We don’t know about you, but we can say for certain that we wouldn’t have been able to get through these past few months of social distancing without our pets. They may not know it, but our fur babies have helped us see the light during these dark times—and they deserve to be celebrated (along with plenty of treats, of course).
Besides providing us with daily sofa snuggles, there have been some extraordinary good deeds done by pets during the COVID-19 pandemic that have benefitted the community at large, inspiring the sort of smiles that only a wet nose and wagging tail could bring about. From visiting the isolated to delivering wine, these furry friends have certainly been busy, and their heart-warming stories are worth a read.
Here’s how pets have been pitching in to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They’re hosting virtual therapy sessions.
A tail wag can do wonders in times of stress, and despite in-person visits being suspended at The Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), Katie Buhrmaster, Sr. Program Manager of the Amerman Family Foundation Dog Therapy Program, knew the benefits of the program could be more important now than ever. “We knew that kids facing hospitalization now were going to be facing extra stress related to COVID-19 fears and restrictions,” she says. “We didn’t want to deprive kids of their beloved dog therapy support and that much-anticipated opportunity to connect with a furry friend.”
The brilliant solution? CHLA patients can now share a virtual visit with one—or more!—of the program’s over 100 therapy pups via video call.
“There’s a unique, almost visceral bond between kids and animals, and we’re finding it does translate through the screen,” Buhrmaster explains. “Kids are squealing and giggling and professing delight, which is something that can be rare in a hospital setting. Kids that are quiet around the adults all day are suddenly full of chatter, directed towards the dog. Kids, or their parents, tell us this was just the anxiety-reducing distraction they needed, or that this was a highlight of their day, week, or hospital stay.”
“Most importantly,” says Buhrmaster, “they’re asking when we can come back and which dog they’ll get to meet next time, which drives us to do as much of this as we can as often as possible.”
Assisted living residents, healthcare and essential workers, and others who may benefit from seeing an adorable animal onscreen can also access virtual pet therapy through the Animal Farm Foundation’s (AFF) Pets Together program. Thanks to this non-profit, people can interact with an entire menagerie of animals from the safety of their homes.
“Horses, cows, goats, geese and chickens, as well as lizards, talking parrots, a tortoise and even snakes have joined our visits,” says AFF Executive Director Stacy Coleman. “We hope we are providing a break from feelings of loneliness, while also giving folks a reason to smile.”
Who could possibly resist smiling with a baby goat onscreen?
Interested in spreading some joy? Pet parents can visit PetsTogether.org to learn more about volunteering, or how to schedule a virtual visit for someone in need.
They're reporting the weather.
What’s on the forecast this week? Plenty of smiles thanks to Betty, the delightfully fluffy cat who has been reporting the weather alongside her dad, Jeff Lyons, chief meteorologist for WFIE 14News, the NBC affiliate in Evansville, Indiana. With weather reports now taking place remotely within Lyons’ home, Betty deemed herself co-star.
“Betty is very sociable, so when I started setting up my ‘studio’ in the dining room and working at the table, she hopped right up to see what was going on,” Lyons explains. “Just before one of my first broadcasts from home, the director saw her off-air in the monitor and asked me to pick her up and show her off. He liked her and wanted me to do it on the air.”
“The public responded immediately via social media and email, begging for more Betty!” Lyons says. “Most of the comments stated that Betty was a nice distraction from the pandemic and that she made them feel better. I figured it was the least I could do and Betty didn't seem to mind, so Betty the Weathercat was born!”
With Lyons and his daughter sharing videos of his and Betty’s weather reports on Facebook and Instagram, Betty now has fans from all over the globe. Even if they don’t need to know the weather in Evansville, they’re still tuning in for their daily dose of Betty. Let’s hear it for this little ray of sunshine.
They're visiting the elderly.
