Dubai: Bella and Zuni were happy puppers for the most part of the year. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the one and two-year-old Yorkshire terriers got to spend extra time with their human, Farah Naz, a Sharjah expatriate. Bella and Zuni aren't pleased that Farah, who was working from home since March, has returned to her office. She said: "Now, both of them spend most of their day running to the front door and back, waiting for me to return."
While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, for pet owners their pets emerged heroes of 2020. From dogs to cats, fishes, and birds, here is how pets helped UAE residents cope last year.
'My dogs helped me recover'
Naz, the 35-year-old finance controller, working in Dubai, said: "Having these two helped me a lot. Not only did they help me cope with the fear of COVID-19 by becoming the focus of my daily routine, but they also helped me recover after a surgery I had during these months. They are the reason I did not end up falling into depression."
The Pakistani expatriate who had to go for an abdomen surgery last year, was not allowed to move about. She said: "Health-wise and mentally, I was breaking down due to the pain I was suffering. For a month, I couldn’t do normal things like getting up from the bed to walking around with some help. I had lost my appetite."
"But, when I returned home after the surgery, they became my shadows. My family members could not sit next to me the entire day, but these two would not leave my side. Even when sleepy, they would be alert," Naz added.
'My fishes are my therapy'
When coronavirus restrictions were first announced in the UAE, Filipina expatriate Kristen Lopez wanted to get a pet dog or cat. But, living in a shared apartment, it would have been impossible. So, she thought of getting pet fishes instead. Lopez said: "My six fishes have been therapeutic for me. I enjoyed decorating their aquarium with live plants. During COVID-19 I could not travel. And, being alone in the room, I would find it soothing to watch the fishes and talk to them. I don't know if they could really hear and see me, but, whenever I called them, they swam towards me."
The project coordinator in a Dubai-based company added: "The best part is, fishes are low maintenance."
"I have one blue-coloured fish, and I call her Pinkie. I know the name doesn’t make sense," she laughed.
'My pet dog and cat are constant support...'
Smita Aloni, an Indian expatriate living in Dubai for over 20 years, has two adopted pets, an 11-year-old cat named Kitty and a two-year-old rescued Saluki dog. Both their love for attention and cuddles kept her family going last year.
Aloni said: "Our pets, Kitty and Chikoo, keeping us grounded and helped maintain an everyday routine, which was essential. Emotionally, we always had them to keep us company in isolation."
Plans were changing again and again, work couldn't be done in a normal environment, and there was the frustration of not being able to see our friends and loved ones. But, the pets reminded us how lucky we were, to have a constant presence of love and support no matter the circumstance."
'Our dog helped my children with learning at home...'
South African expatriate Shelene van der Watt adopted a rescue dog recently, who she feels has helped her family tremendously, especially her children.
Shelene said: "I definitely feel that Skylar was an excellent help during this difficult time. I know that the children had some real fears during the pandemic, their grandmother ended up in ICU in South Africa because of COVID-19. Luckily, after two months she recovered. And, Skylar was a constant, cuddly, companion that had unconditional love for them. She needed walking, feeding, and looking after and this kept the children distracted. Looking after Skylar gave the children a level of control while the world outside was going crazy."
Her 11-year-old daughter, Emma explained how Skylar, their female German Shepherd-Saluki mix, around three years old, kept her engaged all day. Emma said: "She is a very energetic dog and does something called the zoomies, where she dashes around the house at top speed with all her toys for 10 minutes."
The grade 5 student added: "I was learning without my friends. Skylar would sit with me, while I did my school work. She was also a positive distraction for the class. Every time she would bark when the doorbell rang, my teachers and classmates would ask what was going on. Or, sometimes they would spot her walking in the background."
She also helped them get some fresh air when they eventually stepped out to walk her.
'My cat helped me control my anger'
When 17-year-old Ahmed Muhammad Yasin bought a kitten after coronavirus limited him to his home, little did he know how far the small cat would help him. He said: "I used to get angry easily, and not being able to head out made it worse. I was also addicted to gaming. But, buying a kitten changed my life. Jenyy is seven months old. When I felt stressed or frustrated I started playing with her and felt at peace."
The student who is born and brought up in the UAE said, even during exam time, "she helped me de-stress, Jenyy would never trouble when my classes were on."
'My pet cat was my co-worker'
For Filipina expatriate, Joella Chrissa Favor, her cat Leo is her "sunshine". She said: "Sure, a pet is going to add to your expenses. But, at the end of the day, it is worth it."
The 33-year-old works as a business development specialist in a Dubai-based telecom company. Joella said: "I was working from home, and I got her during the pandemic. I used to love having her as my company. She was my co-worker. She loves to stare out the window and watch the birds, and I do that with her. Leo is a stress reliever for me. Her silly antics get me laughing."
Recently, Leo turned one and Joella celebrated with cake and food for the two of them. She said: "I don’t have children, she is like my baby."
'My pet cockatiel gave a structure to my day...'
Indian expatriate Apurva Shrivastava rescued a cockatiel in August 2020. Now, the two are inseparable. She said: "Birds are extremely intelligent, they talk to us. For me, during COVID-19 when you are away from people and have no one to talk to, Kiki, my cockatiel helped me by talking to me."
The 31-year-old homemaker said: "Initially the period of COVID-19 restrictions made me very lazy, I would sleep for longer in the mornings. Now Kiki goes off like an alarm clock so I have to get up and feed her. It gave my day a structure. She loves to play and cuddle with me."
Apurva had found Kiki in a terrible, abused state at a bird market. The shopkeeper told her he did not have money to take her to a vet, so she brought her home. "She's now recovering and is a happy bird, I know it," said Apurva, sounding satisfied with her efforts.
How pets help people cope
A September 2020 study found that pets had helped many people cope with the mental stress of being self-quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic.
Reportedly, findings from this study of 6000 people demonstrated potential links between people's mental health and the emotional bonds they form with their pets. "Measures of the strength of the human-animal bond were higher among people who reported lower scores for mental health-related outcomes at baseline," said lead author Elena Ratschen, a senior lecturer in health services research at the University of York in England.
According to Urmimala Sinha, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist: "The pandemic forced upon us quite a few stringent measures, one of them being physical distancing with restrictions on touching, hugging and physical closeness. During these difficult times, pets became a huge comfort factor as they fulfill the basic human need for touch. Any pet owner will vouch that the companionship a pet provides is a big stress reliever. Another casualty was the breaking down of our day to day routine leading to a lack of structure in our lives."
She added: "Pets help to maintain a routine. No matter what your mood is, one 'puppy look' from your pet will motivate you to get out of bed, feed, and care for them. Apart from these psychological benefits of a pet, there are few beneficial biological markers too. Studies have shown that pets lower blood pressure, increase levels of serotonin, and dopamine and decrease cholesterol and triglycerides."
Sinha explained: "Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of well being, and happiness. It helps with sleeping, eating and digestion. Dopamine helps us focus, think, and plan. It helps promote positive feelings."
From social media
Pets have helped people across the globe this year. Many were promoted to become co-workers and therapists, paid in hugs and cuddles.
Here are some adorable posts shared on social media:
@IBKinTN tweeted: "My coworker wants some pets. He will not get off my desk and knows exactly white notes I need to look at."
@mcsinton posted: "Since the start of #selfisolation, Igor has become like a little shadow Smiling face with smiling eyes has anyone else’s pet become super clingy since they started #WFH?"
And, tweep @Daf_FJ shared: "Decided to bring Beyoncé the rabbit to my morning team meeting... she really enjoyed the stimulating conversation and was very well behaved... no kicking or scratching today. Tomorrow JZ the rabbit joins the call..."