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Pets Deliver Emotional Boost During These Stressful Times
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, animal shelters across the country are emptying, as people rush to adopt dogs and cats to keep them company during self-isolation and social distancing.
Turning to pets during this pandemic not only provides comfort and companionship, but also therapeutic benefits that can boost mental health. Megan Mueller, a junior professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, points to pets’ ability to provide nonjudgmental emotional support.
“Contact with pets help reduces stress and anxiety, particularly when you are experiencing a stressful situation,” she said, according to Tufts Now.
At Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, we’ve witnessed this evidence up close, thanks to our facility dog Pongo, who’s provided unconditional love and support for our kids for over two years. Even now, during the COVID-19 crisis, Pongo continues to visit our kids and coworkers to offer emotional support and ensure that many of their routines and rituals stay the same.
“Pets can motivate you to do things that are good for your own mental health,” said Mueller. “And activities with animals that you enjoy or that are part of your routine help bring back some degree of normalcy.”
Pongo helps maintain this comforting sense of normalcy by doing what he’s always done. Whether it’s curling up next to one of our kids on a bean bag chair, accompanying a young man on his chores, or playing fetch in the grass, Pongo’s eager, happy-go-lucky presence has been a bright spot for our kids and coworkers during these dark times.
While Mercy Home reduced our physical, on-site community to minimize the risk of infection, life goes on for the kids at Mercy Home. Fortunately, Pongo is right there beside them, as they continue to attend school (virtually) and participate in group activities.
“Pets can motivate you to do things that are good for your own mental health.”
With their schedules still packed and a group of peers and coworkers to keep them company, our kids don’t have to face social isolation alone. For others outside of Mercy Home, especially seniors, the loneliness of social distancing can be debilitating. Research shows, however, that pets can help older adults cope better with staying at home.
Now that most people are physically isolating in one way or another, turning toward pets for comfort, companionship, and stress relief is beneficial for the general population. So, consider spending extra time with your pet or contacting your local animal shelter.
“A lot of us are connecting remotely with other people right now, and that’s great,” Mueller said. “But pets 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.”