As part of our “Love Essentially” series, Jackie Pilossoph helps us navigate the complex world of relationships. Have a question that you would like her to answer? Contact her here, and it may be featured in an upcoming article!
When the Boutsikakis family decided in early March to rescue their puppy, Bella Blu, they had no idea how great their timing was. Just days after they brought the black lab mix home from PAWS they began quarantining, like everyone else.
“COVID was out there, we knew about it, but we didn’t make the decision because of COVID,” said Melinda Boutsikakis, a Glenview mom of three teenagers. “It was a happy coincidence.”
Boutsikakis said because the kids were e-learning and that she was working of their home, Bella was never alone, and everyone in the family got a chance to get close to the puppy.
“She has given us a reason to get off the couch, to get out and walk her,” Boutsikakis said. “She’s brought us together more, and provided comfort to all of us.”
The Boutsikakis’s are among countless people and families whose pets have brought much-needed love and positivity into their lives during the pandemic.
Lisa Blumberg, LCSW is a North Shore based therapist who said that during the pandemic—a time with heightened anxiety for almost everyone, having a pet can be very helpful, especially for those living alone.
“It might sound crazy, but you can talk to your pet and the pet responds,” said Blumberg, who has been in practice for 10 years and who happens to be a puppy owner herself. “Your pet is there with you in person, not on a Zoom screen or Facebook. It’s live. It has a heartbeat. So it can make you feel less alone and maybe less lonely.”
Blumberg and I came up with five ways a pet’s love can benefit its owners, especially during COVID-19:
1. Tactile petting can feel calming.
Hugging and holding a pet can feel soothing and can reduce stress. I actually cuddle with my dog every morning before I get up.
2. A pet offers companionship.
Living alone can feel isolating, especially during times when we are socializing less, or unable to travel and see loved ones.
3. Feeling needed is healthy.
Knowing your pet needs to be walked, fed, played with, brushed and given attention and love can give us a sense of responsibility and purpose. That’s a great feeling! Also, training a dog takes time and hard work, but when you see that what you’re doing is working, there’s a feeling of accomplishment that is wonderful.
4. Pets foster exercise.
When you walk your dog, you get outside, enjoy nature, move your body and breathe in fresh air. Plus, you meet other dog owners, which can feel social and fun. Dogs connect people.
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5. Laughing reduces stress and improves mood.
Let’s face it. Pets can crack us up. For example, I watched my dog try to catch a fly for 15 minutes the other day. He ended up swallowing it live! FYI, I quickly googled it and it isn’t harmful. My dog also tries to climb trees to catch chipmunks, and goes crazy every time he sees this one dog on the street, who looks like the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. We all need to smile and laugh these days, and pets can be so funny and cute. It’s a wonderful distraction from negative news.
Sheila Devi also discovered the benefits of the love of a pet. Devi, an executive life coach who lives and works out of her Chicago home, said she’s been quarantining for 128 days (but who’s counting?)
“Seventy-five days of those I spent completely by myself,” said Devi. “I was lonely for sure. Those days were so long.”
At the end of May, Devi made the decision to adopt two kittens, Tokyo and Miguel.
“I noticed a friend on Facebook had just fostered a dog, so I thought, ‘I’ll just look on some websites for fun,’” she said. “I saw these two kittens that looked so cute, so I called PAWS, went in and played with them, and I knew in 10 minutes. I said, ‘Yup, you’re coming home with me.’’”
Devi said having two kittens is like having two babies and that they are “a handful.” That said, they have brought her more joy than she could have imagined.
“All day while I work, I have one on my left side and one on my right,” she said. “If I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, they follow me.”
The physical contact is also significant.
“I’m a hugger and the kind of person that if I see you, I will hug you goodbye, so it’s been really hard not to have that physical contact,” Devi said. “Just having them close to me feels great.”
The Cohen family of Deerfield also jumped on the pet bandwagon during COVID. They got their puppy, Tali, a month ago.
“When you have a puppy in the house and you’re sitting and playing with her, it’s very calming,” said Rabbi Paul Cohen of the family’s black lab. “Similar to running, it releases endorphins. For me to have this go-to outlet allows me to recharge, to re-energize.”
If I could write a love letter to my dog, Jackson, I would. I cannot begin to explain how much he has helped me during the pandemic, as well as through some personal problems this year, including health issues.
Whenever I feel worried about something, whether it’s finances or illness or my kids or what I see on the news, even just looking at my dog makes me instantly feel better. There is a sense of joy, excitement and deep love when I turn to my dog.
Jackson has also made me a better person—more caring, patient, giving and tolerant. You have no choice but to be all of these things as a pet owner. Little accidents on the rug and chewed furniture are part of the deal, as are walks in a thunderstorm or snowstorm if he needs to go out.
Also, I truly believe dogs understand much more than we think they do. For example, the day I came home from the hospital after shattering my wrist back in January, Jackson never left my side. He slept at my feet the entire day. He is a love and a loyal friend, who happens to be hilariously cute. What a great combo!
“Those first 75 days completely solo were long and lonely because I’m used to recharging by being with people,” Devi said. “Until I got Tokyo and Miguel, I felt tired most of the time. I have a lot more energy since they joined me.”
More from Better:
- A Recipe for Success: How Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Has Managed To Thrive Through Crisis
- Staying Healthy and Giving Back In The Time of COVID-19: A Conversation With Karen Malkin
- How to Save Chicago’s Oldest Deli From Coronavirus Closure
And don’t forget to nominate your favorite local businesses for our Best of 2020!
Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.