Senior Health

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, but one type of organization you may not have thought about is animal shelters. About six million animals end up at shelters in the United States every year. During the pandemic, shelters can’t be staffed at the rate they usually are, so there’s fewer people to care for these homeless animals or foster a pet. Shelters also rely on adoption events to promote their available pets, but with stay-at-home orders preventing all but essential activities, some shelters are not able to adopt out their pets at the usual rate.

You may not be prepared for the commitment of adopting a pet, but did you know you can foster one? When you foster a shelter pet, you take care of the pet in your home, with the expectation that you’ll turn it over to its permanent home when the shelter finds one for it. Fostering is flexible; it’s not a permanent commitment like adopting, and you may find that the shelter only needs you to foster for a few days or weeks. The benefits for the animals are obvious: being a part of a loving household and a chance to socialize with people before finding their forever home. But there are benefits for you, too, especially during the pandemic.

Companionship

If you feel isolated during stay-at-home orders, a pet can keep you company. You may be missing visits from grandchildren and time with friends, so just having a friendly face in your home can make you feel less alone.

A Reason to Get Out

Dogs need to be walked (and they love it). If you’ve found yourself sick of sitting in the house, walking a dog is the perfect excuse to get off the couch and get outside.

Structure and a Routine

If your days seem to lack structure when you’re stuck at home, the responsibility of caring for a foster pet can help you stick to a routine. A hungry cat or dog will make you get up in the morning instead of feeling like you should stay in bed all day.

Improved Heart Health

Research shows that pet owners have healthier heart rates and blood pressure than non-pet owners. Part of the health benefits are related to increased physical activity (like going on walks), but even the act of petting an animal can reduce blood pressure.

Lower Cholesterol

Studies also show that dog owners also tend to have lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, even when variables like the owner’s age and activity levels are factored out.

Less Depression

Research has shown that older people, especially, who have a dog or cat have fewer symptoms of depression that those who don’t have a pet.

Decreased Anxiety

Pet owners also report less anxiety than non-pet owners. Animals are often used in therapy (animal assisted therapy, or AAT) to help patients with anxiety.

Immunity Boost

When you are less anxious, your level of cortisol, the stress hormone, goes down. This, in turn, allows your immune system to work better.

Protection

Having a dog in your house is a great burglar deterrent. If a dog barks when someone comes to the door, it doesn’t matter whether the dog is 15 pounds or 75 pounds; they’re less likely to try to break in.

Saving a Life

Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the animal rescue non-profit American Humane, worries that more shelter pets will be euthanized than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more pets come to shelters without the usual demand for them. Ganzert calls pet fosters a “safety valve,” helping keep shelters from getting overcrowded. Opening your home to a shelter pet right now could save its life.