Freya McMurray with her boxer dog, Dolly. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
‘Our neighbours’ children call her Window Doggy’
My parents collected our puppy, Dolly, in late February and by mid-March we were locked down with her – and she has eased our anxiety a huge amount. My brother and I were suddenly cut off from our active social lives and team sports, and having Dolly around made the loss of outside activity much more palatable.
The effect Dolly has on the people around us is what I’ve noticed most. During clap for carers, people would point and swoon over the tiny little puppy, and make an effort to bring their children over to wave at a distance. Those small children still walk past our house to watch Dolly in her favourite spot on the back of the sofa near the windowsill. The daughter from the house opposite has affectionately dubbed her “window doggy” – they can’t believe the size of the puppy who was once small enough to hold in one hand.
When the first lockdown eased, I took Dolly along on one of the first in-person dates I had with my girlfriend. I still believe that if I hadn’t had such a sweet dog in my dating profile, we wouldn’t have got together!
Freya McMurray, 20, apprentice solicitor, south-west London
Sarah Dove’s daughters with their two bantam hens. Photograph: Sarah Dove
‘My daughters looked forward to finishing the day with the chickens on their lap’
To raise funds, our local farm and visitor attraction was offering the opportunity to foster young chicks during the first lockdown. In early June, desperate for something new, uplifting and a little educational for our daughters, we took home two young bantams. It had never crossed my mind to keep chickens, but they charmed us so much as a family that when the time came to return them to the farm, we just couldn’t do it – the farm agreed to sell them to us so they are now permanent members of the family.
The chickens motivated us to spend time in the garden every day, and the girls looked forward to finishing the day with the chickens on their laps, stroking them and giving them corn. After all these months, looking after the chickens continues to give me a reason to be out in the fresh air. The arrival of the first egg caused considerable excitement and it was great to be able to re-engage the girls by getting them to check the nestbox every day.
Had I known we would end up having to house them indoors (their very own lockdown), thanks to bird flu regulations, I might have thought twice about keeping them but, much like the rest of us, they seem pretty resigned to lockdown life – they just seem to expect snacks about 400 times a day, much like my children.
Sarah Dove, 38, Basingstoke
‘If you’ve never experienced the vibrations of a happy cat purring, you haven’t lived’
Dizzee the cat. Photograph: Fran Eyre
I already had a rescue cat, Winston, who is six years old. I noticed he seemed lonely – he would call to outdoor cats when sitting on the window ledges. Then a few weeks ago, a friend spotted an advert for a four-month-old kitten that needed a home so I took him in. It was a bit of a shock for Winston to be chased around the house by a little scrap like Dizzee. Living alone with health problems has its challenges, and it may seem crazy to give myself more work, but the cats get me out of bed in the morning, make me laugh out loud and warm my heart. If you’ve never experienced the vibrations of a happy, grateful cat purring, you haven’t lived.
Being responsible for other living beings doesn’t need to stop just because of ill health and old age. The joy and laughter they bring makes the physical effort of cleaning up after them all worth it. I know I’m needed and wanted and not forgotten.
Fran Eyre, 71, Derby
‘It’s hard to feel cross with the world when you have a sleeping puppy on your chest’
Sheriff the cockapoo. Photograph: Graham Smith
Last March, when lockdown was announced, I had just gone back to work after being signed off with depression the previous November. I was still feeling fragile and apprehensive so lockdown gave me more time to get better. At the beginning of April, my eldest son showed the family a video of a litter of cockapoo puppies that his friend’s dog had just had. We already had an old labrador but had spoken about getting another dog. It took us about 20 minutes to agree we wanted one. All of us had a different name we wanted to give him, but when a Bob Marley song was playing and somebody suggested Sheriff (as in I Shot the Sheriff), it stuck.
Sheriff, true to his name, waltzed into our home as if he owned it. He terrorised our poor old dog, stole socks, chewed up both pairs of my wife’s glasses as well as all the flowers in the garden, but was super-affectionate and loved a cuddle. My two boys were 17 and 15 when lockdown began. They tended to mooch about with their AirPods permanently glued in their ears, making conversation or interaction almost impossible. Getting a puppy lifted their mood like a sunburst; it’s hard to feel cross with the world when you have a sleeping puppy on your chest.
