On January 20th 2020, the US experienced our first confirmed case of the Covid-19 virus and now more than 7 months later we are all still dealing with the effects of the virus including social isolation. According to to an article published in the CDC Weekly on August 14th, during late June of 2020 nearly 40% of those surveyed reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. The CDC conducts ongoing surveys and according to their studies they found the 25.5% of the respondents surveyed in June of 2020 reported experiencing anxiety compared to only 8.1% reporting anxiety symptoms in the same period of 2019. They also found reports of depressive symptoms were nearly four times higher in June of 2020 at 24.3% compared to only 6.5% respondents reporting depression in 2019. I doubt that these statistics come as a surprise to anyone as we can all identify with how the pandemic has impacted our lives and limited our social interactions from visiting with friends to attending school and church.
But what to do about the negative effects of social isolation when we are still being asked to socially distance and limit our interactions with others? Well, one very effective intervention to help alleviate the stress associated with social isolation is pet therapy. The CDC has published an article titled "If You Have Pets" on their website at https://wwww.cdc.gove/cornavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/pets.html . In this article they provide reassurance that although a small number of pets worldwide including cats and dogs have been reported to test positive for Covid-19 after close contact with people who were infected with the virus; based on the current information available, the risk of animals spreading Covid-19 to people is considered to be low.
Numerous scientific studies dating back to the 1980's have shown that interacting with dogs and other pets offer significant health benefits to people. One study done with college students at the University of Washington showed that students who were able to pet a dog for as little as 10 minutes showed a significant decrease in the levels of serum cortisol, a well-recognized stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Various pets including dogs and cats have been used extensively therapy animals to help patients of all ages who experience stress related to isolation on hospital wards and in nursing homes. I once visited a memory care facility and to my amazement found the residents interacting with a miniature therapy pony and the residents loved it! If you have a pet and know someone who is experience social isolated, perhaps you could put Sparky the support dog on a 6-foot leash and offer to provide some pet therapy while maintaining good social distancing. For all the cat lovers out there I just want to point out that the main difference between dogs and cats, humans think dogs make great pets and cats seem to think that humans make great pets... well, kind of.