How my dogs got me through lockdown – and helped me build a stronger bond with them

It’s no secret that pets are beneficial for both mental and physical wellbeing, from lowering blood pressure to reducing anxiety. But this past 12 months, my dogs have been a lifeline.

A year ago, I packed up my desk at the office, bundled my computer monitors into my little car, and bid farewell to my colleagues for what we thought would be a matter of weeks. I took only what was needed, and twelve months later, and I’m still working from home – my framed photo of Phoebe and Frank continues to gather dust at Sentinel Towers. We’ve recently found out that the office is closing, and we will be permanently working from home, which I’m sure The Scamps will love.

With my parents both keyworkers and heading out to work, I found myself alone in the house a lot of the time. More time than I was used to spending on my own – not totally alone, though, as I had the pitter-patter of eight little paws for company.

The pandemic has seen a huge demand for pets worldwide. Puppy prices have soared and rescues have been inundated with applications to adopt dogs. Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) revealed that 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, of which 74% say their pet has helped them with their mental health through lockdown.

The Scamps have been my heroes during Covid-19, and the past 12 months has seen their routine change as much as my own. But without them, my days would look very, very different. In fact, a fifth of the UK population will need mental health support as a result of the pandemic, according to predictions by the Centre for Mental Health.

Phoebe and Frank have been there for me when I’ve felt most isolated, unable to see my boyfriend, friends or family, and they’ve literally been my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It would be pretty easy to work from my bed most days, but knowing I’ve got to get up to feed them and let them out kick starts my day on a better foot, and I’m more productive for it. One of my favourite parts of the day is opening the living room door to two waggy tails who are just excited to start the day – we all need that kind of positive attitude.

But maintaining optimism has been grueling in lockdown, and my mental health has taken a battering. Particularly during lockdown one, I didn’t leave the house – I didn’t go to the shop, I didn’t see anyone, I wouldn’t even go for a walk. That said, we had no foresight as to how long the lockdown restrictions would wear on, and so, as lockdown two and three came around, I was much more open to venturing through the front door for a socially distanced dog stroll, as I knew I couldn’t go on living as I was.

The Scamps are generally pretty well behaved whilst I crack on with my work, only occasionally interrupting my Zoom calls to bark at delivery drivers and our postman, Nathan. I however, wasn’t great for taking breaks. In my first few weeks working from home, I really felt I had to prove my productivity by working overtime and would skip lunch to get extra work done. But the dogs still need letting out for a wee and mental stimulation, and so, I would make lunch whilst they played in the garden and sit outside with a cuppa to enjoy it. It got me out in the fresh air, and much needed screen-breaks – not to mention nutrition. That said, I don’t think toasted bagels have much of that, but still… sustenance. The dogs eat far better than I do.

I really learned the importance of screen breaks, and I use them to build a stronger bond with my dogs – after all, they have to spend more time with me than anyone else, these days. I’ve been making sure to take five minutes and a pocket full of treats to teach Phoebe and Frank new tricks, and our latest pandemic pawty tricks include ‘tell me a secret’ and ‘smile!’. Dinner time is 5pm on the dot, and boy do they know it. The minute The Chase is on, it’s time to get out the kibble, which forces me to shut down the laptop to maintain a better work life balance. Frank also has a knack of putting his paw on my knee to let me know its time to take a break (and that he wants some cheese out of the fridge).

Outside of working hours, I would find myself doomscrolling through social media filled with anxiety about the virus, the new normal, and just when I’d get to see the people I love again. Frank makes an amazing emotional support dog – mostly because he’s a massive baby himself and just wants a cuddle all the time – but he’ll sit on my knee for a hug like a 25kg lapdog and it’s the best feeling ever. It’s instantly soothing and gives me a minute to relax and recharge my brain.

According to research by The Kennel Club, 91% of long-term dog owners said their dog has had a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing, and nearly two third said their dog was a ‘lifeline in lockdown’.

When you’re having a rough day, there’s nothing like a dog shuffling closer to you on the sofa and resting their head on your keyboard. They always know when you need to take a break, and will get you out of the house and away from the screen. Without them, I’d have surely seen my wellbeing take a harder tumble than it did. I’ve found myself having full blown conversations with Phoebe on my lunch breaks, telling her my plans for the rest of the day, and letting Frank know my tea-time intentions. They might not be able to talk back, but the company has been enough to keep me from insanity and isolation.

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