By Conal Morrison

Animals are wonderful creatures. In fact, I mostly prefer their company to that of people. I have often wished to be a house cat, so I could spend my days lounging in the sun and my nights prowling the back garden. Cats have always felt a little otherworldly to me, their gaze seems to peer right through you, and they come and go as they please. That makes them all the more remarkable to have around and certainly makes it all the more special when a feline gives you its affection. It’s like they choose you to be their friend. 

But don’t even get me started on dogs; they are always such happy bundles of joy. Unlike cats, the canine species wear their hearts on their sleeves, and you can always guess what they’re thinking. It’s refreshing and freeing to spend time with a doggo you love. 

Although personally, I have not had any sort of ‘exotic’ pet such as lizards, spiders, birds etc., so I cannot speak from experience, but it must be pretty cool to have an interesting companion with whom to share your time. 

Our family dog Bella is a chocolate brown purebred Shar-Pei, and she is honestly insane. In a cute way. If it rustles and she can fit it in her mouth, I can guarantee she will grab it and drag whatever it is out onto our patio. And boy, do I mean anything. Clothing, paper bags, a pillow, even my running shoes! 

During the pandemic, she would do this multiple times a day, trying to get people to play with her or chase her around the house. Hardly an hour would go by where I didn’t hear my mother yelling, “Bella put that down!” from the other end of my house. Of course, while it’s cute, it didn’t come without its frustrations. 

Being locked inside was hard for all of us, but it’s important to remember it was equally difficult for our pets too! Especially if you have active pets such as dogs that need a good deal of exercise. We were pretty lucky in New Zealand, even during full level 4 lockdowns. We were still allowed out of our homes for exercise as long as we stayed within a certain distance of our house. This meant my family as a whole could take Bella for walks up to an hour-long twice a day during the whole crisis. While not a complete cure, it worked wonders for our dog’s maddening behaviour and for the humans of the house as cabin fever started to take its toll on all of us. 

How our pets have helped us

Having a pet can do wonders for our health, both mentally and physically. Spending time with your fur baby can help you relieve stress almost instantly. Plus, forming a bond with them allows us to feel connected and enjoy our time with them even more. 

This effect was significantly multiplied during the pandemic. We all spent more time at home with our pets, forming those bonds and de-stressing. For those living alone during the lockdowns, pets became a huge lifeline. They provided much-needed company and affection and reminded us to get outside and enjoy some sun when possible! Getting up each day and taking care of another living, breathing creature inspires you to look after yourself too. 

How you can help your pet

While our pets have done wonders for us, especially during such trying times, it’s important to remember that they have wants and needs. They are also living beings with their own minds. It is vital to watch for any unusual behaviour they might display as it may be a sign they are stressed, run-down or need some extra care. Dogs especially can become quite stressed out if there is an increase in the number of people around them or a change to their environment. 

Cats may not always be in a cuddly mood either, especially in a home that is suddenly full of people 24/7. It’s good to let them have their space and come to you when they are ready. Be sure to be gentle with your pets and keep them in good health. 

And most vital of all, understand that as sentient, living creatures, only those of us willing to spend the time, money and effort to truly care for them should take one as a pet. If you can’t handle having the responsibility, then get a stuffed toy, visit a friend and play with their pet or go to a cat or dog cafe to get your fur fix. 

Animals are amazing. They always pay back what you give them with lots of licks, purrs, chirps, or whatever other ways they can show affection. As long as you look after your pets, they will look after you.