Pets can help us cope dur­ing this pe­riod of so­cial dis­tanc­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - Opinion - By Dr. Robin Ganz­ert

Amer­ica is liv­ing through an un­prece­dented mod­ern pandemic. In an ef­fort to slow the spread of the novel coro­n­avirus, and mit­i­gate its ef­fects, fed­eral, state and lo­cal of­fi­cials are work­ing in tan­dem with businesses and in­di­vid­u­als to ef­fec­tively quarantine an en­tire country.

Many ar­eas, in­clud­ing Or­lando, have closed schools and re­stricted the op­er­a­tion of bars and restau­rants. Work­ers who have the flex­i­bil­ity to work from home are choos­ing to do so and self-quarantine. It is a con­fus­ing and dizzy­ing time for ev­ery­one.

Amidst the panic and pan­de­mo­nium, four-legged friends can help in­di­vid­u­als cope. Fos­ter­ing or adopt­ing a cat or dog from a lo­cal shel­ter can help al­le­vi­ate ten­sion dur­ing this pandemic — com­pan­ion an­i­mals can re­duce stress and anx­i­ety, im­prov­ing men­tal health dur­ing dark times.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion has ac­knowl­edged that cop­ing with the re­al­ity of the novel coro­n­avirus will be stress­ful for both chil­dren and adults. Few are pre­pared for be­ing cooped up in their homes for weeks on end, but men­tal health ex­perts are es­pe­cially wor­ried about the ef­fects of so­cial dis­tanc­ing on those at risk for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

By bring­ing a cat or dog into their homes, in­di­vid­u­als can find a new source of love and en­rich­ment. Pet own­ers will tell you as much. One sur­vey found that 8 in ten pet own­ers re­ported that their pets make them feel less lonely. And 76 per­cent of peo­ple agree that hu­man-an­i­mal in­ter­ac­tions can help ad­dress so­cial isolation.

Ev­i­dence of the heal­ing power of pets isn’t just anec­do­tal. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, sev­eral fed­er­ally funded stud­ies con­firm that an­i­mals can re­duce feel­ings of lone­li­ness, help­ing their own­ers have bet­ter over­all moods and feel more so­cially sup­ported.

One study of 240 peo­ple by re­searchers at the Univer­sity at Buf­falo found that pet own­ers were uniquely pre­pared to deal with stress­ful events. Pet own­ers showed lower base­line heart rates and blood pres­sure dur­ing a stres­sor than adults with­out pets. Right now, all Amer­i­cans could use some help deal­ing with a stres­sor.

Per­haps most com­pelling of all, a re­view of 69 stud­ies on hu­man-an­i­mal in­ter­ac­tion found ro­bust sup­port for the pos­i­tive ben­e­fits of pets in our lives. Across the stud­ies, an­i­mals con­sis­tently im­proved in­di­vid­u­als’ moods while re­duc­ing stress in­di­ca­tors, in­clud­ing blood pres­sure, cor­ti­sol lev­els and heart rate.

Now, as mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are cop­ing with the re­al­ity of so­cial dis­tanc­ing and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the novel coro­n­avirus, it is an op­por­tune time to in­vite an an­i­mal into your life. Sadly, up to 6 mil­lion an­i­mals end up in shel­ters ev­ery year and more than 1.5 mil­lion are put down. In­di­vid­u­als can im­prove their own men­tal health and save an an­i­mal’s life.

If you’re not ready to adopt an an­i­mal, it’s an ideal time to con­sider fos­ter­ing. Wide­spread ru­mors about an­i­mals and coro­n­avirus are hurt­ing shel­ters across the country as they strug­gle to place lov­ing cats and dogs into homes.

While we’d be thrilled for ev­ery home to wel­come a com­pan­ion an­i­mal, it’s im­por­tant to know that you’re able to prop­erly care for a pet. Make sure that you have a steady source of in­come and will be able to af­ford food and med­i­ca­tion.

Dur­ing a time of un­prece­dented anx­i­ety and up­heaval, pets can throw you a bone.

LISA MARIA GARZA/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Or­lando Sen­tinel re­porter Lisa Maria Garza’s cat Aly calls dibs on the black lap­top. As a guest colum­nist writes, com­pan­ion an­i­mals can re­duce stress and anx­i­ety, im­prov­ing men­tal health dur­ing dark times.

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