Amid lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions, some UA students and staff have turned to fluffy friends to fill social void.
Spencer Soule, a UA law student, said adopting his dog Gus improved his mental health tremendously.
“I think he’s been one of the single most helpful things that I have ever experienced for my mental health,” Soule said. “Having him has been so much fun. Just looking at him helps reduce my anxiety.”
In September 2020, Soule found Gus through a Facebook post by a rescue operation located in Rogers. He then completed a two week trial with Gus to see if they were compatible before he was officially able to adopt Gus on October 9.
At one local animal shelter, adoptions have increased and animal intake has decreased since the start of the pandemic.
Previously, employees at Springdale Animal Services would see an average of 15 to 20 animals come in every two weeks, said receptionist Nancy Chavez. The shelter now takes in an average of five animals a week.
“We have actually had more adoptions than anything,” Chavez said. “We haven’t had much of an intake on animals but what we do get in does tend to get adopted out in a fair amount of time.”
Adopting a dog during the pandemic has encouraged Soule to increase his outdoor activity by going on more hikes and walks, he said.
Like Soule, fellow law student Cierra Jade manages her stress levels by staying active with her dog Madeline.
“Being a law student I have a ton of work and I stress all the time,” Jade said. “So just having her to pet and to take for walks and to cuddle with has been a lot better stress level wise.”
Jade adopted her dog her senior year of high school but faced leaving Madeline with her grandparents after moving to college. Once UA classes went online mid-March, Jade moved Madeline to Fayetteville from her hometown in Missouri to help make it easier for her grandparents and to feel less lonely during quarantine.
The responsibility to socialize new animals during a pandemic gives some pet owners a new hurdle.
Suzanne Kucharczyk, a UA assistant professor, adopted her family’s dog Fauci on March 26. Before the pandemic, Kucharczyk’s two sons, Luca, 12, and Nic, 9, had always wanted a dog, but the family knew they were not around enough to train a puppy. When the Kucharczyks realized the pandemic would last a while, they saw it as the perfect time to train and bond with a dog.
Kucharczyk worries Fauci’s socialization will be impacted once the family returns to working outside the house.
“He is going to be up for a rude awakening when we are not home as much,” Kucharczyk said. “So we are trying to build in opportunities for him to stay home longer and longer by himself.”
UA psychology professor Denise Beike worked with her honors colloquium class to conduct a survey of 388 participants in November 2020 measuring whether pets provided well-being benefits to people during the pandemic.
The survey found no correlation between well-being and pet ownership.
Beike thinks research on the pet’s relationship to their owner’s well-being should be investigated, as the effects of increased amounts of time together is unknown, she said.
“This concern about separation anxiety is a real problem in pets once things get back to normal,” Beike said. “I’m also concerned about separation anxiety on the part of people.”