Through Grief, Loneliness And Anxiety, Our Pets Are Helping Us Cope

They bring joy, companionship and a sense of calm. Five owners tell us how their pets are getting them through lockdown.
Pets helping us through lockdown
Pets helping us through lockdown

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With lockdown dragging on and the weeks in quarantine turning into months, people are understandably finding life tough right now – and many are finding their pets are a source of comfort and distraction.

HuffPost UK has been inundated with messages from pet owners who have found their animal companions to be incredibly loving during this fraught time. Here are five of their stories – with lots of cute pictures, of course.

‘Fred gets me chatting to other lovely doggie people’

Nicola Cole, who is 28 and living with her parents in Southampton, has found her tiny pooch Fred to be a rock during lockdown. “I’m currently seeing a therapist for my eating disorder,” she says. “An effect of that is a need for control, and lockdown has had an impact with the change of routine and uncertainty.”

Her dog Fred, a Jack Russell crossed with a Lancashire Heeler, has been crucial in getting her out of the house, something she also finds hard due to social anxiety. “Fred gets me chatting to other lovely doggie people when we are out,” she says. “As you can imagine, he has a lot of admirers, everyone wants to know what breed he is!”

Fred
Fred

Cole says this really helps – she’s introverted, but always feels better after going out with Fred and having a few socially-distanced chats with the dog community.

“Fred is the best form of therapy when I’m feeling down as well, he just knows and he’s a very cuddly, snuggly dog,” she adds. “He makes me want to keep going, he is my main motivation.

“As the lockdown lifts and it’s all change again, it will be a struggle for me... but I know with Fred by my side, I’ll be able to get through it.”

‘My dad’s tortoise makes me feel close to him’

Losing a loved one to coronavirus is unimaginably hard, as Victoria Clifford, 39, from Kenilworth, Warwickshire, knows. She lost her dad Trevor a few weeks ago and has been grieving alongside her two sons Dylan, 15, and Jack, eight.

When her dad was in hospital with the virus, Clifford took in his pet tortoise William. She also has a rescue dog called Sweep, a Springer Spaniel and Border Collie cross. The two pets have distracted Clifford and her children over the past few weeks, providing occasional smiles among the sadness.

“Myself and the children have had an awful two years starting with the death of my mum, my separation from the children’s dad and all of the turmoil and sadness that comes with that – and now losing dad,” says Clifford.

Sweep and Jack
Sweep and Jack

Like many dogs, Sweep seems to know when her humans need her the most and will go into protector mode. Learning how to look after her dad’s tortoise has also provided a welcome, if not slightly terrifying, distraction.

William the tortoise, who has since been renamed Sonic by eight-year-old Jake, stayed asleep until the day her dad passed away. “I know nothing about tortoises and have a fear of reptiles so it was a challenge,” she says. “I had to do a lot of research. But I want to do everything to make the little fella at home for dad. Dad loved the tortoise and it makes me feel close to him.”

Clifford says she and her family could’ve “quite easily slipped into a hole of locking ourselves away”. “But,” she adds, “I have a purpose. I get up and start my day, which starts with waking the children and feeding the animals.”

Sonic the tortoise
Sonic the tortoise

‘Our bunny’s cheerful personality is really helpful at this time’

For Marco Fiori and his wife, who live in Berkshire, their pet bunny Basil has been a source of joy during lockdown. “He’s super affectionate, always on hand for a cuddle and his cheerful personality is really helpful at this time,” says Fiori, 31.

“He loves our garden – we get lots of fresh air because of him, which helps with mental health and a change of scenery throughout the day.”

Basil the bunny
Basil the bunny

Basil loves a good snooze during the day, which works out quite well alongside his owners’ work from home schedules. “Rabbits are most active morning and early evening – so he’s the ideal companion when working from home as he keeps to himself during work hours,” says Fiori.

He’s also a floppy-eared comedian, apparently. “He’s genuinely hilarious! Random moments make us laugh a lot. Lockdown would’ve been much lonelier if he wasn’t in our life.”

‘The biggest positive is the comfort our kittens bring to my sons’

Feline siblings Sammy and Luna are forever putting smiles on the faces of Lisa Berry’s children – the black and white kitties turn one next month. “They’re very entertaining when they zoom around chasing each other and play fighting,” says Berry, who lives with her two sons Jake, 10, and Ollie, 11, in Swindon, Wiltshire.

“The biggest positive is the comfort they bring to both boys,” she says. “Having the kittens has calmed my youngest a little, he has had to quieten down a bit and he loves to sit and stroke their fur and listen to them purr.”

Sammy and Luna
Sammy and Luna

The pandemic has made her children anxious, she says, but the cats have a calming effect. “Sammy is my youngest’s kitten and Luna is my eldest’s, but they each love both of them. It works well with them having their own kitten, they feel like they are their best friends.”

Berry says the cats also provide a welcome distraction to her children from everything going on outside the home. “Seeing the boys smile at the moment is a very precious thing as they are finding lockdown tough,” she adds. “If they are upset, the kittens will approach them and settle near them to get cuddles and cheer them up.”

Sammy helps with homework.
Sammy helps with homework.

‘Without my six pets, I would’ve been incredibly alone’

Paula Stewart, 38, lives in Liverpool with two giant breed dogs, a tortoise, snake, uromastyx (spiny-tailed lizard) and a crested gecko, who have all helped her in different ways.

“I’ve found lockdown quite tough,” says Stewart. Both her mum, who is 70, and her 102-year-old great uncle who lives with her mum, have been hospitalised with coronavirus. While her mum has recovered, her uncle has been moved to a nursing home where he is suffering from pneumonia. “It’s been one of the most terrifying times of my life,” she says.

Without her pets, Stewart says she would’ve felt incredibly alone. But having to get up every morning to feed and care for her companions, even when she’s felt down, has been important. “The routine has definitely helped my mental health,” she says.

Getting out and about to walk Mitzi (her rescue Rottweiler x Mastiff) has been a huge help: “It has given me fresh air and an appreciation for the small things, such as the blossoming flowers, the views over the city and just enjoying being with her.”

Paula Stewart and Jeff the tortoise
Paula Stewart and Jeff the tortoise

Stewart is particularly fond of just sitting and watching her reptile and amphibian friends. “The way they take on life, exploring every day, plodding along and finding real joy in the small things is inspiring,” she says.

“I don’t know how I had time for work before this. I was missing out on spending so much time with my pets and witnessing all their quirks and habits. I love their companionship and the focus they give me to keep on going even when things are tough.”

Mitzi
Mitzi

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.