Adopting a dog helped me cope with lockdown

Lily Howes posing with a friend and her dog in the sunshine
Luckily for us, a local non-profit was still rehoming dogs (Picture: Lily Howes)

‘Maybe in a couple of years’ had always been the conclusion of the conversations between me and my boyfriend about whether we should adopt a dog.

As a child-free and (relatively) responsibility-free couple, we’re used to spontaneity, with last-minute nights out and weekends away on a whim. But then coronavirus hit and that freedom vanished overnight.

All of a sudden, it seemed like there was no good reason not to adopt a dog – what with time on our hands for training plus an overwhelming urge for comfort and company – so two weeks into lockdown, we did.

Luckily for us, a local non-profit was still rehoming dogs and we spotted a one-year-old rescue who immediately stole our hearts. After a phone interview, virtual home visit and a socially distant first meeting at a park, Socks was ours.

Admittedly, much of the decision to adopt a dog was triggered by a corona-induced cocktail of emotions. Like many people, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by anxiety – on a macro and micro level – bouncing from money worries due to cancelled work to paralysing despair at the long-term global impact of the pandemic.

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As a Brit living in Amsterdam, the comfort of knowing ‘home’ is only a short flight or train ride away has also been pulled from under me and I can’t help but worry about what’s happening back at home. Without even getting into the shambles of how the UK government has handled the current situation, on a personal level, my sister is a junior doctor and my dad is an EMT in the London Ambulance Service.

Both are working long hours in less than ideal conditions and putting their physical and mental health at risk.

Lily Howes sat on a park bench with her adopted dog, Socks.
Lily has been spending lockdown with her adopted dog Socks (Picture: Lily Howes)
Meanwhile my mum has been stretching herself thin in NHS Organisational Development – splitting her days between supporting frontline staff, training volunteers at the Nightingale Hospital and caring for my unwell grandad (at a distance). WhatsApp messages and video calls just don’t cut it when you’re trying to support people through a situation that shows no signs of letting up, leaving me helpless and bereft at not being able to be there physically – even if the worst did happen.

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However, Socks has been my route out of idleness and feelings of isolation.

Every morning, on rotation, me or my boyfriend are up and out the door by 7am for our first walk of the day. In the process, we’re getting to know the neighbourhood better than ever.

Having only lived in our flat for eight months pre-lockdown, we don’t know many people locally. But thanks to Socks we’ve become friends with our upstairs neighbours, chatting to them from their balcony about his latest antics, and we greet familiar friendly faces on every walk.

Socks has also made his own friend, taking a particular liking to a very patient geriatric bulldog called Chief.

Socks the dog lying on a sofa
The mental busyness and distraction he’s brought me has been a very welcome surprise (Picture: Lily Howes)

My lockdown life has shifted from lie-ins and laziness to responsibility and routine.

I knew Socks would keep me physically busy, but the mental busyness and distraction he’s brought me has been a very welcome surprise.

Research shows that dogs have a stress buffering effect on people going through challenging times and Socks certainly lives up to that. He’s helped me park my anxious thoughts and made me feel calmer, even with all his crazy quirks.

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Seeing the twirl in the air he does when it’s breakfast time, the awkward overexcitement he shows when he meets a new dog, and the hilariously human way he sits on the sofa, brings laughter and lightness to our solitary days.

I’m no longer constantly worrying about the impact coronavirus is having on my family and friends. Nor am I getting sucked into Twitter or live news feeds for hours on end.

Instead, my eyes and attention are on making sure Socks isn’t digging up my lockdown vegetable patch or nibbling on my yoga mat. Forget meditation apps, if you want to learn to live in the present, get a dog.

Of course, there is a new worry quietly bubbling away: what life with Socks will look like post-lockdown.

As a freelancer, I’ll have the flexibility to still be around as much as he needs but Socks’ current reality is having me and my boyfriend at home 24/7, so I am apprehensive about him being left alone once lockdown is lifted and the adjustment that will take.

Nipping back to the UK for a weekend also isn’t going to be as easy as before, and neither will spontaneous drinks or late nights out.

But I’ll navigate that if or when it happens, knowing that our new four-legged family member is more than worth it – even with the occasional bout of 3am barking.

No night vision goggles needed! Dogs’ eyes contain a special membrane, called the tapetum lucidum, which allows them to see in the dark.

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