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The Quad: Exploring the pet-tential benefits of being stuck at home with furry friends

(Lily Lee/Daily Bruin)

By Alexandra Grace Bell

May 8, 2020 7:38 pm

This post was updated May 27 at 5:22 p.m.

We all want these stay-at-home orders to be lifted as soon as possible – all of us except our dogs, that is.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans are staying home to stop the spread of the virus. As we attend virtual Zoom lectures at home and watch old Snapchat memories of college friends and happier times, it can be hard to stay positive.

For dogs, cats and other pets, though, more time at home means more quality time with their owners – and it turns out the interaction is just as good for us as it is for them.

On the surface, there are many obvious reasons to love our pets. Whether your pal is a bird, puppy or bearded dragon, these creatures can be fun to play with and observe, provide us with company and become our best friends.

However, the advantages of having a pet go beyond just having a companion to hang out with. Scientific research shows that owning a pet has numerous physical and emotional health benefits, too. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, our pets’ company can help us counteract feelings of loneliness and depression.

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(David Rimer/Daily Bruin)

Not surprisingly, pets have always been a crucial part of the lives of their owners – but while many of us stay at home, pets may be more important than ever.

Garrett Kukier, a second-year chemistry student, said his dog Rasko has recently been a grounding force for him while he remains at home for the majority of the day.

“An escape I have in the confines of those walls is taking Rasko out on a walk everyday,” Kukier said. “And it has become a family venture (for) the three of us who are on a walk.”

Kukier also said he finds comfort in knowing his dog is right there with him while he is separated from friends.

Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin
Studies have shown that spending time with our pets is mutually beneficial. Second-year chemistry student Garrett Kukier said his dog Rasko has been a grounding force for him while in quarantine. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)

Similarly, Shaddy Zbib, a third-year biochemistry student, said that just seeing his pet there has made him feel happier.

“(Animals) make the time pass by faster, and I’m just an animal person in general,” Zbib said. “So I just tend to get very happy when I see an animal.”

Zbib procrastinates by playing with his pet bird Kiwi, a sun conure, and sometimes the five minutes budgeted for playtime stretches into an hour. Kiwi also attends classes with Zbib, his favorite class being physical chemistry.

It’s no wonder that pet owners like Kukier and Zbib enjoy spending time with their pets, especially during a period when many of us feel stressed by coronavirus or by the routine pressures of school and work. In fact, simply having a routine playtime or walk with your pet can decrease your triglyceride levels, cholesterol and even blood pressure, according to the CDC.

For dogs in particular, it has been found that just looking into your dog’s eyes can make you feel happier. This happens as a result of an increase of a hormone called oxytocin, commonly known as the “love hormone,” which may help with anxiety, depression and even gut health.

If that’s not enough, one of the proven long-term effects of dog ownership is a reduced risk of death, according to an article published by Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association. When taking into account all causes of death, dog owners showed a 24% decrease in risk compared to those without dogs. That number becomes 31% for decreased risk of cardiovascular death in particular.

Much to the benefit of our well-being and the animals that need homes, there has been an increase in adopting and fostering pets during this tumultuous time.

Compared to 2019, the Los Angeles and New York City programs of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have seen a 70% rise in foster care support, according to the president and CEO of the organization Matt Bershadker. In addition, many shelters across the nation reported an surge of community members stepping up to adopt and foster furry friends in need.

Likewise, Ben Lehrer, president of Kitten Rescue, and Jack Hagerman, vice president of communications at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, told the Los Angeles Times that their organizations were receiving large spikes of interest.

Lacey Cappos, a fourth-year psychology student, and her roommates recently decided to foster a dog, citing the stay-at-home measures as the perfect opportunity to give the pet a home.

“We had always wanted a dog,” Cappos said. “But, we knew we wouldn’t have the time to give it the attention that it deserves.”

(Courtesy of Lacey Cappos)
(Courtesy of Lacey Cappos)

However, because of these new circumstances, Cappos said she now has another friend to play and get out of the house with, while her dog Ciaro gets a happy home and plenty of attention.

Whether it’s a dog like Ciaro or a bird like Kiwi, animal companions do so much to bring joy to their owners and some great health benefits to boot.

So, the next time you’re feeling low, go give your pooch a smooch for both his happiness and yours – and remember to appreciate the animals that help make staying at home a little less lonely.

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Alexandra Grace Bell
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