Human beings, as one knows, are social beings; be it with a fellow human or an animal. This inherent quality along with the advancement of technology and media has facilitated the sociality of a person. In the era of the internet, we are up to date and in touch with more friends, family and acquaintances than ever before. However, the year 2020 took such a turn and brutally limited this inherent sociality to being social in a room and connected through a screen. One was not only isolated but in-person social interaction also meant putting oneself and the people around at risk.
With almost completing a year amidst the pandemic, conversations around mental health concerns have seen a significant rise that has a correlational if not causal relationship with the pandemic. It is not uncommon that the pandemic, quarantine and the lockdown harboured a lot of feelings of uncertainty, isolation and loneliness. While a person to person interaction might have been risky, a number of people turned to the companionship of a pet.
Historically, humans have always been a part of a culture of integrating animals within their lifestyle as both parties have been present in close physical proximity. Traditionally, animals such as horses, cows, dogs, etc. were domesticated to acquire goods such as dairy, meat, security etc; thus, they had a use-value. While these animals were resourceful, over time, this culture of domestication branched out into what a layperson would see as keeping a ‘pet’ in present times. One could see the emergence of keeping pets for companionship, comfort and support. A variety of research sheds light on the human-animal interaction, and one such research explores this bond through the Pet Effect. This effect addresses the impact of the symbiotic relationship of love, affection that the pet and owner share, that significantly contributes to each parties’ physical, emotional and mental well-being. A survey was conducted in 2016, which reported that 74% of the 2000 pet owners, felt that there was a significant improvement in their mental and social well-being once they acquired a pet.
Hence, to seek comfort in these unprecedented times, various individuals who could afford to, adopted a pet. If one would’ve stepped into a park in May, one would have noticed a good deal of what are called the ‘Pets of the Pandemic’. With the lockdown pushing work culture from in-office to a work from home format, not only did a pet provide companionship but also a positive and meaningful presence within the home environment. Owners could now fully distract themselves from the uncertainty and invest in attending to their pet and also indulging in physical exercise by taking them out for walks.
While pets may have been the solution to our loneliness, many have chosen to ignore the impact of the pandemic on our four-legged companions? Research suggests that for newly born and adopted pets, socialisation is crucial within their first three months. The environment that a pet spends time in plays an essential role in their development. However, due to the pandemic, various pets like dogs and cats have spent a large portion of their initial months indoors. This leads to exposing pets to two pertinent issues: difficulty in adjusting to new environments and socialising and developing separation anxiety.
Gradual exposure to society and socialization is an important part of taking care of and training pets, especially for a puppy. This training ensures that the puppy grows to be a dog that is comfortable with other people, animals and new environments and does not develop unnecessary fears and phobias.
Furthermore, stemming from the same environment is the issue of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is often noticed in dogs and is described as the dog displaying distressed behaviour when its’ guardian is about to leave the house. Distressed behaviour could look different for each dog, however, some common indicators are agitation, being upset, uneasy or restless and seeming depressed. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety bark and howl when they are left alone or cause destruction in the house, often causing self-injury and in some cases, make an attempt to escape.
When we are experiencing distressed, often restoring to a pet for comfort is extremely normal. With owners spending 24×7 time with their pets, the latter have become a coping mechanism for many. The line between this mutually beneficial relationship and co-dependency has blurred during the pandemic. So the most important question to raise is what happens once the guardians move back to their 9-5 in-office lifestyle? How does the pet respond to getting all the constant attention for almost 11 months to transitioning back to the time when they were not? How does the owner resort to separating themselves from their pet, and find other mechanisms to cope with stress?
These are questions that one is yet to answer.
Vanishree is currently pursuing Psychology and Sociology at Ashoka University. Vani enjoys cooking in her free time.
Picture Credits: Sunehra Bhatura
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