Maintaining social connections is important for both our own and our dogs’ mental well-being. While we may not be able to give those who live outside our home a physical hug during this time, we can give them virtual hugs via apps such as FaceTime, Skype, Meet, or Zoom. Studies show that dogs can see what is on computers and television screens, and hearing familiar voices is also beneficial for them.
• Schedule a virtual meet-up with multiple friends or family members and chat in real-time. Include your dog or other pets on visual calls. You could set up a group meet-up and share what you’ve been doing and ideas to combat loneliness or boredom.
• Local nursing homes and hospice facilities may be open to virtual meet-ups as well. You could offer to show off your dog’s training tricks or simply hang out and talk for a short time. Evidence suggests that just looking at our pets increases oxytocin, a social bonding pheromone sometimes called the “love” hormone. It also reduces blood pressure and provides an overall sense of well-being. Though we’re denied touching, we can use our eyes to visually soothe and reduce distress in ourselves and others. Technology enables us to provide comfort at a distance. Let’s proactively use it to help others at this time.
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Living in my own small, interspecies social group—an elderly mother, a husband, a sister, three dogs, and a canary—and needing to work with clients has reminded me how much our individual interactions matter to our physical and mental health. Like you, I am responsible for my own actions and, in my case, for ensuring that my mom and family’s well-being is protected. It is frustrating not to have a timeline for when this will end, not knowing who has been exposed to the virus and not conducting our lives at our accustomed pace. But what we can do for our family and pets is to be present and take control of our actions. This requires us to be creative and think “outside the box” of our conventional lives and habits.
While the news is unpleasant and the directives are disruptive, we need to put others before ourselves at this time. This is an opportunity to evaluate our lives and remember how connected we really are with all living beings. Our actions matter. I believe in my heart that we will do right by our human and animal friends. We will get through this terrible storm and be better human beings for having done so.