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Pandemic Turned “Petdemic”

By Amy Austin, RN, PsyD, LMFT

The global pandemic is affecting people on many levels. Questions arise as to whether we’ll get back to normal and when? And, what might that new normal look like? If ever we needed a daily affirming mantra, it would be, ‘one day at a time.’ 

We are social beings by nature. Not only do we desire to connect, but we need to for optimal mental, emotional, relationship, physical, spiritual and social well-being. The pandemic has altered these crucial aspects of our functionality. I’ve often wondered if or how viewing masked faces might affect some aspects of development for babies since reading facial expressions is so crucial to learning about cues, reactions and responses. 

During these most challenging times, we’ve discovered there are some positive outcomes including the fact that many animal shelters are near empty. People are ‘shelter’-ing in place (boy, I love a pun) and what better time to adopt a furry fur-ever love (there I go again) than now? We’ve always known the benefits of owning a pet. We can instantly become more social because nothing stirs up a conversation faster than asking someone where they got their four-legged friend. People are socially distancing and gathering with their dogs at local parks so both animal and pet parents can breathe fresh air and enjoy a wonderful few moments of normalcy in this currently disjointed world. 

There are physical benefits of pet ownership – getting out, getting fresh air and exercise – which can help decrease blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. There are also emotional gains from owning a pet as they can help us manage anxiety and depression by giving us unconditional devotion 24/7. Who else goes berserk with celebratory glee when you’ve only been gone for three minutes after retrieving your mail? And, who needs a shrink when a dog is licking your face? They bring joy and laughter with their hilarious antics. 

By now, you can probably discern I am team dog. Or cat. I don’t want this article to end up in someone’s litter box. Of course, just because we want or need to fill a void left by the pandemic, we also need to view taking on a pet through a very clear lens which includes factoring in the time, work, money, and a pet’s longevity. 

I lost my furry love Havi last June and recently adopted Nala, a fifteen-week-old half Frenchy, half unknown. Sadly, after two weeks and many very difficult heart-to-heart conversations with myself, I had to return Nala to the rescue. The shelter thought she would remain a small dog, but Nala quickly became one strong little girl and was growing daily. My heart was fully invested, but my body just couldn’t match the enthusiasm. That part of reality was one hard pill to swallow. The good news is that Nala will be rehomed to a family with rambunctious children which will be a perfect fit. It’s time to grieve her loss and know that I did the best thing for her.

I think we have one helluva petdemic on our hands which proves that out of struggle and misfortune wonderful insights, lessons, and blessings can materialize. If you rescue a furry love out of a million or two, you might end up surprised as to who rescued who.

Can anything good come out of a global pandemic? I’m pretty doggone sure it can.

Dr. Amy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. She can be reached at (760) 774.0047.

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