NEW DELHI: Staying indoors all the time and coping with the uncertainty of the pandemic has taken a toll on many people's mental health. However, households with pets seem to have found solace in the comforting presence of a constant companion and an in-house healer during these times of self-isolation.

Anannya Chatterjee, a Delhi-based classical dancer and sexuality educator said that she has faced panic disorder and anxiety issues in the past, through which her pet and family member Cookie has played the role of a healer and dearest friend.

“Cookie has shifts of staying in different parts of the house with different family members. She knows everyone well and how to interact with each one in her unique way. She loves to play hide and seek and brightens the day for everyone in the house,” said Chatterjee, who stays in a joint family in Central Delhi.

“Having a pet in our life, especially a dog has a very positive impact on our brain,” confirmed Adnan Khan, a professional Dog Trainer and Behaviourist based in Delhi.

The lockdown has created several different reasons for stress. While some are grappling to get their businesses on track, others are struggling to hold on to their jobs.

“Many people had their job and business affected, but me being a dog training professional can vouch for the fact that the homes with dogs or cats were less traumatised and disturbed by the sudden change,” Khan said. “Dogs reduce cortisol (stress) and increase oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine,” added Khan, who also runs a dog training company called K9 School.

For those who’ve been pushed out of business and are eagerly waiting for things to get better, having a pet is like an elixir for all that despair surrounding professional uncertainty.

“Since I'm related to the tourism industry my income has become zero, as, for now, there is no business at all,” said Rohan Bhatt, a Nainital-based Airbnb super-host.

“Having a pet makes a lot of difference to your emotional health, which ensures you’re physically healthy too. A dog, as they say, is a man's best friend. You always have unconditional love and moral support from a pet. Feeding him and walking him keeps you busy and your mind away from unnecessary thoughts,” added Rohan, who owns a German Shepherd called Diego.

Rohan with family and Diego

For those who’re staying away from their families due to their work, their pets have become their closest friends.

"Here I'm staying by myself, and these two are staying with me,” said Ranita De, a Financial Management professional who hails from Kolkata but is currently living in Gurugram. “Initially, I felt that I had rescued them, but now that I'm mostly indoors, my pets are my saviours," she said.

“These two kids of mine keep me engaged, and I love taking them out for a walk. They spend time with me while I’m doing the chores or busy on my laptop,” added De, who is the proud owner of two rescued Indies.

While everyone’s mostly at home, it also happens to be a time when people are getting to spend more time with their pets.

“Lots of pet parents are taking online sessions to understand how to train their dogs and how to stimulate them,” Poorvaja Kumar, a Delhi-based Certified Canine Trainer and Behaviourist told The Citizen. “The interaction and bond between pets and their owners strengthened during these times. Dogs and humans are in the same space—this is going to increase the attachment,” she said.

While there is a vacuum created by social isolation, pets seem to be filling the gaps and offering a reason to cheer during these days of distress.

“Listening to music or having coffee with your dog does reduce your level of stress and anxiety,” Kumar added.

Pets have become stress relievers for many of those who have been working from home for long hours during the lockdown, with lengthy online meetings and webinars becoming a regular part of their day.

“Joey, a mix of a Labrador and an Indie, is very high on energy. Whenever he sees me he pounces on me and licks me all over—that in itself is enough to melt away all of the day’s fatigue and pressure,” said Anupama Saini, Head of Library Services, British Council, Delhi.

Anupama Saini with Joey

Saini, who says she never misses an opportunity to feed stray dogs and connect with them, highlighted that it is equally vital to take care of one’s pet so they can reciprocate the warmth and support back to the pet parent.

“Pets understand simple gestures. If you check your tone and be nice to them, they will come to you,” she said.

Arun Shivakumar, who runs a pet home and daycare in Delhi, confirmed that while pet parents may be going through a lot in their life or work, they must give the utmost love and attention to their pets.

“We must not overlook the fact that pets also need equal attention and care. Pets can be the best friends we can ever have who stand by us, especially when we are anxious and deeply stressed. One of the biggest gifts we should be grateful for is our connection with them,” Shivakumar added.

The COVID crisis does seem to have overwhelmed most of us. However, to pet parents, having a pet during these times looks like a blessing for sure—a reason to believe that this too, shall pass.

Cover Photo: Ranita De with her pets

Abhishek Talreja is a Delhi-based freelance writer, poet, and journalist.