”
But experts recommend that anyone considering adoption during COVID-19 should consider the long-term responsibility of pet ownership. Veterinary technician Sakura Davis encourages people to ask the following questions: “When you have to return to work from working remotely, how will your dog adjust? Is your dog okay alone in the house? Are you financially stable to take care of a dog? Many owners have said money is tight due to the pandemic. Dogs need daily meals, wellness check ups, vaccines, flea/heartworm prevention, etc. If something was to happen to your dog unexpectedly, can you pay for the treatments? Does your family agree to having a dog? Do you have time for a dog?” Woodnutt noted “dogs live for 10-14 years depending on breed. Costs are high and may cost several thousand over a pet’s lifetime.”
Dr Yasmine Saad, Ph.D., founder of Madison Park Psychological Services, wants people to consider whether they are mentally able to care for a pet. “For example, a person struggling with depression may not have the energy to take care of a pet, and therefore, can develop a feeling of failure that will exacerbate the depression,” said Saad.
Although Paula Stewart, with The Animal Talent, believes her adopted pets have been a huge help during lockdown, she does not think people should adopt due to temporary changes in routine. Stewart explains, “If people have to return to work following lockdown, their rescued pets will suffer separation anxiety, and unless a professional behaviourist addresses it, there are consequences. Without my pets, I couldn't have got through lockdown, but I do not think lockdown is the right time to adopt unless the adopter is experienced.”
John Cho, founder of My Pet Child, has concerns about the increased interest in pet adoption. Cho said, “We see high levels of pet surrender at rescue organizations and pounds, and many pet owners are struggling to provide their animals with adequate care due to financial hardships related to the pandemic."
But Cho doesn’t discourage adoption if people were already planning on it. “If you were considering getting a pet before lockdown, now may be an ideal time to adopt,” said Cho. “There are more animals available, and you will have more time to be around for your new pet's adjustment period. That first month or so can be a difficult time for new pets as they adjust to their new homes and they require extra attention from their new families.”
Daniel Caughill, co-founder or The Dog Tale, agrees that dogs offer many benefits to their owners. He notes the unconditional love and loyalty they provide as well as a reason to get up in the morning and to exercise daily. But he also cautions new owners, stating, “If you’re not 100% sure you can keep up with the demands of owning a dog—especially after you return to work—then consider fostering a dog instead. This will allow you to have a meaningful interaction with needy pups without the long-term implications of adopting a dog. And if one foster pup really pulls on your heart-strings, you can still adopt.”
Bryan Truong, founder of GameCows, shares his experience of fostering and how it helps him during this unusual time. “I’m fostering a handicapped puppy named Cash,” said Truong. “Cash has been an absolute blessing during the lockdown. There’s only so much Netflix and Hulu you can marathon before you go absolutely insane and depression sets in.” Fostering - rather than pet adoption - may be the right fit for many, and provide the mental health benefits highlighted in research.