I was at a “virtual” meeting on Skype earlier this week. Usually this meeting, when held in person, is quite challenging as a particular participant is usually impolite and abrupt. Five minutes into the meeting, this person started talking animatedly to ‘Derek’ off screen. We all waited expectantly , and I thought she was probably speaking to her husband, when suddenly the biggest white and ginger cat I have ever seen, was hauled up into full view. ‘Derek’ had been sitting on her documents and she was giving him a pep talk about not interrupting her when she was busy. He took no notice whatsoever of course, and the rest of the meeting was punctuated with Derek appearing on the screen at regular intervals, walking over her keyboard and loudly miaowing. It was the best meeting I ever attended!
My three cats can’t quite work out why I am at home so much at the moment, and occasionally I feel that I am in the way, as they go about their catty business around my house. As usual, when I call one of them, or try and get them to do something, they disappear. When I need them to be quiet, they reappear like magic, and become very vocal. When I’m trying to write, they decide that the only place for them to be in the whole world at that precise moment, is my keyboard. And of course, I love them for it.
Now I am home all day, there is definitely a reluctance to use the tradesman’s entrance (otherwise known as the cat flap). This has gone right out of the window (if you the excuse the pun,) as all 3 cats now stand by the door when they want to pop out for a stroll. No point fighting your way through a cat-flap when there is a friendly member of staff happy to open a door or window for you. Of course, they pop out for about 20 seconds and then want to come back in. I get up and open the door and they sit on the threshold, neither in or out, and look at me. Usually they then slowly turn around and walk back up the garden. As soon as I sit back down again, they want to come back in. I am convinced it is a test. I fantasise that they have cat meetings when no humans are about, discussing catty business and coming up with new ways to test the obedience and compliance of their staff (me).
Buffy is the self proclaimed garden guard. This means that if you walk up the garden she has to accompany you. It’s the rules. She bombs up and down the garden like a dog looking for a stick. I don’t know where she gets the energy as, although she is the largest of my cats, she seems to eat the least. She shouts for food multiple times a day, and takes two small bites (which she drags out of the bowl to eat on the floor), and then walks away. Ten minutes later she is hungry again. But the food in the bowl is now 10 minutes old! She can’t be expected to eat that! And she won’t. Somehow she persuades me to open new food and the pattern is repeated. (Don’t worry -all the leftover food at the end of the day is put at the bottom of our garden and feeds local hedgehogs, foxes and any neighbourhood cats whose owners are not as daft as I.)
Because I am at home so much, my cats have come up with new ways to interact with me. For example, Buffy enjoys a game of hide and seek.
Dennis has kindly taken up yoga with me. He comes and sits on my mat, halfheartedly attempts one or two of the stretches, gives me encouraging looks and kindly sits on my back during the plank pose in order to intensify my workout. He is thoughtful like that.
Dennis is also keen to be involved in whatever I am doing. He stands or sits in the most ‘in the way’ places possible. He stands right behind me when I’m cooking in the kitchen and then shrieks with pain if I step back onto his tail. He then adopts a hurt look until I’m guilted into giving him a treat. This is entirely deliberate and, after 16 years, I’m still falling for it.
Lili sleeps all day and yowls at night. For a small cat she has the biggest miaow I have ever heard. She shouts at me at 5am. I have no idea what she is saying but she seems quite cross. Lili is also the laptop fiend. As soon as the laptop comes out, she appears from wherever she has been sleeping, and settles herself down on the keyboard.
Animals generally have a wonderful way of changing our lives for the better. They cheer us up when we are down and, in the difficult times in which we currently find ourselves, they can provide comfort and a soothing presence. Their love is unconditional and they have the ability to make us smile with the simple wag of their tail or a soft purr. This bond between humans and animals is nothing new, and it’s not surprising that these faithful companions are so important now when we may be feeling lost, frightened and worried about the future.
The benefits of pet ownership for general health and wellbeing are well known. Cats, dogs, hamsters, fish, rabbits and even pigs are known to reduce loneliness and anxiety. They also add structure to our day and provide focus. In our current Lockdown quarantine, which some of us are being forced to endure alone, pets are quite literally proving a lifesaver, providing companionship, a welcome distraction and comfort.
For those of us who love animals, it’s virtually impossible to stay in a low mood when we look into beautiful soft doggy eyes, or when a fluffy cat rubs up against us. Owning a pet gives us a reason to get up in the morning and helps us to get moving. Dog owners benefit both physically and socially from dog walking (even if we are socially distancing), and as a cat owner I also get plenty of exercise from pandering to my cats’ demands all day as documented earlier.
Owning a pet may improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and regulating the heart rate during stressful situations. It is thought that owning a pet lowers the risk of heart disease, as well as lowering stress so that heart capacity and performance is improved.
Even in normal life when we are not socially distancing, animals can be there for us in ways that people can’t. They can offer love and companionship, and can also enjoy comfortable silences, never judge, keep secrets, and most love a cuddle. They are a wonderful cure for loneliness and they give us so much whilst asking so little in return.
For those who don’t currently have a pet, I hope Lockdown has encouraged thinking about owning one. Animal charities have reported an increase in adoptions, even though a lot of re-homing centres are currently closed. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home managed to rehome 86 dogs and 69 cats in one week in March, more than double the animals placed during the same period last year!
If you do have an animal (or two) who lives in your house, I hope they are helping at the moment, especially if you are alone and feeling lonely in isolation. If you don’t have a cat or a dog, a guinea pig or a llama (!), maybe when this is all over, it may be time to think of adopting one. So many unwanted cats and dogs and other animals are waiting at this very moment in homes all across the country. Please think about giving one a home. I promise that they will repay everything you give them a hundred fold, in unconditional love, companionship, and joy.