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Is your partner pressuring you to surrender your pet during the coronavirus pandemic? For survivors of domestic abuse, this may just be a coercive control tactic used by an abuser to further socially isolate their victim during a vulnerable time. This article offers some myths and facts to help you sort out whether surrendering your pet now is really a good idea to keep your family safe.
Myth: Pets Can Carry and Spread COVID-19
The myth that pets represent a danger to human health during this time and therefore should be surrendered to protect the family is simply false. Despite the fact that some abusers are using this myth in order to coerce their victims into giving up a major source of emotional support and companionship during this time, in the vast majority of cases, our pets are better staying in their homes.
“Animal shelters are already at capacity, there is no reason to be surrendering your dogs or pets to shelters because of the coronavirus. It’s false information” says Mathew Coulton managing director of Wileypup.
When the coronavirus began to spread in China, unfounded panic about pets spreading the disease combined with strict shelter-in-place orders during a busy travel season left many pets abandoned and without care. However, experts agree that this panic about our domesticated pets being likely carriers of the specific strain of coronavirus associated with severe respiratory complications in humans to be unfounded by the current data.
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In fact, both the World Health Organization and the CDC have repeatedly stated that pets cannot pass the virus to people. That being said, there is a bit of confusion on this topic which deserves some clarification.
There are a few anecdotal reports of a few dogs and one cat contracting a similar virus from owners who are sick with COVID-19. It is for this reason that both WHO and the CDC recommend that people sick with the virus or having flu-like symptoms temporarily limit close contact with their pets if possible.
Things to Know
There’s a lot of conflicting information, but it’s important not to panic. Here’s what you should know:
While dogs may be able to contract a strain of the coronavirus from people in very rare cases, they are not likely to develop the troubling respiratory symptoms that have claimed the lives of people.
Researchers are confident that while human-to-dog transmission is possible (but again very rare), dog-to-human transmission is not, thanks to different virus detecting RNA in humans and other species of animals.
Veterinarians have not been reporting a wide outbreak of respiratory illness from COVID-19 in pets, which would be emerging by now and following human rates of illness and death if human-to-dog transmission was likely or particularly dangerous.
Species-specific COVID-19 veterinary testing is already being rolled out. Researchers have not found any evidence that dogs or cats can transmit the disease to their human caregivers.
Keep Fido and Fluffy Clean
As far as pets being able to carry the virus on their fur and pass the virus from one human to another that way, experts recommend you follow the same good hygiene practices recommended for stopping the spread of the virus along with a few additional safety protocols for pets:
- Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after touching your pet if they have been out of your home environment
- Wipe the pads of your pet’s feet with antiseptic wipes if they have been walking in public spaces
- Bath your pet if they have spent time around someone known or suspected to have the COVID-19 virus
- Avoid crowded public spaces such as dog parks or dog walking trails
Fact: Pets May Offer Health Benefits During These Stressful Times
Contrary to the idea that our pets should be surrendered as a precautionary measure (again, not supported by research on the subject) is the fact that our pets actually offer significant health benefits, particularly during times of stress.
Here are a few research-backed findings:
Pets have repeatedly been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation. While many of us are stuck at home with little contact with the outside world, our pets help us feel connected to unconditional love and also give us a sense of purpose in their caregiving. Perhaps this is why some abusers sense that separating their victims from pets during this already difficult time is just one more way to maintain control.
Therapy dogs have been shown to aid with slowing the progression of Sundown Syndrome and other dementia-related illnesses that can be of special concern to seniors who may be experiencing higher degrees of social isolation during the strict social distancing protocols for at-risk populations. While it may not be a good idea to continue with therapy dogs during this time, seniors with pets of their own may be better served by continuing to interact with their pets to decrease their sense of isolation and loneliness during this time.
Pets have been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, most significantly in cases of depression and anxiety. Whether you are working from home, newly unemployed or still going to work in a critical economic sector, there is no doubt that you are experiencing additional strain on your mental health. If you have a preexisting struggle with depression or anxiety, odds are it may be even more challenging to cope and find balance during this time. Your pet may play a vital role in terms of helping you maintain your mental health, something a coercive and controlling partner may be eager to undo.
Finally, there is strong evidence to support the fact that pets offer their human companions a variety of cardiovascular benefits including lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and better resilience during times of stress. If ever there was a time when we all need all the support we can get to reduce stress in our lives, now is that time.
Of course, everyone has to make decisions that are best for them in the context of their own lives. However, the idea that it is safer to surrender pets during coronavirus simply is not fact-based or supported by current research on the subject. Instead, consider that being coerced to abandon your pet may simply be a tactic to further isolate you during a time when you may already be suffering from a lack of interaction with friends, family, and coworkers.
Want to leave an abusive partner but afraid of what will happen to your pet? Read “Planning for Pet Safety” to find resources that can help both of you escape safely.
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