I “Borrow” People’s Pets
And you should, too
Whether you have your own animals at home, you’re biding your time until you can adopt, or you’re “just not an animal person,” you should be borrowing people’s pets.
Go with me on this.
I’m a pet borrower
I guess I’ve always “borrowed” animals.
When I was a kid, my neighbor Ceil had a little terrier named Lucky, and when I was playing outside I always kept an eye out for him. When I saw Lucky and Ceil out in the yard, I’d shyly peek my head around the garage until Ceil noticed me hovering and invited me to come throw a ball for a while. This very assertive, dynamic strategy eventually earned me my first job — dogsitting Lucky when Ceil was away for a weekend!
I also spent time petting another neighbor’s long-haired dachshund Teddy, nuzzling my friend Anna’s black cat Tippy, and cooing at any random stray I caught a glimpse of.
More recently, I spent a few years working as a teaching artist, which sent me traveling around the US a lot of the time. Each week, I’d leave one town and arrive in another, welcomed by a generous host family eager to share their home with me.
And while I’ve definitely improved my social skills in the 25 years since I met Lucky the Terrier, I’m still very much the shy and introverted girl who peeked around the garage until I was invited in. So you can imagine the level of anxiety that weighed on me as I traveled to a new host family’s home every week. New town, new hosts, new conversation. Eek.
But I looked forward to homes with animals. Knowing that there was a furry friend waiting for scratches put me at ease a little bit — and when I arrived, they gave me something to talk about with my host family!
During the same time, when I was at home in Chicago, I was babysitting through a service that took me to new families pretty regularly. I was delighted to sit for families with animals, and after the kids went to bed I’d happily chill with whatever dog or cat wanted my attention. Parents started leaving five-star reviews on my profile about my work with their kids AND my enthusiasm for their pets.
When friends got pets, I was the person they’d call to petsit for them. I fostered a colleague’s cat for three months while she was out of town on a contract.
Last year, I started an Instagram account to share photos of the animals—mostly cats—I spent time with as a pet sitter, a cat cafe visitor, and through friends.
I was a certified pet borrower.
You should be, too
You don’t need to go so far as to start a social media profile for them (although it seems to bring people a lot of joy), but spending time with animals has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and lower blood pressure. If you have a pet at home, you’re probably already experiencing those benefits. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out other animals, too!
Changing up your routine is good for you
Whether or not you’re already benefitting from your own pet at home, you can benefit from switching up your routine by making a new or different animal connection now and then. Breaking our daily habits encourages our brains to make new connections, increasing creativity and focus.
Our brains crave novelty
You know that feeling when you try a new activity or make a new friend and you feel invigorated? That’s dopamine rushing into the reward center of your brain. You’re being rewarded for experiencing something new. Changing up your routine and visiting a new animal can give you that same warm rush!
Every experience is different
Dogs and cats can have such different personalities, and every animal holds a new opportunity for you to explore a different side of yourself. The two animals I spend the most time with right now are Tucker and Hercules.
Tucker, who belongs to my roommate, is a needy, snuggly, affectionate cat. He lays on top of me and purrs. It’s wonderful. Hercules, a friend’s cat who lives down the street, is a maniac. He’s fighty, he’s brazen, and he’s a literal ankle-biter. He’s wonderful, too.
If you have a pet at home, visiting other animals lets you play and interact in ways that your own pet might not enjoy or encourage.
And if you don’t have an animal at home, visiting other pets can help you learn about what kind of personalities are out there. When you’re ready for a pet (if that’s a goal of yours), you’ll be better informed about the temperament and disposition you’re looking for in your cat or dog.
You’ve got to leave your house
Especially during the winter, many of us struggle to go out and do something (it’s so warm and snuggly in front of the latest season of Queer Eye!) Visiting other people’s pets requires you to leave your house — and (usually) be social.
How to borrow pets
There are many avenues you can take to hang out with other peoples’ animals.
Ask your friends
Do your co-workers, classmates, or relatives have pets? Hang out with them. Not only will you get a chance to know these people better, but you get the added benefits of scritches and puppy kisses. When a co-worker mentions their pet, ask to see a photo. Animal people love to share photos of their pets.
And when they show you their favorite furry creature, say something like, “I’d love to come over and meet him sometime! I’ll bring coffee!” It might sound forward . . . but most people are going to be excited to share their pets with you.
Hang out at a park
There’s a park just a bus ride away from me that guarantees happy dog time—on sunny days it’s full of pups and their people stretching their legs, tossing tennis balls, and lounging in the sunshine.
Maybe there’s one near you, too.
Pack a lunch and a book. Find a nice shady spot and make yourself comfortable.
Then ask people if you can say hi to their dog! In general, folks love to share their dogs with friendly strangers. For the price of a few minutes’ small-talk, you can enjoy a rolling-in-the-grass, panting, tongue-lolling, happy dog.
Volunteer at a rescue
Be like Terry Lauderman, who earned the internet nickname “Cat Grandpa” when his story when viral in 2018. Lauderman visits the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wisconsin each day to brush cats (and nap with them).
Families often need a responsible, reliable adult to come to their home to feed, medicate, walk, and snuggle with their animals. If that’s you, make a flyer and pin it up at pet stores around town. In some areas, you can also join online services like Rover, which can help get you connected to families in need of a petsitter.
Visit an animal cafe
The first cat cafe in the US was established in 2014, and since then more than 100 more have opened. I’m based in Chicago, where we have The Catcade and Windy Kitty Cat Cafe, and I spend time with cats at each of them (although I’m partial to The Catcade). It’s a great way to support a rescue and get in some much-needed purr therapy now and then.
Other regions have similar “cafes” with bunnies, birds, reptiles, and other animals. In the US, though, we’re mostly sticking to cats (for now), but I’ve heard a rumor that Chicago is getting a bunny cafe!
So set a goal. Make a plan.
How much time do you want to spend with animals this week? And what steps will you take to make that happen?
Your body, your mind, and your heart will all thank you.
For more @borrowedcats, visit www.instagram.com/borrowedcats