COVID-19 is temporary, but pet ownership is permanent

  • Post category:Op-Eds

April 26, 2021. By Amanda Swanson.

2021 J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow Amanda Swanson

As we reflect on the year behind us, it is clear that 2020 has been a time of challenge and hardship like no other. For many of us, our pets have been instrumental in helping us navigate the seemingly endless months of uncertainty and isolation due to the pandemic. Owning a dog can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but we must also acknowledge the obligations we owe to our animals in return.

The benefits of owning dogs on our physical and mental health are plentiful. They encourage us to get moving and stay active throughout the day. They make us laugh with their silly antics. They provide companionship to help mitigate feelings of loneliness and depression. Numerous studies have even linked pet ownership to having lower blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, and longer life expectancy.

As a graduate student who shares a single apartment with my beloved furry friend, I can personally attest to the comfort and camaraderie that pet ownership brought when the world shut down in March. With the transition of my classes to virtual methods, having a warm body to converse with was a welcome reprieve from the lack of in-person social interaction elsewhere. As a future healthcare professional, I envision pets as a vital tool against job burnout at a time when many of our careers have assumed heightened levels of stress.

It comes as no surprise that adoptions have surged following the onset of the pandemic, with many rescue centers citing all-time low occupancies amidst high demand. According to the independent nonprofit Shelter Animals Count, shelter euthanasia dropped by 52% in 2020 compared to 2019. Furthermore, they report that the national dog adoption rate spiked 32% in April alone. As a former volunteer of seven years with my local humane society, these numbers are encouraging proof that we are on the right track. 

Nevertheless, we must ensure that we are not simply obtaining a pet to fill a void and treating them as a mere object, but instead providing the proper care and respect they deserve. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), “responsible dog ownership” includes providing adequate exercise and mental stimulation for your dog’s age and breed, supplying fresh water and quality food, maintaining your dog’s appearance through regular grooming, teaching basic manners, and staying up-to-date on vaccinations through a licensed veterinarian. Don’t forget about obeying local leash laws and picking up waste appropriately too.

With the recent approval and subsequent rapid distribution of two promising vaccines for COVID-19, it looks as if an end to this pandemic may soon be in sight. The era of social distancing and full-time work from home may be temporary, but pet ownership – that’s permanent. What will happen when we return to our busy lives and suddenly have less time at home to spend with our furry friends? Will our neighborhoods run amok with dogs suffering from boredom, separation anxiety, or perhaps lack of exercise? Will shelters become full once again? Responsible dog ownership in the wake of COVID-19 is more important than ever.

We previously balanced busy schedules with pet ownership prior to 2020 and will certainly re-adjust again, but we must recognize that owning a dog requires a continual investment of time and energy. This is a commitment that starts on the day that we welcome a new four-legged member into our family, and one that does not end with the coronavirus pandemic. Our loyal animals have been there to support us as we forge our way through 2020; now we must continue to be there for them.

Take the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Pledge here.

Amanda Swanson is a 2020-21 J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow and a UNC School of Dentistry student.