Pandemic pets: Students benefit from stress-relieving furry friends

Junior+Caroline+Cook%27s+Tabby+cat%2C+Diego%2C+poses+for+a+photo+in+a+Christmas-themed+scarf.

Photo courtesy Cook

Junior Caroline Cook’s Tabby cat, Diego, poses for a photo in a Christmas-themed scarf.

By Rena Van Leeuwen

Eat, sleep, Zoom, repeat. 

Most students cycle through these banal activities each day; it can be difficult to enjoy yourself during a global pandemic, after all. Assuaging quarantine boredom, however, was simple for junior Brennan Murley and his family. Their solution was to add a new member to their household — one with four paws and a wagging tail. 

Many students have found that adopting pets provides relief from the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic. This experience isn’t limited to Whitman students: around 37% of Americans have considered getting a pet during quarantine, and 89% of those who followed through said that their animal friends helped them feel less lonely.

The Murleys got their dog, Rocco, a vibrant Goldendoodle puppy, last August. They hoped to divert their attention from the anxiety of the previous months, while providing a refreshing change of pace, Murley said.

“Rocco is like a distraction from reality,” he said. “It’s nice having a dog because I’ve been able to get out of the house and take walks with him, which has been entertaining on its own.”

Rocco enjoys a belly rub. (Photo Courtesy Murley)

Not only does Rocco help Brennan shake up his daily school routine, but he and his family now also have the chance to know fellow pet owners through “dog playdates,” where the Murleys set up times to meet with fellow dog lovers — and their canine friends. 

“Seeing my friends and people from my neighborhood makes me really happy, especially if I’ve been stressed from school,” Murley said. “It’s like I’m combining seeing my friends and watching and playing with a bunch of dogs in my backyard.”

After hours of Zoom classes — and with stress levels building — Murley often has to devote most of his free time to completing homework assignments. The cycle of studying and practicing, especially for his four AP classes, is sometimes overwhelming, he said. 

“I had a day last semester where I had four tests in one day, and during every break, I went and played with Rocco outside,” Murley said. “It relieved a ton of stress and calmed me down for the next class.” 

While Murley has found solace in running around with his energetic furry friend, others, like sophomore Carsey Eliason, enjoy a calmer companion, like a cat.

The Eliason family adopted their rescue cat, Norrington, from the Humane Society last November. Though the family already owned both a cat and a dog, they wanted to “switch it up a bit” and add another feline to the family, Eliason said.

“In quarantine, it’s nice to have a cat because he’ll come and just hang out with me in my room,” she said. “It makes me feel less alone and makes me a lot happier.”

Junior Caroline Cook and her family also found quarantine to be the perfect time to adopt. Their playful Tabby cat,  Diego, has been a part of the family since last August.

“We have a neighborhood chat, and one day, my sister saw a post asking to adopt the cat,” Cook said. “We’ve always wanted a fuzzy orange cat so my family agreed, and eventually it worked out and we got Diego.”

Ever since the family adopted Diego, the cat has become extremely meaningful to Cook, especially during a four-month period of illness.

“Most of the time I was just sitting alone in my bed, and it was really bad,” Cook said. “It sounds cheesy, but when Diego would hang out with me, I felt loved and appreciated in a really hard time for me.”

Cook was confined to her room, away from friends or family, for extended periods of time. But with Diego serving as her one bedside companion, she never felt alone, Cook said. 

“When I was sick, there weren’t many things that were contributing to my mental health in a positive way,” Cook said. “Having a cat was so beneficial for me because it gave me a friend.”