Posted 5 months ago ago
Written by Bethan Shufflebotham
When we got our rescue bulldogs, Phoebe and Frank, I was a busy university student spending most of the day on campus whilst my mum and dad were out at work.
But this year, they’ve gone from being left home alone for six hours a day, to being with me 24/7 as the pandemic saw me permanently working from home.
It’s been a huge lifestyle change for all of us - but I couldn’t have done it without my four-legged constant companions.
For 13 months, I’ve not managed a single phone call or video conference without the interruption of a curious, naughty or playful pooch. And, whilst I found it embarrassing and frustrating at first, I wouldn’t have it any other way. These dogs have been my lockdown lifeline and I couldn’t have made it through the year without them.
It's no secret that pets are beneficial for both mental and physical wellbeing, from lowering blood pressure to reducing anxiety. But Phoebe and Frank have also helped me find a work life balance and it’s helped us develop a stronger relationship.
Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) revealed 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic and 74% of them say their pet has helped their mental health through lockdown.
With my parents both key workers and heading out to work, I found myself alone in the house a lot of the time. And, whilst it was pretty lonely, I at least had the company of my dogs.
I’d be lying if I said my mental health hasn’t suffered in lockdown. Anxiety and depression were all-consuming. I’d not seen my partner of five years for the longest time since we’d got together. I missed my friends, my colleagues and popping round to my nan’s for a cuppa. But Phoebe and Frank - yes, named after the F.R.I.E.N.D.S characters - have been there for me when I've felt most isolated.
Here are just a few of the ways my dogs have kept me sane in lockdown:
Knowing I’ve got to get up to feed the dogs gave me a reason to get out of bed, get dressed, and stick to a routine. Whilst they ate their breakfast, I could make my own and grab a brew. It was easy to get into the swing of a more structured morning of food, cuppa, then logging on for the day with content canines. I found the sense of routine helped me be more productive throughout the day too.
Similarly, at the end of the day, the dogs know that The Chase intro music means it’s tea time - how’s that for some classical conditioning? But it meant I was forced to finish what I was doing and log off for the day, giving me a clear line between work, and play.
When work gets stressful, it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’ve got a pair of puppy dog eyes looking at you with a toy in their mouth. Frank has a really comical personality, in particular, so he’s certainly lifted my spirits when days have felt pretty rubbish.
During lockdown one, I barely crossed the threshold of my house - and rarely went further than the back garden. Had it not been for Phoebe and Frank, I probably wouldn’t have gone that far.
Each dinnertime, Phoebe and Frank would signal that they’d like to nip outside so I’d grab my brew and take my break in the sunshine.
At the end of the working day, they’d never let you forget a walk, either - and with the gyms closed, I absolutely needed that motivation to get up and be active.
Fun screen breaks
When working on a laptop for the best part of the day, it’s really important to take screen breaks - but at the start of the pandemic, the pressure to prove I was just as productive whilst working from home meant I often wouldn’t take them.
But I began taking short five-minute breaks and using them to play games and teach the dogs tricks which was mental stimulation for them and a mental reset for me. I could go back to my desk with a clear head and positive attitude. And the dogs would be tired from their quick brain train and would take a nap - it was a win win!
Our latest pandemic pawty tricks include 'tell me a secret' and 'smile!'.
I’ve always joked that Frank would make an amazing emotional support dog - only it’s him that needs the emotional support. He’s a very mardy, needy pooch and sticks to people like velcro. Frank’s love of cuddles and his ability to recognise when someone needs one has been truly welcome when I’ve found myself doom scrolling or overwhelmed by the current situation.
According to research by The Kennel Club, 91% of long-term dog owners said their dog has had a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing, and nearly two-thirds said their dog was a 'lifeline in lockdown'.
When you're having a rough day, there's nothing like a dog shuffling closer to you on the sofa and resting their head on your keyboard. They always know when you need to take a break, and will get you out of the house and away from the screen. Without them, I'd have surely seen my wellbeing take a harder tumble than it did. I've found myself having full-blown conversations with Phoebe on my lunch breaks, telling her my plans for the rest of the day and letting Frank know my tea-time intentions. They might not be able to talk back but the company has been enough to keep the isolation at bay.