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Furry, Feathery Friends Boost Students’ Mental Health During Quarantine

Hunter students are turning to their furry companions for stress and anxiety relief.

“When I was going to school full-time and working part-time, I would be gone for close to 15 hours a day,” said Lael Manalo, a medical laboratory sciences student. “I would feel so down and suffer from panic attacks, but [my dogs] would pull me out of my misery.”

Lael turns to her two pugs, Lucky and Lucie, for comfort. With all the changes that have happened due to the pandemic, they have been her “source of sanity.”

“When things or school work feel like it’s too much, I’m reminded that when those two barge into my room, I’m going to make it out okay,” said Lael.

Managing daily tasks during self-quarantine while maintaining social distancing takes a toll on college students’ mental health. Instead of turning to meditation apps or zoning out on romcoms, some Hunter students rely on their furry, mood-boosting roommates for the sanity check they need.

“Whenever I’m stressed, I just lay down on the floor and cuddle with my dogs,” said Marissa Lee, an animal behavior and conservation masters student with three labradors named Kingsley, Cactus and Pebbles.

“Cactus is really sensitive to my moods. He comes from a very long line of therapy dogs so I think that has to do with it,” she said.

While some are finding comfort in familiar pets, others are finding new pets provide a distraction and a sense of doing good. Lee has recently started fostering Pebbles who has become an “incredible distraction” as most of Lee’s days consist of training and teaching her new tricks.

With limited human to human, physical interaction, people rely more on their pets to fulfill the basic human need for touch, according to HelpGuide. Their studies show that caring for a pet can ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder and PTSD.

Having a pet can make it easier to adopt a healthy lifestyle. During a time where daily routines were quickly disturbed, pets motivate and add structure, they help by increasing exercise, providing companionship, and sensory relief.

“I’m lucky to be with my family but having pets is another living thing that you can interact with at home which is really nice,” said Ariana Gladstone, a studio art and psychology student.

Dogs are not the only cuddly pets that boost your mood. Gladstone’s mom added two rats, Ben and Willard, to their family. She had planned to get the rats before the quarantine but it wasn’t until late March that she was finally able to get them.

“When I go downstairs where the rats are, it’s fun to just go to the cage and talk to them,” said Gladstone. She has been helping her mother train them to hang out on their shoulders. Spending time with Ben and Willard has added a new activity to their day taking their mind off of lockdown stress.

Seventy percent of adults have reported experiencing stress due to the coronavirus outbreak and higher levels of anxiety were documented by Mental Health America which shows an increase in the number of people taking anxiety screening tests. However, a 2016 survey about pet owners and their human-animal bond showed how 84% of pet owners reported awareness of how their pets reduced their anxiety just from pet ownership.

“Spending more time with my rabbit has reduced my stress,” said Delossantons, a music student. “When I spend time with him, my mind shifts from thinking about all my problems to him being my main focus.”

Delossantos’ rabbit’s name is Bugs, a cinnamon breed species. He’s had him for about nine years. Bugs’ silly behavior of randomly doing things that Delossantos doesn’t expect, like jumping into the bin of hay or laying down the way humans do when he rests, has been Delossantos’ source of joy and laughter. He says he feels less “lonely.”

“Having him has felt like having another human being in the house,” he said.

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