Home / Opinion / Columns /  Pet therapy: The epi(c)demic truth about cats and dogs

I know someone who I, along with the rest of my gang, would refer to as the “crazy cat lady". Her two “girls", Cally and Sienna, always hogged the headlines at every gathering. Just as we would be on the edge of drum roll, waiting for scandalous gossip to be sounded out, Nimmi, the cat woman, would swan in and say, “Oh, enough of this tittle-tattle already, guess what Sienna did today? She had breakfast for two: she ate Cally’s share too!"

She conversed with her felines, and even solicited professional advice from them—she knew she was on the right track when either or both of her listeners would, on cue, gently nudge her.

In pre-corona times, we’d all laugh at her pet idiosyncrasies. Today, I’m half resentful that her life is way more sorted than mine—because her cats are helping her “overcompensate". “Since I can’t hug humans, I overcompensate with my cats. Thank God for Cally and Sienna, social distancing wasn’t so bad for me." Each time she felt low, they would sense it, curl up next to her, and rub their faces on hers.

I don’t know if it’s just me who has an awful lot of proud pet parents as friends, or it’s the case with everyone, but whenever I am on Facebook, my timeline is invariably bursting at the seams with photos/posts of/on “fur babies" (fully grown hunks are also called babies). The matter has acquired an entirely new handle on Instagram and Twitter, I hear from others (since I’m not on either). Unlike the fakeness I usually associate with most other social media proclamations, pet posts somehow ring true. And I realize that those of us whose families have other animals are coping much better with a scenario that’s stretching out like an infinite possibility.

My friend Juno—yes, right, named after the Roman goddess, I always wish her “happy birthday goddess" on her special day—has a pantheon of canines at home in Texas: four rescued dogs, who now have a fast-filling Facebook album “Dog days of corona" in their name. On record are cuddles, antics, food treat fiestas and punishment postings. She told me that other than not letting her suffer a dull moment in a day, the dogs keep her fit. “Inside the house, I’m on my toes the whole day, and then there are the regular walks in the neighbourhood, which have become an exercise routine for me as well… you know, I’m pretty sure I’d have been too lazy to go for a walk if it hadn’t been for them."

What’s more, her human family of four often go on outdoor rambles—“with masks on obviously"—fortified by a dog each, and get to spend quality time together. “The rest of the time, everyone is busy cooped up inside individual rooms."

Another friend, currently based in Shanghai, is working from home and getting quite fed up of Zoom meetings. But Fapio, her Golden Retriever, makes life easier, bobbing up at her work-table frequently to say hello to her colleagues. He is now a big hit with them. Her black Labrador, Snowy, on the other hand, hates it when she’s on Zoom. “But in a show of solidarity, he curls up at my feet during meetings. When these meetings get particularly long, he puts his head on my feet—and there is instant relaxation."

Her husband, way more banal with pet observations, tossed “two smiling faces and two wagging tails say all is well, never mind what’s happening outside with the world at large" into the mix for good measure.

A family I love dearly recently inducted a new member into the fold: a parakeet that flew into their balcony, landed on a perch and refused to budge. They already have two parrots, four lovebirds (which do double dating), and a couple of hamsters.

With this latest addition, their home has become like a mini zoo. “But it’s been amazing: these guys, over the covid phase, have taught us responsibility, commitment and discipline, and made us click as a unit."

Another friend, an animal rescue volunteer who has adopted a dog and a cat, said “now" has been a time to “pause" and be thankful for their “unconditional love" like never before. “Plus, they are such great Netflix binge companions."

I was shooting the breeze with my precocious pre-teen niece the other day—on a call—and she informed me how “upset" she was with the happenings in evidence on television news. “People are so strange, right?" she asked (I immediately remembered The Doors). “Fighting, screaming, polluting, destroying, murdering, you name it… I’m sick and tired of human beings."

“Maybe you should get a pet," I offered, before reminding her what the actor James Cromwell said: “Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life." I was surprised, pleasantly, she knew who James Cromwell is—she’s a big fan of Babe.

“My parents will not let me have a pet," she grumbled. “The best I can do is watch Beauty and the Beast in reverse. Beauty shouldn’t have allowed a prince charming in her life: she should have, instead, kept Beast as her pet."

Sushmita Bose is a journalist, editor and the author of ‘Single In The City’.

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