Why pets are the unsung heroes of pandemic isolation

For some people, animals are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 lockdown, and the Ipswich Hospital Foundation is launching a virtual pet parade to improve the mental health of local residents.

May 22, 2020, updated May 22, 2020
Zoe Wales returned to her parents property when her work hours were slashed amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Array)

Zoe Wales returned to her parents property when her work hours were slashed amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Array)

Zoe Wales found herself working from home with reduced hours after the company she worked for shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Moving to her parent’s farm near Ipswich, west of Brisbane, Wales found a source of comfort from animals at the property, especially her 36-year-old horse Jack, who recently became temporarily blind in one eye.

“There was a night where I got really overwhelmed by it [coronavirus],” Wales said.

“[I was] watching all the statistics on TV and saw what was happening all around the world.

“Looking after him [Jack] while he had a sore eye meant I was able to not think about what was going on with my world and just think about what was going on with his world, and I was able to take solace in that.”

Wales said Jack visits the house every morning and demands his breakfast — if not for a door in the way, he would try to come inside.

“As soon as you wake up, he hears you — [he] comes up to the house and paces by the kitchen window,” she said.

“He’ll stick his head in the window and say, ‘Where’s my breakfast?’

“And he bolts down and shows you where the feed bins are just in case you forgot overnight.”

Bid to raise money for therapy dog program

The Ipswich Hospital Foundation (IHF) has launched a virtual pet parade, hoping it will improve the mental health of local residents.

An online form asks users to submit a photo, some basic information, and answer the question about how their pets help cope with coronavirus isolation.

IHF chief executive officer James Sturges said people were being asked how their pets had helped them with their mental health while being in lockdown.

“We thought it would be a good way to … bring those [mental health concerns] to the forefront of the Ipswich area, so we can work on how to improve the mental health of the whole region,” Sturges said.

Sturges said the IHF hoped to raise money to expand the therapy dog program, which had shown to have major benefits on participants’ mental wellbeing.

Rachel Phillips, the executive director for Mental Health and Specialised Services with West Moreton Health, said she had witnessed the benefits of therapy dogs in hospitals.

“The dogs help provide a distraction and a diversion from pain and help to facilitate the relaxation response in people,” Phillips said.

“They spend time with our older adults … but also our mental health hospitals where we have people who may be feeling lonely and disconnected from support structures.”

Studies have documented the positive effect animals could have on mental wellbeing, including the creation of biochemical changes that could help to reduce stress.

“What the evidence has shown is that it assists people to have a sense of purpose and connection to their day-to-day experience,” Phillips said.

“Animals are often unconditional in their positive regard for people, so that gives people a sense of wellness.”

‘Some cuddle time’

For Katharina von Heusinger, who is originally from Germany, her two dogs Jet and Winston had helped make her feel at home in Australia.

With her partner away with work for extended periods, Ms von Heusinger found herself feeling desperately homesick.

“I really suffered from loneliness, and it felt like my heart was breaking at times — like when you get dumped by a boyfriend,” she said.

“[It was a] similar feeling of loneliness, but the dogs helped me with some cuddle time and helped me to go out and explore my environment.”

Five years later, von Heusinger said she could not imagine her life in Australia without her dogs.

She and her partner, Reiner Adolfsen, had even started an organic dog-treat business.

“The dogs are actually bilingual — they understand German,” Adolfsen said.

“They provide so much entertainment, which just really lightens the place up.”

‘Gives my day purpose’

Retired teacher Gaja Grieves lives alone with her cat Olive, who is always by her side.

She said one of the hardest parts about the COVID-19 pandemic was missing out on social interaction, but it was void Olive helped fill.

“[Olive] gives my day purpose, so I have a reason to get up in the morning and feed her and keep a routine going,” Grieves said.

“When you live alone it can be easy to keep odd hours, but she gives me something to do.”

– ABC / Baz Ruddick

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InQueensland.
All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy