How have pets brought home during the pandemic impacted students’ lives? What awaits in the animals’ futures?
What started as a two-week break from school and work spaces on March 13th, 2020 quickly turned into a long period of quarantine for the entire world. During this time, many families experienced a newfound loneliness, causing them to open their arms to animals and adopting pets. 12th grader Isha Kansal got her first pet in August 2020. “My brother and I always wanted a dog and quarantine is what actually pumped us to do it because we were super isolated and bored at home. We thought it would make quarantine more interesting,” explains Kansal. Kansal wasn’t the only one who considered the idea of getting a pet during the pandemic, 12th grader Harnoor Kaur got her first dog about a month into quarantine. “Everything was online; my sister was in her 4th year of college, and we always wanted a dog so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity. We were all home alone and thought that this would be something to entertain us. My sister brought the dog from LA,” says Kaur.
The first challenge many, including Kansal would have to face was convincing parents, since getting a pet actually seemed feasible for the first time. Kansal says, “It definitely took convincing with our parents. My mom got on board with the idea a lot faster than my dad. Even the day we adopted her, my dad was super iffy.” Getting a pet for the first time is a task that requires lots of thinking and consideration because of the new responsibilities and challenges families may gain. As a result, parents can be hesitant, “At first, my mom was reluctant because she’s a clean-freak but she came to love him,” says Kaur.
Research and preparedness are two pivotal factors when it comes to owning an animal. Pandemic or not, making sure one is actually able to take care of a pet should be a collective family process filled with discussion. “My brother did lots of research and knew everything. He was very prepared. When we adopted her from the shelter, they prepared us very well for our dog too. It was our first pet and we were nervous but we did okay,” explains Kansal.
Similarly, for Kaur, getting a dog was something she had been anticipating for a long time, “I have been doing research [for owning a dog] since I was 4 years old– I was so ready.” Although both Kansal and Kaur felt prepared for their endeavor of getting a pet, unintended consequences of getting pets during quarantine became clear, especially for those who got animals as an impulse purchase.
11th grader Tanvee Priyadarshan, who has been around dogs their entire life, feels, “People getting pets during the pandemic was probably a good thing because I can see why shelters were filling up. It’s good that those were getting emptied out. However, I feel like a lot of people didn’t do their research when getting pets and just went to the first breeder they could find, which is not great.”
Most pets, especially dogs, are prone to facing separation anxiety when they are distanced from someone they are attached to. For pandemic pets, separation anxiety is proving to be a large issue, “Our dog has attachment issues now because of quarantine, so if we leave for five minutes he starts crying,” says Kaur. Facing a similar situation with her dog, Kansal describes, “Separation anxiety is definitely a real thing most dogs deal with… Now our dog has attachment issues because we used to be at home with her all the time. Now that my brother and I go to school and my dad goes to work, she feels abandoned.” Not only does separation anxiety create emotional barriers between the dog and owners themselves, but with other dogs as well. “Her separation anxiety definitely needs work and she doesn’t really have any other dog friends. It takes a while for her to learn how to interact with other dogs,” explains Kansal.
Naturally, the question arises of what the future holds for these animals. Especially with 12th graders graduating high school and heading towards college, these dogs might have to face being alone at a new level. “I think my dog is going to forget me. I hope my parents and brother are going to be able to take care of her. She’s getting adjusted to staying alone longer, so I think she’ll be fine,” says Kansal. Parents and families are most likely going to be the people taking responsibility for pandemic pets. Kaur explains, “My sister is going to be moving to New York and I’m going to be in LA, so my parents are just going to take care of him [our dog]. Worst case scenario, we just get another dog to keep them both entertained, but my sister is planning to take him to New York.” In order to help combat animal loneliness, Kaur brings up an idea her family considered, “We were heavily considering getting another dog to keep them entertained, but we just feed him [our dog] in the morning, take him out, leave him toys, and keep our camera on to check on him. He’s self sufficient.”
Compared to those who decided to get pets during the pandemic, for students like Tanvee Priyadarshan, who have grown up with pets, the future of their animals seems to be more straightforward. Priyadarshan says, “My parents both grew up with dogs around their house; they always wanted one for our house and my brother and I begged enough.” For Priyadarshan’s family, caring for their pets is a collective effort, “Taking care of the dog is a joint-force for us. We all do things, but main responsibilities like feeding were taken by my parents while my brother and I would help clean up.” Due to Priyadarshan’s parents being heavily engaged within the lives of their animals, the future of their dogs becomes easier to plan, “My parents are definitely probably just going to take care of our dogs because they live with them,” they say.
For students whose parents aren’t as willing to take care of pets after they graduate, the pandemic pet dilemma arises. Shelters that were once being emptied out at fast rates could see a sudden surplus towards the end of the school year. “I know a lot of people have been abandoning their pets because they’ve had to go back to work and now they can’t spend time at home to take care of them. It’s very sad that pets have to go back into shelters,” Priyadarshan explains. The emotional change that these animals will have to face might be scarring to them. According to Kaur, “A lot of people bought pets and realized they couldn’t maintain the dog and once the dog is attached, they can get traumatized and I feel really bad for those dogs. Usually they get put up in shelters.”
Although finding a clear solution to these growing issues can be difficult, since pets are brought home for people to find happiness in caring for and accepting a new family member, there are steps that people can take to ensure the longevity of relationships with their pets. Kaur suggests, “The best hope we have is for more people to adopt rather than buy special breed dogs. People should adopt more but people also don’t understand the responsibility that comes with it. They jump the gun and ruin the dog’s life.”
With the proper level of preparedness and thought, pandemic pets can be an extremely beneficial decision. For Kaur, “It was 1000% worth getting a dog. It definitely brightens your day and makes everything better. I’m a very impatient person but Blu has taught me to be patient and respect boundaries.”