It’s no wonder that adoption of pets of all kinds of pets skyrocketed in 2020 since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The pandemic has led to social isolation, and all around isolation that none of us have ever experienced before. This has been hard for everyone, and especially LGBTQ people as many of us have been separated from chosen family, friends and community. For many, one of the few sources of hope and joy in the past year has been our pets who thankfully we haven’t been separated from.
In the last year all of us have had to adjust to a new normal. Phrases like “social distancing” have become part of our regular vocabulary and the reality is that a lot of people, gay, straight, trans, cis are lonely. In order to stay safe people have needed to stay isolated in their homes as much as possible which has isolated many people from friends, family and communities. Animals have always been a great source of companionship for members of the LGBTQ community. There isn’t a lot of research about this though there was one study from the early 2000s having pets is 10% more common amongst gay and lesbian people than straight peers. Anecdotally, I’ve recognized that LGBTQ people are especially likely to have or be deeply bonded with our pets. As a kid, I was incredibly isolated. I struggled to make friends because I was queer and also because of the specific challenges of growing up in an abusive homophobic home. As a closeted queer kid, spending time with animals was where I was my most comfortable. This has remained true for me as an out queer adult.
One of the beautiful things about sharing our lives with pets is the unconditional love they bring to our lives. Animals don’t judge us. They don’t care what we look like, who we love or how we identify. Animals love us unconditionally for who we are, and they can even improve our health. There are studies that have shown that pets can improve your health and overall quality of life. Playing, petting or otherwise spending time with pets can lower your heart rate, lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Pets can also break down loneliness and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Is now the right time to get a pet?
As we find ourselves in a new year that in practical ways looks like the very strange year we just left behind it can be hard to feel hopeful about a return to a semblance of pre-pandemic life. Although it might take a while for everyone to get vaccinated and for us to be able to gather freely in public spaces that doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. If you have stable housing, and financial means to care for another being now might be a great time to think about adding a pet. Be thoughtful about how much time you have both now and when life returns to “normal” when researching what type of pet might be a good fit for your home and lifestyle. Make sure that whatever pet you get is one that you’ll be able to appropriately care for and meet the needs of for the life of that pet.
Having a pet, any kind of pet from a goldfish, hamster or hermit crab to a cat, dog, horse or any pet in between can be healing, and comforting. The companionship pets offer us is powerful. Pets allow us a tangible opportunity to get out of our heads, and focus on something, someone else. Pets to varying levels rely on us for all of their needs. For some people this might feel overwhelming, but for many people it can be grounding, and help to provide some structure and purpose to the day. Particularly for LGBTQ people, pets and the companionship they bring can be extremely important. Many of us have stressed or fractured relationships with our families of origin and pets become the family that we never had, or no longer have access to. Especially now with COVID and everything else happening in the world that seems uncertain, scary, or confusing, spending time with animals can be invaluable.
Our pets don’t obsess about the past or worry about the future and instead focus entirely on the now, which can be really comforting.
Spending time with animals when you can’t have pets:
Pets, regardless of species, are a big responsibility. It’s completely ok to know that you aren’t in the right space in your life to have pets. Even if you aren’t able to have a pet of your own right, now there are still ways you can support animals who might be in need. During non-pandemic times there are opportunities to volunteer at local rescue organizations or humane societies.
These groups are always looking for volunteers to help care for and enrich the lives of animals in their care. During lockdown, it may be harder to connect with animals if you don’t have any pets of your own but not impossible! Many rescue organizations in local communities across the country are looking for people able to foster pets until they can find their forever families. Virtual animal visits are also pretty great. A great option for getting some (virtual) pet attention during lockdown include following cute animals on social media, and follow the social media accounts of local shelters and rescue groups who often post videos and photos of animals in their care.
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. www.SassafrasLowrey.com