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People’s Relationships with Pets Have Changed during Pandemic

Cemal Senturk, owner of Boncuk, outside of a medical care facility in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Turkey, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Boncuk has spent five days waiting in front of the hospital where her sick owner was receiving treatment. (DHA via AP)
People’s Relationships with Pets Have Changed during Pandemic
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pets have only become more important. They have added enjoyment and humor to lives lived indoors. And they keep us company.

However, as more people are still working from home because of health restrictions, the animals they keep are introducing new problems too. But first, let’s talk about the good side.

For many dogs, the quarantine may seem perfect. Their humans are around all the time, or as we say, 24/7. So, there might be more time for walks and more treats. Sleeping on the bed at night? Not a problem.

Cats, however, are more complex. Many cats are already experts at social distancing and may be hoping for the pandemic to end soon. They may need more “me time.”

Then again, some other cats may have changed during the pandemic. They may want more attention. For example, take Kate Hilt’s cat named Potato. Potato loves to interrupt Zoom work calls by jumping on Hilt’s lap.

Hilt is a technology advisor in the Washington, D.C. area. She told the Associated Press that she has found a way to solve the problem. She puts the cat on her lap before the call. This way, Potato is already asleep during her work call.

Dogs, however, are used to having all the attention and may not want to share it with their owner’s computer. Olivia Hinerfeld is a student at Georgetown University Law School. Her dog, Lincoln, gets upset about the attention she gives to her video conference calls. To get that attention back, Lincoln drops his dirtiest, smelliest toy ball into her lap during her work calls.

Speaking of cats, Learning English writer and English teacher Alice Bryant says her cat is not very affectionate. But having a cat during the pandemic provides her and her boyfriend with humor and entertainment.

Nerina, Bryant's pet cat sits on top a keyboard as if waiting for her song to begin. (Photo Courtesy of Alice Bryant)
Nerina, Bryant's pet cat sits on top a keyboard as if waiting for her song to begin. (Photo Courtesy of Alice Bryant)

“We make up funny songs for everything the cat does. For instance, she likes to go in and out of rooms a lot. So, my boyfriend made a song about that. When I'm cooking and she's hanging out in the kitchen with me, I sometimes sing cat songs to her."

For dogs and cats, the pandemic has been a chance to teach humans a thing or two about themselves.

Candace Croney is a professor of animal behavior at Purdue University in the state of Indiana. She told the Associated Press that, during the pandemic, our pets are “around us now 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s quite a lot.”

Croney has learned new things from her pets during the pandemic. She said she has learned more about how they interact with each other. Extra time with her dog and cat has also taught her how to better understand them. She adds that she finds this “funny.” These are the things she tells others to do. It took a pandemic for her to take her own advice.

Not all the changes during the pandemic have been good.

Some pets may be becoming even more dependent on their owners. Take for example, Learning English’s Ashley Thompson and her dog Dublin. For those who have seen Let’s Learn English, you may remember Dublin. Ashley says that Dublin has changed in one big way during the pandemic.

Ashley Thompson of VOA Learning English holds her dog Dublin as they hike trails together in West Virginia. (Photo Courtesy of Ashley Thompson)
Ashley Thompson of VOA Learning English holds her dog Dublin as they hike trails together in West Virginia. (Photo Courtesy of Ashley Thompson)

“Dublin no longer knows how to be left alone at home. Thankfully, I don’t leave the house much these days except to take him on walks. But if he ever does get left behind, I'm pretty sure he barks nonstop."

Veterinarians and owners report some pets are being given medicine for anxiety. Other pets are being put on diets because of too many treats. Some are not getting enough exercise in parks because their owners are avoiding public places.

Kursten Hedgis is an herbalist in Decatur, Georgia. She explores how plants can treat illness. She told the AP that her dog Bitsy misses attention from other humans on their walks.

She said her dog would get upset “because no one would talk to him or pet him.” People would stay socially distanced from him.

Hedgis added that trips to the doctor have been “really scary” for the rescue dog because of the face masks and lack of touch.

However, Hedgis and other pet owners say their animals provide emotional support to their humans. As humans begin to return to work and vaccines become available, this year likely will bring a test of those relationships and new behaviors.

Croney, the animal behavior expert, said she worries what will happen when she returns to work—and not only for her pets.

“I’m starting to worry a little bit for me,” she admits. “I’m becoming a little co-dependent on my animals.”

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Dan Sewell reported parts of this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted his story for VOA Learning English and added interviews from Learning English pet owners. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

quarantine –n. to be separated from people in an effort to prevent the spread of disease

treat –n. something that tastes good and is not often eaten

interrupt –v. to do something that causes someone from speaking or doing what they were doing

lap –n. the area between the knees and hips of a person who is sitting down

affectionate –adj. feeling or showing a great liking for a person or thing

entertainment –n. amusement or pleasure that comes from watching a performer, playing a game, etc.

interact –v. to talk or do things with people

veterinarian –n. a doctor for animals

anxiety –n. a feeling of nervousness or worry

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