In an effort to combat loneliness amid social isolation, the Animal Farm Foundation’s “Pets Together” program aims to virtually connect pets and people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these connections, the foundation hopes to bring lovable animals to those who require some fluffy company, offering visitors—who range from elderly folks looking for companionship to doctors working at hospitals in need of a pick-me-up—comfort at a time of uncertainty.
The “Pets Together” program is one way Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) fosters connections between pets and people. According to their website, AFF works to bring dogs and people together as a way of ending discrimination among all individuals, bringing change through its service dog program, PAWS prison program, and training for K9 detection dogs, as well as other initiatives. AFF seeks to tackle issues like breed discrimination, as well as empower people with disabilities through meaningful partnerships with dog companions.
Traditionally, AFF has only brought therapy dogs to group sessions. But now that social distancing has limited all in-person interactions, and everyone who is not considered an essential worker must stay at home, AFF has began reaching out to individual pet lovers to accommodate shifting needs.
To frame the new “Pets Together” program, the foundation worked with Kim Wolf, Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work Candidate at the University of Georgia. “Pets bring us comfort during times of distress, but not everyone is in a position to have one,” Wolf explained of her participation in the program. “I can’t imagine going through this pandemic without my pets, so I wanted to share them with others.”
Participants can meet dogs, cats, goats, horses, and other animals of AFF via video conference platforms, such as Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts, and converse with the animals’ caretakers as well. “Pets Together is a model that brings joy and comfort to those who are feeling socially isolated and lonely,” Wolf elaborated.
According to Executive Director of AFF Stacey Coleman, social isolation and loneliness are not new phenomena, although they have become more ubiquitous under the current conditions. Social isolation in particular can be detrimental for people of all ages, including older adults, as it can lead to “a 29% increased risk of mortality over time” as well as “poor access to health care, exposure to environmental hazards, injury and violence, obesity and physical inactivity, substance misuse and mental health disorders.”Having the company of these pets and other people can remove the perceived distance that we face under isolation, reminding people that there are still avenues to connect with others. With a pet by their side, people can find solace and belonging from the attention these friendly critters and caretakers offer. Virtual pet visits are available to all, and the animals of AFF can’t wait to make friends with new faces.