Canine Heroes: How Dogs Help People during the Pandemic

dog on the couch

As healthcare workers grappled with fear and anxiety when the coronavirus cases began climbing, a photo in March featured two heroes: a doctor and her service dog in training, Wynn.

Fast-forward to almost a year after, the ER staff of Rose Medical Center in Colorado held a beautiful sendoff to the dog that helped them beat the stress and made them say things will eventually get better.

But it’s not only healthcare facilities that benefited from the presence or companionship of these canines. So did most of the United States.

In fact, at the height of the pandemic, dozens of photos online showed empty kennels and animal rescue shelters. According to a Shelter Watch report, from March 13 to September 11, 2020, the number of dogs and cats that entered shelters dropped by 37% and 29%, respectively.

Also, within the same period, over 55,000 dogs and cats had been fostered. While adoptions declined by 27%, foster care went up by 9%.

In California, there’s a 35% drop in the number of pets that ended up in shelters. Foster care, meanwhile, rose by at least 18% in the state.

The reason is simple: pet companionship helps humans cope with the pandemic’s effects better.

Beating the Stress

A Harvard study in 2020 revealed that over 50% of the respondents confessed to feeling significant stress because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The factors vary.

Some are scared of getting the disease, while others fear for their loved ones who may be far away. Many Americans lost their jobs and continue to struggle to find a source of livelihood. The presidential elections, racial tensions, and politics only worsened it.

Several also live alone, even hundreds of miles apart from their family. The feelings of isolation, anxiety, and stress can be too much to bear.

To help them deal with these negative emotions, many decided to get pets even temporarily. And this is definitely reflected in a large online survey conducted by researchers in the UK, Israel, and Spain.

When they asked if their animal helped them cope with the pandemic emotionally, an overwhelming 87% said yes.

But what makes dogs perfect companions, especially for stressful people?

1. Touching Them Helps Lower Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is one of the major stress hormones produced by the body. It is not entirely bad since, at its healthy levels, it keeps a person alert, focused, and energized throughout the day.

However, when a person is chronically stressed, the body may produce more cortisol than needed. This may then trigger negative stress responses like a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and anxiety.

Worse, it lowers the immune system. Feeling sickly doesn’t bode well when one is dealing with a pandemic.

In a lot of studies, including that in 2019 by the Washington State University, stroking or touching a pet like a dog even for 10 minutes can already lower cortisol levels.

The entire mechanism seems to be unknown, or the data about it is insufficient. One thing is clear: when cortisol level drops, so will the feeling of stress.

2. They Can Provide Amazing Social Support

kid hugging dog

Dogs are a man’s best friend for a reason. While their temperaments and personalities can vary according to breed or their experience, in general, they are fiercely loyal and provide unconditional love.

They can also be clingy and interact with humans very well. This is especially true for pets that have gone through adequate puppy training.

Some studies have also shown that people with pets as companions often look more approachable when they’re outdoors. The ability to socialize, even at a distance, can already be huge mood boosters for those who feel alone and separated.

3. Dogs Keep Their Human Companions Healthy

Many breeds of dogs need regular exercise to lower their risk of developing joint disease. This also makes a perfect excuse for humans to get out and exercise.

In fact, a study by the Michigan State University revealed that those who own dogs are at least 34% more likely to walk for 150 minutes per week than non-dog owners. The 150 minutes is the recommended amount of time by the American Heart Association to engage in moderate physical activity.

Even better, those who took their canines outdoors even for a stroll may increase their leisure physical activity by almost 70%. Dog owners are also likely to succeed than non-dog owners in keeping their fitness goals.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s more to it than fighting the virus or finding the right treatment. It also displays stories of heroes that rise to the occasion, and not surprisingly, dogs make it to the list.

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