Animal Companions Help Cure Loneliness in Quarantine

Seventh+grader+Austin+Koepke+holds+his+dog%2C+Lola%2C+who+he+adopted+during+the+pandemic.

Courtesy of Austin Koepke

Seventh grader Austin Koepke holds his dog, Lola, who he adopted during the pandemic.

Ethan Nguyen, Intro Writer

The isolation of quarantine is a challenge many can relate to now. Like many students last spring break, eighth grader Iris Lei faced her own hardships with the lack of social interaction. Just before spring break last year, Lei told her friends goodbye, unaware that it would be the last time talking to them face-to-face for a long while. As she settled into virtual classes, a dull monotony and loneliness set in. However her adoption of Oreo, a tiny Shih-Poo puppy, helped remedy her loneliness and lift her spirits.

“I really like having him around,” Lei said. “COVID makes you lonely, so he made it better.”

Lei is not alone in turning to pet adoption as a remedy for the pandemic’s loneliness. As the coronavirus pandemic endures, an interesting trend has arisen: many people have turned to pets to help them persevere through these challenging times. According to PetPoint, an application service provider founded to support shelter and animal care operations, the national U.S. foster pet population increased by 9% between March and September of 2020.

An example of this upward trend in pet adoptions includes seventh grader Austin Koepke, who adopted a puppy named Lola during quarantine.

“We kind of wanted something else to be around during quarantine because we were all kind of going crazy being all alone,” Koepke said.

He said that having a puppy to show affection toward can greatly improve one’s mood.

“It’s just [my family’s] so much more happy because you always have something you can lean by, say hi to, and it’s just really nice,” Koepke said.

Quarantine and social distancing, while imperative to keeping us safe from Covid-19, have been known to cause mental and emotional distress.

“Quarantine creates a sense of being alone and a sense of being isolated from other people,” Guidance Counselor Rylan Smith said. “And that creates anxiety, and probably, for a lot of people, sadness, maybe even stuff that leads to depression or those kinds of things.”

This sense of being alone, with accompanying anxiety and sadness, feels very disheartening to people. According to a study by the US National Library of Medicine, humans are inherently social, meaning we survive because of cooperation between each other and simply do not thrive in isolation.

“I was just very lonely because I’m a very social person,” Lei said. “I like talking to people.”

According to Lei, it is not just Oreo’s presence that helps her feel less lonely, it’s also his boundless energy.

“Whenever I’m feeling sad or something, I take Oreo out, and he’s really crazy so he runs around and makes me laugh,” Lei said.

According to another medical study by the National Library of Medicine, interaction with pets causes the brain to release oxytocin, a chemical associated with empathy, trust and recognition, as well as a decrease in cortisol, a chemical related to adrenaline and stress. Also, according to HelpGuide, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing public information about mental health, pet interaction causes the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that cause calming emotions.

“For a majority of people, pets do create positive feelings, and there’s been a lot of research that shows that engaging with animals has the same chemical reaction in your brain like doing physical activity or having an exciting thing happen to you,” Smith said. “So you’re going to have a similar chemical process going on in the brain. So pets can actually, not negate but alter the negatives of quarantine. They can help combat those.”

In a year plagued with missed holidays or those replaced by Zoom celebrations, pets can provide the companionship that social distancing and isolation make near impossible.

“Pets were an easy way to have some companionship when you couldn’t be around other people,” Smith said. “Having the companionship made people feel like they weren’t alone.”