Of dogs, men and COVID-19

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic there was an unprecedented upsurge in pet adoptions in Israel.

The writer’s granddaughter with Fluffy (photo credit: Courtesy)
The writer’s granddaughter with Fluffy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 
“The dog is man’s best friend,” a well-known dog therapist recently told me. “Man, however, is not the dog’s best friend.”
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic there was an unprecedented upsurge in pet adoptions in Israel. During the first strict lockdown in the spring of 2020 there was a boom in pet adoptions. Many who were socially isolated suddenly found themselves with the time, energy and pretext to bring a four-legged friend into their homes.
Unfortunately, after the lockdown was lifted in the summer of 2020, many who adopted dogs just as a distraction or object of pleasure returned them to the shelters. There was a 40% jump in dog desertion and the shelters filled up again. Pleas by the S.O.S pets organization to adopt dogs were broadcast repeatedly over the airwaves. Ironically, their slogan was “Thrown to the Dogs.” Adopting a dog is a lifelong commitment, not just a whim. It was not until my family adopted a beautiful six-week-old Pomeranian puppy called Fluffy, that I was introduced into the brave new world of raising puppies in Israel.  I was asked a lot of questions before adopting Fluffy. Over the last 10 years a growing pet industry has mushroomed here. Israelis are spending significant amounts of money on veterinarians, pet food, healthcare, housing, grooming accessories, dog walkers and pet sitters. Municipalities allocate more dog parks next to children’s parks. With not too many leisure and entertainment options right now Israelis are splurging and spending in record  numbers  to pamper their pets. Israelis have doubled their spending on pet care over the last six months.
What I found most fascinating were the auxiliary branches such as Animal Assisted Therapy  that have developed as a byproduct of the rapid growth of the dog culture in Israel. Pet therapy is increasingly gaining fans in health care as well. Animal Assisted Therapy or as it is known AAT is a growing field that uses dogs and other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental disorders. Elderly who owned dogs but could not walk them during the pandemic were paired with youngsters with a lot of free time on their hand. It was a win-win for both the lonely elders and the bored youngsters. It is also a novel method to allay fears of  kids with all sorts of anxieties with the help of animals.
According to the majority of research animals can effectively enhance therapeutic healing in humans. In fact, an Israeli non profit organization called Dogs for Men has recently conducted a groundbreaking research in conjunction with Israel’s Chief Science Officer and Ariel University which had clinically proved how their method called Dog Time helps alleviate fears of autistic children and substantially improve their healing. They have successfully treated over 20,000 young children and youth at risk with this method . Now due to the on again off again lockdown the animal shelters are empty again as demand for adopting dogs has skyrocketed. It is beginning to dawn on many of us that COVID is here to stay for a while.
During a pandemic, people in general can be stressed and fearful for themselves and their loved ones. The impact that the corona virus outbreak is still having on our lives may cause us to feel sad and worried. Research has shown that when there is a bond between humans and animals it decreases stress. As someone who until the pandemic never much cared for dogs, I can attest that our newly adopted Fluffy brought us boundless laughter and joy. She is here to stay long after COVID is no more.

The writer is a journalist and director of TLC in Potomac, Maryland, who currently resides in Jerusalem