Drawing Comfort from Pets during a time of Isolation

I did not grow up in an animal house. It’s an understatement to say that my parents are not “pet people!”

We had a couple of goldfish that I overfed when I was four and I had a hamster for a few months in elementary school. I was told the hamster ran away but was informed years later that my mother had given my hamster to another family.

My husband is allergic to cats, I’m allergic to some dogs. My daughter isn’t. She’s been asking for a pet for a long time. When she was three, she wanted a dog, but it had to be the three-headed dog from Harry Potter or nothing. Then she learned that she doesn’t like it when dogs jump on her, kiss her, or bark at her.

After helping her grandmother care for chickens, she decided that she wanted several chickens in order to start a cage-free egg empire. This dream has been deferred until she’s willing to feed and care for chickens every day.

This brings us to rabbits. My niece got a rabbit, so my daughter wanted one. We travel a lot so it’s been tricky to figure out when the right time is. Then COVID-19 took over the news and we knew that social distancing/self-isolation/quarantine was heading our way.

I decided that my child, an only child, really needed a bunny to help her get through whatever is coming over the next several weeks and months. So we got her a mini rex that she named Hoppy.

Kids deal with changes in many ways. Since we homeschool, many think that our lives haven’t been that impacted by this coronavirus. But homeschooling for us involves endless field trips, extracurricular classes with other kids, a gardening class with grandma, and learning time taking place in a variety of cafes and libraries. My daughter often complains that we’re never home.

Two weeks into this thing and my kid is seriously missing her classes and her friends. She’s frustrated and crying about missing a summer camp she refused to let me register her for this summer. She misses her art teacher and, to be honest, I think she’s getting a little tired of spending all day every day with her parents. During a particularly grumpy day, I wanted nothing to do with her bunny, until I made her take the rabbit out and play with him. Her mood turned around so quickly.

Hoppy has been a lifesaver for us! My daughter says that she is Hoppy’s mom and she plays with Hoppy, talks to him, reassures him when the dogs bark too loudly outside, designs cardboard play structures for Hoppy, and reads books to Hoppy.

I’m not saying to run out and get a pet in the midst of a Shelter in Place Order, but what I am suggesting is that, as parents, we should see our pets as therapy animals for our kids.

And for ourselves.

It’s easy for pets to fade into the background of our busy lives and it’s difficult for anything to compete with screens these days. But, please remember that we can talk to our pets, relax and play with our pets. Reluctant readers (like my child) can read to their pets in a no-pressure setting. Just being able to talk and connect to someone besides family in a time when kids so desperately miss social interactions, is invaluable.

We’re all dealing with fear and anxiety right now, so the more we can have some genuine fun to distract us and strengthen the connections in our homes the better. Pets provide us with a wonderful opportunity to do that every day.  

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