Ruff times during COVID-19 shed light on unconventional heroism

He may not look like your average superhero, but he sure is one. (Meme by: Abby Aronson)

Health officials remain on high alert for feverish temperatures, shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, bluish lips or face and mental fogginess, all of which are symptoms yielding a COVID-19 diagnosis. Yet, there is a symptom everyone is suffering from as a result of this pandemic, even those feeling physically intact: loneliness.

As the demands of quarantine continue to uproot life as we know it, people nationwide are seizing this time to relish the power of unconditional love and companionship from heroes beyond the human species. This tail-wagging, wet-nosed, slobbery-kiss type of love has proven its power, closing animal shelters nationwide and bringing profound happiness to homes all throughout America. 

Quarantine requires rather extreme measures of social isolation. As a result, feelings of loneliness accumulate, taxing our body’s emotional and physical wellbeing. Ph.D. Amelia Aldao explains loneliness can be felt even in the physical presence of other humans, fueling anxiety and depression, illustrating the exclusive niche animal companionship occupies and its unique capacity to fill a void no human can. Neuroscientist Julianne Holt-Lunstad contends with Aldao, with studies showing the profound physical detriment long-term loneliness has on the body, revealing an increased susceptibility to cardiovascular problems, cancer, stroke, cellular aging and renal failure. As we approach the two-month mark of shelter-in-place orders, working diligently to protect ourselves to stay healthy, we mustn’t neglect to consider the detrimental nature of loneliness and the toll it takes on our bodies. With no sense of how long this social isolation will persist, loneliness becomes inevitable, proving humans need animals now equally as much, if not more, than animals recently released from shelters. 

While being quarantined in our homes doesn’t allow for much, it does allow for this win-win opportunity that likely wouldn’t occur in the absence of this pandemic. Kim Simeon, from Omaha, Nebraska, shared her family’s story with ABC7 News. “We’re all quarantined anyway. What a perfect opportunity to do something good,” Simeon said about Nala, their foster dog. This inclination to maximize the power of good during this challenging and strenuous time speaks to the duality of social responsibility that comes as a result of animal rescue efforts as saving animals simultaneously saves our sanity.

Simeon is one of thousands engaging in rescue efforts, with a demand so high in certain regions, shelters like Riverside County Animal Shelter, in Southern California, have completely emptied out. Meanwhile, Fox News reporter Michael Ruiz noted that a Colorado shelter emptied its cages not once, but twice in one week, reflecting on the remarkable response from people willing to step up to help and reap the benefits of love and company as they follow shelter-in-place orders. With life as we know it put on an extended hold, households nationwide crave consistent comfort brought by animal companionship to preserve the quality of mental health and these rescuees are certainly stepping up the challenge.

With New York at the epicenter of this COVID-19 crisis, the Animal Care Centers of NYC communicated the desperate need for foster applications, hoping to receive around two hundred applicants. New York Times author Sandra Garcia shares that centers were stunned upon learning two thousand people had applied. Similar patterns are revealing themselves in Phoenix, as Jessica Myers, reporter for KTAR News, shared that HALO Animal Rescue center in Phoenix has seen a 55% increase in adoption rates, compared to this time last year.

As dogs, and animals alike, adjust to the comfort of their new homes, their human counterparts continue to acclimate to the world-shattering isolation that comes as a result of quarantine. Social responsibility doesn’t end with humans taking part in rescue efforts. In fact, it is simply the beginning as animal companions have proven to take the reins, saving their owners from the dangers of loneliness. Medical professional Lauren Brooks and her colleagues have spent years analyzing the role animal companionship plays in life-altering circumstances, such as COVID-19, explaining that pets were able to give intuitive aid to their owners during times of crisis and periods of heightened symptoms. Providing their owners with a sense of purpose and empowerment, dogs bring meaning to their owners’ lives even when hope feels obsolete. The spread of this virus has brought the spread of love and desire to engage in an act that betters both the animal and the owner’s life, lightening the weight of the current circumstances. 

For years, dogs, and animals alike, have proven in scientific studies to have a direct effect in decreasing loneliness and emotional challenges associated with social isolation. Their intuitive nature and provision of unique emotional support has aided humans in times of crisis and COVID-19 is no exception. The gift of animal companionship has always presented reciprocity, founded on principles of happiness and unconditional love, but it wasn’t until now that their capacity to heal and comfort was so desperately desired. As people nationwide takepart in this win-win dynamic, rescuing animals from local shelters, it is important not to forget that these furry family members are actually rescuing us.

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