Pets became co-workers in COVID-19 pandemic
I think I’ve created a monster.
A tiny cat monster.
Since the March onset of my working from home, there’s been a deliberate takeover by one who walks on little cat paws but carries big clout.
The constant finagling onto the arm of the chair, causing me to type awkwardly with my elbow pressed against my body, the nonchalant tiptoeing over computer keys, and the furry torso sprawled between the Rolodex and my laptop is all bad enough — but worst of all, is the staring.
The staredown is cat psychology for: “get up, go to the kitchen, give me food.”
Apparently, feeding time is now every waking moment.
It first started as a joke — people calling their pets co-workers as the global pandemic forced many employees into the confines of their homes.
While acclimating to work life with our furry four-legged companions can be trying, as time went on, many of these same employees reported greater productivity and higher job satisfaction if there was a furry co-worker standing by, according to the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pets can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, and change feelings of loneliness and isolation. Animals that provide unconditional love can have lasting positive effects on the emotional and physical well-being of their owners.
While social interaction is limited, your non-human co-worker might have been one of the best friends you counted on for emotional support.
Veterinarian Sara Everson, from St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center in Van Dyne, said many of her clients adopted pets this year because of their ability to provide unconditional comfort.
“Pets are a vital part of the family because they help with stress and anxiety during difficult times like these,” Everson said.
Nicole Cornele of Kronenwetter adopted Luna from the Marathon Humane Society in early October and says the mild-mannered gray and white cat hasn’t left her side, or her desk, since.
“She’s very playful and is fascinated by the cursor on my screen. She also tries to drink my coffee, so I have to keep an eye on my mug,” Cornele said.
Daisy and Mister, two cats owned by Debbie Rosenfeldt of Neenah, are always up to antics around her workstation, but it’s the latter who likes to cause the most trouble. Rosenfeldt works from home on financial report development.
“Mister has sneezed directly in my face while I am working, launched my laptop off the docking station during a conference call and pranced across the keyboard, sending emails to an archive folder heretofore unknown,” she said. “Worst of all, he now follows me to the bathroom.”
Despite the comedic chaos, she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Both Daisy and Mister were strays with no home,” she said. “Now, they are comfy and cozy and a welcome part of our family.”
Tammy Szczesny’s work role is data synchronization for a food company. She attends WebEx meetings with her 12-year-old chihuahua Bonita happily snoring away in her bed nearby. Her rescue cats, Lola and Onyx, are also part of the team, adopted in 2015 as sibling kittens from a Siamese mother.
“They all ‘assist’ me with working from my home in Manitowoc, although they aren’t the most motivated — well, other than mealtime,” Szczesny said. “I have lap warmers, lunch friends and break time companions. They help break up the quiet house with their unconditional love.”
Miss Kitti, age 11, resides in the home of Mark Knight in Green Bay. She takes care of his spellcheck, likes to answer phones when necessary and won’t leave until she gets a treat. Knight is an audit manager for a national title insurance company.
“I normally travel three out of four weeks, but with COVID-19, my company has grounded me from flying, resulting in staying at home since last March,” Knight said. “I think she is surprised someone is around all day now, but she has become my work buddy ever since.”
Over the summer, 2-year-old Samoyed Brynn and her owner Vicki Depies of Random Lake kept busy by earning accredited handler-pet team status through a local organization, Pets Helping People. The nonprofit organization’s mission is: “to train big-hearted dogs and their humans to deliver animal-assisted pet therapy visits.”
While facility visits (to places like nursing homes) are obviously curtailed, several teams were afforded the opportunity on Dec. 3 to meet students at Concordia University for a pre-exam week “stress relief” visit, Depies said.
“One student told me that she really needed this,” Depies said. “Brynn is a real people dog, and Pets Helping People brings out the best in our pets to help us share smiles and compassion to those in need.”
Jeff, a ragdoll cat from Hobart, loves his two co-workers, Avery and Archer, who are 5 and 3, said Tansy Lederhaus. He even has his own Instagram page — @jeff_the_ragdoll_cat — that has documented his life with the family during quarantine.
“We spent a lot of time home together over the course of the year, between working due to quarantine, occasional daycare closures and virtual learning,” Lederhaus said. “Jeff enjoys spending his days lounging in his window cat hammock or sleeping in one of many baskets or random boxes.”
While closer bonds have formed this year between pets and their owners as a result of these unforeseen life changes, Everson cautions that the eventual return to the workplace may prove difficult for some of our animal companions.
“I tell my clients to try and establish routines that will help pets once they are left alone again,” Everson says. “Incorporate time away from your pets, like a daily walk, and distract them with toys they can play with on their own, in another part of the house.”
Food can provide daily enrichment for pets by using puzzle toys that can be filled with treats or kibble. Slow feeding devices also offer food to pets at intervals throughout the day, Everson said.
For pets who suffer separation anxiety, a variety of treatment options are available, including products that release pheromones specific for cats and dogs, thundershirts (basically like swaddling a baby), music therapy through iCalmPet, as well as natural supplements that are shown to have an effect on an animal’s neurotransmitters and serotonin uptake.
Newspaper editor Brandon Reid in Manitowoc has been working from home with his two kids, ages 7 and 9, since March. In summer 2019, they adopted an orange tabby cat, Lewis, who has turned out to be the unsung hero of the family’s pandemic journey.
“His soft touch has helped us get through these past several months. In his world, he doesn’t understand the pandemic — he just knows his family is here with him all the time,” Reid says. “He probably likes this routine better than his old one. He gets more treats, more pets and more love. And maybe that’s something for which we can all be grateful during these times.”
Contact Sharon Roznik at 920-907-7936 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/reporterroz/