I think it’s pretty fair to say that the coronavirus pandemic has affected us all. We have been working from home, juggling home schooling, learning to use Zoom, and at the same time unable to hug our friends and family, gather for celebrations or be with loved ones when they need us during illness or at the end of life.
Our pets have experienced changes too. Their humans are home a lot more, the mood in the house is different, they are getting more walks, puppies are missing out on puppy socialising classes, more families are welcoming pets and they are adapting to their new homes.
Cherished Pets wanted to hear what our community was feeling right now. For the safety of our volunteers and our at-risk, vulnerable pet owners, we suspended our pet care volunteer home visits back in March. This has proved hard for the pet owners and our volunteers. In June we conducted a short survey of our Foundation beneficiaries and volunteers to find out how the suspension of our important in-home service had affected them.
The beneficiaries and volunteers confirmed what we thought – it has had an effect on them, and they were feeling more isolated and more worried (see survey results depicted below).
The message was pretty clear in the words of the survey participants:
“Terribly missed the volunteer. A vet nurse came this week. I don't mind own my company. I had a volunteer on the phone to me for about an hour.” (CPF beneficiary)
“My dog looks forward to the volunteer coming. We are small household. I am worried, I am older, I haven't been out. The vet has visited. I miss the volunteer visiting she is lovely. (CPF beneficiary)
“Isolation is tough when you live on your own and don’t have an extended network of family and friends.” (CPF volunteer)
What we found out from our small survey is not very different from worldwide research reporting an increase in depression and anxiety. An interesting, recently published Australian study by Jessica Oliva and Kim Johnston looked at the experience of lockdown for Australians living alone, with and without a dog or a cat. Over 380 people completed their online survey around loneliness, mood and mindfulness (ability to be in the moment).
Some of their findings that might interest you were:
dog ownership and high levels of mindfulness protect against loneliness during a lockdown
dog ownership does not appear to influence mindfulness levels but could help buffer against loneliness by encouraging us to keep up a routine involving leaving the house to walk the dog and potentially interact with other dog owners
both dog and cat owners perceived their experience of the lockdown to have been made easier by having a pet to share it with
both dogs and cats were thought to be receiving more companionship or attention
dog owners reported minimal difference for their dogs, where cat owners reported a change in emotion or behaviour in their cats
dogs generally became happier/more relaxed or more clingy/needy
cats experienced a greater variety of changes, including being ‘put-out’, happier, more needy, demanding, affectionate or playful
both dog and cat owners were concerned for their pet post-isolation, when they returned to their normal routines.
We understand the importance pets play in our mental wellbeing and at the core of Cherished Pets is our purpose to connect the community through our pets. The distancing needed to stop this virus spreading has increased feelings of isolation for the vulnerable people we support. In the wider community many have been able to somewhat compensate for the distancing by using technology. However, many of our people don’t have the technology or they find using it difficult. Their only means of remote contact is by phone or mail.
I have a challenge for you. Let’s see if we can put our combined brains together to come up with new ways to alleviate loneliness in lockdown. How can we stay connected yet keep everyone safe? We have lots of eager volunteers willing to help out right now and I would love to get them busy. What sorts of things could they do to help pet owners without physically visiting in their home? We would love to hear your ideas and see what we can come up with. Please give us a call or send an email to share your thoughts. There could be a surprise on offer for the person or people who come up with a great solution.
Take care and look after yourselves and your pets.