This tiny horse sure has a big heart. Before nursing homes and senior centers were put under lockdown to keep vulnerable residents safe, Sawdust the miniature horse would clomp down their halls, bringing smiles to residents. “I work at Tudor Oaks Senior Living Community [in Muskego, Wisconsin], and had first taken him there for visits last summer—he loved it!” explains Alexa Billstrom, who adopted 7-year-old Sawdust a little over four years ago after he was found running loose on a highway.
But with nursing home doors closed to visitors, Billstrom and Sawdust had to get creative to continue to interact with the now-isolated elderly. The pair began visiting the windows of nursing home residents, so they could see Sawdust’s adorable visage from a safe distance.
“I thought it was a wonderful way to spread cheer during such an uncertain time,” Billstrom says. “Seeing the joy on the faces of the residents and staff that Sawdust visited was something I’ll hold with me forever.”
They're delivering wine.
It seems like all of social media is getting through quarantine on a diet of banana bread and wine! Luckily, Soda Pup, a 11.5-year-old Boxer, is here to ensure his community stays well-stocked on the wine front. Soda’s mom, Lori Yata, co-owner of the Stone House Urban Winery of Hagerstown, Maryland, says that she first started bringing him to the winery a year and a half ago, when she first joined the business. “He loves meeting the people as they walk in the door and jumps up to greet them,” she says. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the business to close their tasting room, instead offering socially distant curbside pickup, Soda was seemingly just as sad as the rest of the team.
“One night while sitting with my daughter-in-law, Maggie, I said, ‘Soda seems so sad not to see all his friends,’” remembers Yata. “Maggie said, ‘Well, can you find a way for him to bring wine out to them?’ I jumped online and found this nifty dog saddle bag used by service dogs—and so it began.”
Soda suddenly had a new job at the winery: delivering bottles to waiting customers.
“People call in and order their wine (Soda will not carry more than two bottles per customer), I pack up his saddle bag and Soda hurries on over to have it put on,” explains Yata. “When the customer gets to the Stone House, they give us a call and we send Soda out the door.” Outside, the customer will call to Soda, who happily trots over to deliver the bottles and earn his tip of head pats and treats that Yata also slips into the saddle bag.
Soda has quickly become a pro at these parking lot runs (“He took to it like a duck to water,” says his mom), and with customers sharing photos of the pup on social media, Soda has become somewhat of a celebrity.
“I’ve had people from as far as England say they want to come and meet Soda when they visit the U.S. in the future,” says Yata. “It’s crazy! I was just trying to keep Soda’s spirits up and put a smile on our customers’ faces.”
With many wondering how they could help Soda’s community from afar, Yata says that monetary and food donations to the Humane Society of Washington County can be made in Soda’s name. A toast to Soda!
They're serving healthcare workers.
Dogtor Loki to the rescue! With the incredible toll the pandemic is taking on healthcare workers, third-year medical student Caroline Benzel and her 2-year-old Rottweiler, Loki, of Baltimore, Maryland, were determined to do what they could to help.
A certified therapy dog, Loki began taking her sessions with stressed staff and scared patients to FaceTime (with the help of her mom, of course). But during these virtual sessions, they couldn't help but notice that more help was needed.
"When you have an iPad up close to your face, it is evident how wearing PPE [personal protective equipment] for extended periods of time affected the staff," explains Benzel, as the masks would create deep impressions in the face and constant hand-washing and disinfecting would leave skin red and raw.
"We decided to put together 'Hero Healing Kits,' which contain travel sized drugstore items that are not only functional in protecting skin and soothing the damage extended PPE usage can do, but are also easily carried on your person, and therefore accessible while working," says Benzel.
The kits come complete with a photo of Loki in her custom-made 'dogtor' uniform and essentials like lip balm, Vaseline, baby powder, hypoallergenic lotion, gum, snack bars, coffee and tea. "Each kit also a thank you note, saying how incredible that person is for staying so strong and that they are our hero," says Benzel, who has impressively been able to donate over 4,000 kits in Maryland and over 6,500 nationwide. “People all over the nation reached out asking how they could be involved and get this initiative started where they are. Because of this, our Hero Healing Kits campaign was started in eight different states,” she says.