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Orlando Sentinel | Pets Can Help Us Cope During Isolation

ORLANDO, FLORIDA, March 26, 2020

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.

Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., the president and CEO of American Humane.

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