Many people have treasured the support and companionship pets can provide during the coronavirus pandemic – enjoying extra time with their pets because of working at home, or in some cases because their pets have been their only company while self-isolating.
But, before restrictions on movement and contact with other people were fully imposed, some dog owners decided to lend their pets to vulnerable relatives or neighbours because they felt they needed them more while in isolation.
“Dogs are good company… it’s good just having another heart beat in the house, then you’re not alone,” one woman who had lent her dog to a neighbour told the BBC.
The RSPCA said pets would provide support, comfort and companionship but people should consider how their pet would cope with the changes of moving.
So what have been the benefits for those people who did share their dogs?
‘Pets give you something to think about’
Clare Pooley loaned her terrier to her dad, Peter, as a “support dog” after he said he was worried about not seeing people.
Otto moved in with Clare’s parents in Hampshire before the government warned in March people should all stay at home.
“My dad and terrier got on so well, they’re both elderly, doddery and grey,” Clare said.
It was “a great comfort to me knowing he’s there” explained Clare.
“My dad loves him to bits – he grooms him every day and Otto takes my dad for lovely walks.
“It’s difficult to know whether my dad is Otto’s carer or Otto is my dad’s carer.”
Clare said she and her family went to visit her parents and Otto in their garden in June once restrictions on meeting up with others had been eased and gave their dog “lots of cuddles”.
“We’re dying to have Otto home but my dad would hate him to go” said Clare, who added they were considering a dog share agreement in the future.
Back in March Clare posted on Twitter about her decision to lend Otto to her father, using the hashtag #SupportDog. The post was liked by more than 100,000 people and prompted many people to reply, sharing similar stories.
It had been hard being separated from close family during lockdown, but “pets give you something else to think about”, she said.
‘When he had Sky his spark came back’
“We asked if he wanted to borrow a dog and said ‘he’s yours for as long as you want’,” said Natalie Rowe, who lent her Labrador to her elderly neighbour, who has been self-isolating at home.
Natalie and her husband discussed lending Sky to Rob after he commented on how lucky they were to have dogs, when they were delivering his shopping.
“He was so touched” to have the quiet, nine-year-old black Labrador.
Natalie said Sky was very happy staying with Rob, saying “they’re just a lovely match”.
“She’s loving the extra attention…[and] quite happy to go into his house rather than ours now, which at the beginning took her some getting used to.”
Living “out in the sticks” in one of only three houses in Morwenstow in Cornwall, Natalie said her neighbour was normally a very active and social person.
“He is always a light hearted gentlemen and you could see that spark had gone – but when he had Sky his spark came back.”
“Dogs are good company… it’s good just having another heart beat in the house, then you’re not alone” added Natalie.
“He is now on the look out for his own dog as Sky is a little too big to be a permanent thing.”
‘Tremendous impact’ in self-isolation
Having a dog can offer “comfort and companionship” said Rita Howson, chief executive of Support Dogs, a national charity that provides, trains and supports specialist dogs to help vulnerable people.
“Dogs can have a tremendous impact if someone is in self-isolation.”
However, people should think carefully about how a dog would fit into their lifestyle before taking up the responsibility, she warned.
The RSPCA warned a dog could find being lent to a different household “quite stressful”, because of the change in routine, a new environment and the absence of their owner.
Earlier in lockdown there was some concern pets could spread the virus, though the fears were soon downplayed. The British Veterinary Association recommended pet owners should keep cats indoors if someone in their household had shown symptoms, though it stressed owners should otherwise not worry about risk of infection from pets.
“There isn’t a single case of a pet dog or cat infecting a human with Covid-19,” Dr Angel Almendros, from City University in Hong Kong, told the BBC in April.
The RSPCA also said there was no evidence companion animals played any role in the spread of the human coronavirus disease but said “fur could carry the virus”, like many other surfaces could.
‘Uncomplicated and unconditional companionship’
Monty has been keeping Alex Ritchie’s father-in-law company after his wife passed away, leaving him on his own.
“It was only meant to be for a few days, but they enjoyed each other’s company so much that each time we went to collect him, he ended up staying,” said Alex, from Newmachar in Aberdeenshire.
He said when it began to appear likely a lockdown would be introduced, the decision to leave Monty with his father-in-law was influenced by the looming restrictions.
“He would prefer us to be there but Monty provides uncomplicated and unconditional companionship, without the problems involved in self-isolation,” Alex said.
“It’s pretty good for him to have the dog – giving him company, giving him structure and helping him through the day.”
He said Monty had been “crucial” and kept his father-in-law motivated during lockdown.
“Once this is over, I think Monty will spend a lot of time between us.
“Of course we miss Monty, but this is of benefit to both of them – the dog has been really helpful, I think we made the right decision.”
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