Our four-legged friends – a source of solace during troubled times

Story – Gautam Viswanathan

What would you normally do on a weekend? Go shopping, meet your friends, perhaps take the family somewhere. Simple pleasures that many of us look forward to, provide a break from the routine of the week, and help get us out of the house and recharge for the week ahead.

These, however, are not normal times. To stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and bring down the number of infections, governments around the world have put into place social distancing and isolation measures.

Those of us in Oman have not been faced with a lockdown that others beyond the Sultanate’s borders have, but when you’re required to spend so much time at home, it is only natural to feel frustration and anxiety…feelings that combined with current conditions can surely lead to mental anxiety and tension.

While many of us live with our friends and families, and have people with whom we can share our concerns and our tensions, those who wish to find someone who can help them blow off steam will surely be able to do so with another kind of companion – the four-legged variety.

While owning a pet is not new – many of us know pet owners love their non-human family members, and truth be told, are more fond of them than their human family – those who have welcomed these furry friends into their lives say that the benefits of a pet to one’s mental health during times like the present are quite invaluable.

What’s more is that many of the pets who’ve been offered homes by people in Oman are rescues – either those who’ve been left behind by previous owners, or animals taken off the street by people who’d gotten really attached to caring for them.

On March 6 last year, Indian couple Sayonto and Aahna adopted Rover, a two-year-old Persian cat who’d been abandoned by his previous owners behind Sayonto’s office. He initially took the little ball of fluff home with the intention of fostering him, it wasn’t long before the two fell in love with his adorable antics.

They don’t quite know when he was born, but they celebrated his third birthday about a couple of months ago, on the first anniversary of his adoption and say he is the best thing that ever came into their lives.

“Having him has been the best thing in our lives,” said Sayonto. “The feeling you get when you play with him or pet him is just amazing. An act as simple as stroking his fur is enough to make you feel really calm and happy, and that’s the advantage of a pet. When I come back from work and am stressed, playing with him for even five minutes is a great stress-buster.

“But we also have a responsibility towards him. We need to make sure he is calm, he’s happy, he’s well-fed, and that all of his problems are taken care of,” he added. “If, for example, he falls sick or has an infection, then we need to get that treated immediately. Honestly, pets have so much love to give and this little fellow has changed our lives for the better.”

His wife, Aahna, said it was extremely difficult to put a value on what it meant to have Rover in their lives, calling the experience of having a pet ‘truly priceless’. She explained, “I do after all spend most of my time at home, and Rover is an amazing companion to have. His needs keep me busy, and when I want to take a break from the things I have to do at home, then I really look forward to playing with him, because it is just so amazing.

“We do of course need to make sure he is okay. A few days ago, something about him seemed to be a bit off, so we took him to the vet,” she added. “The vet explained to us that cats don’t like change, so he was tensed, and needed to be in a space with which he was comfortable. Just the other day, we had moved around some of our furniture, so he was taking time to adjust to that.”

The sort of pet you bring into your home does depend on what animal you’re most fond of. Some, of course, do prefer cats, but there are many more who’re fond of dogs. Man’s best friend has after all proven to be extremely loyal, loving and a great companion for both adults and children.

A few months ago, Mohammed Gomaa and his wife, who have three cats at home, began fostering a wadi dog that had been rescued by volunteers. Less than a year old, the puppy has brought plenty of both challenges and joy to Mohammed, and although it can be a bit tough to manage her, the experience has been truly rewarding for him. Mohammed is devoted to the dog, and spends plenty of time training and exercising her.

“Our dog is now growing up, but she is still just a puppy, so we have to train her properly,” he revealed. “There are of course so many mistakes she makes – she does chew a lot of our things – but this is natural. If you take one look into her eyes, all of her problems just melt away, and you see how much love she has to give. It’s just impossible to be mad at her.

“Because isolation procedures are now in effect, we make it a point to take her out for a walk at least once a day, if not twice,” added Mohammed. “We have an empty lot next to our home in Bowshar, so I make her exercise there every day. Dogs do need a lot of exercise, but taking them for a walk or a run is beneficial for both you and them, because when you are with them, you also run or walk alongside them.”

Many volunteer organisations have been set up in Oman to help animals in need. Tiger by the Tails is one such group, providing care for abandoned and injured animals who unfortunately have nowhere else to turn to. TBTT primarily operates with a network of volunteers across Muscat and Sohar, and liaises with rescue groups in other parts of the country.

Its founder, Jaison Mathai, says pets that are house-trained find it extremely difficult to adapt to the wild, particularly if they were never intended for the outdoors in the first place. These poor animals are often attacked by others, and unable to survive, die a painful and pitiful death.

He explains, “Animals are very innocent. They do not know about things such as COVID-19, and their priorities are rather different to ours. All they look for is a place to sleep and good access to food and water. When we interact with animals, we experience that innocence ourselves, and it lightens our heart and clears our mind.”

This is of extremely important therapeutic value during the current pandemic, when many of us are required to stay at home. Staying in isolation, or in the same area for extended periods of time can definitely have its impact on you. It’s natural for you to get bored or frustrated, because many of the things we do require us to go outside.

“Having a pet and playing with it and looking after it will definitely brighten your mood and help pass the time really quickly,” added Jaison. “But a pet is not a toy that you can bring to your home one day and throw away the next. It is a commitment you need to follow for the rest of the pet’s life. A pet gives us great joy and amazing company, and we have to return that by giving the pet love, food, and a safe space it can call home. If you are an expat, and are planning to leave Oman one day, then you must make arrangements for your pet to come with you. It is a living thing after all, so you need to treat it as such.”

Dr Peter Nolosco, a veterinarian at Capital Veterinary Centre, an animal clinic in Oman, agreed with this sentiment. Owning a pet, he felt, is a huge responsibility, one that should not be shirked by those who wished to bring a furry four-legged friend into their homes.  Owners must make sure they keep an eye on their pets’ mental and physical well-being, and have to take their pets regularly to hospitals for regular health check-ups, vaccinations, grooming and other kinds of preventive management.

Owners should carefully observe their pets and at least once a day, check all the body parts for any abnormality, which should be discussed with their veterinary surgeon.  Owners also should concentrate on their pets’ diet and physical activity. Apart from this, it is also the responsibility of the owners to keep their pets in a stress-free state.

“At present, it is better for owners to communicate with their respective pet hospitals and per their advice, administer medicines to their pets at home. I also urge pet owners to learn some pet grooming techniques such as nail clipping, ear cleaning, and brushing their pets’ coats, as these will prove to be very helpful during these times,” said Dr Nolosco. “There are lot of videos in the internet you can consult, if you want to learn these things.

He added, “It is also better for pet owners to stock a good quantity of their regular pet food, litter and other essentials for some time, should there be a delay in getting them, as right now anything could go out of stock at any time. Owners storing food for a long time should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to store them in a clean and hygienic manner.”