In September, my eldest son and his girlfriend – who was living with us – contracted Covid-19. We made them isolate in their room as much as possible. One afternoon, I began to feel some discomfort in my big toe – the pain got worse and my foot turned red and black. I had no idea “Covid toe” was a thing until I looked it up, but Sheriff had already noticed; he’d sniffed my toe and given it a lick much earlier in the evening as if to say: ‘Don’t worry, it will be OK.’ By the next day, the pain had receded.
Sheriff has reminded us that, like the cliche, life is best lived in the moment: eat, sleep, steal a sock, repeat.
Graham Smith, 48, Southwick, West Sussex
Milo the rescue cat. Photograph: Annie and Freya Lawrie
‘We rescued him but in the end I think he rescued us’
We sadly lost Mick, my husband and our daughter Freya’s father, to Covid-19 in April. We were devastated and isolated in lockdown. Mick was a huge, larger-than-life character who was always laughing – our house just felt so empty without him. We decided to get a rescue cat as a bit of a distraction from our grief and found Milo at a rescue centre in south Wales. When we got there, we discovered he was the only cat there, surrounded by lots of barking dogs. We decided to adopt him on the spot and took him straight home.
We didn’t think you could train a cat, but Milo has turned out to be very clever and will sit for treats and give his paw on command. He really loves his food and is very vocal when he thinks it’s time to eat: no one told him about the clocks going back so he still thinks breakfast time is 4am.
Milo has certainly kept us entertained and amused during lockdown. He’s been great company and it’s been wonderful to have another energy in the house. He has melted our hearts and gets lots of hugs and attention. Even though we rescued him in the first place, somehow I think it was really him who rescued us.
Annie and Freya Lawrie, Brecon
‘After Mum died, the cat and I cried all the way down the M5’
Dusty … ‘She’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time.’ Photograph: Liz
My mum died at the start of March 2020, just prior to the first lockdown, and we couldn’t find a home for her cat. Despite wanting a cat for years, I’d always put it off as I’m not usually home for most of the day, enjoy my furniture unclawed and live in a built-up area. However, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her at a shelter. So, despite my reservations, I took Dusty home. As the cat and I cried the entire way down the M5, I promised her that nobody would ever leave her again and that I would always look after her. She’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time.
I once thought Dusty was the only cat I couldn’t get along with, but I’ve since found that she loves nothing more than being close to me – and me working from home in the pandemic has really worked in her favour. She’s like a little stress-seeking missile, always arriving when my cortisol level starts to rise. This more than makes up for the claw marks in my beloved sofa and bi-monthly vomit attacks.
Dusty has definitely been a source of comfort and amusement – she’s always doing something to make me laugh and manages to cheer me up when I’m feeling depressed. Having someone who needs you to function in order to be able to look after them helps to provide a sense of structure to the day and motivation to “get on with it”. She’s also helped enhance the relationship between my dad and me by providing a regular talking point, which is lovely. With 2020/21 being the gift that keeps on giving, I anticipate her being a much-needed source of company when my now ex-boyfriend moves out, too.
Liz, 34, Exeter
‘A beast with horns isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they make me smile’
Bill Chilton with Tiree and Cava. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian
I love cows and always wanted one. When my wife, Lisa, and I relocated to Aberdeenshire we found a house we loved that also had a hectare of land with it. On Christmas Eve 2019, I was told to put my wellies on and go outside. There she was, a four-month-old highland cow with a big red bow around her neck, being walked down the track to our house – a gift from Lisa. We called her Tiree.
Cows are very sociable animals and, after a few months, we realised that Tiree was looking a bit lonely, so we bought her half-sister, Cava, during the first few weeks of lockdown. These really are pet cows as the family is all vegetarian.
Cows are very good-natured and friendly souls – inquisitive and intelligent. If you put something in the field, they’re all over it. We had a lot of snow last month and my son Sol, who is 10, built an igloo with me. Within minutes, the cows were there, digging their horns in it like bulldozers. They love being stroked and rubbed under the chin; if they’re lying down and having a siesta, you can go and lie down with them.
They’ve helped us immensely during lockdown – they’re so wonderful to look at and to be around, they really are like therapy cows. I guess that a quarter-tonne beast with horns isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and you definitely wouldn’t let them play on the furniture, but they make me smile. They have a long lifespan – about 20 or 30 years, so I hope they’ll be my retirement pals as well.
The cows are very photogenic, too, and friends and family demand updates if we go too long without sending them pictures. Grass is getting low in the field now but it’s worth it. It’s very funny to be summoned with a deep lowing first thing in the morning.
Bill Chilton, 47, Aberdeenshire
‘Bozo is old, often sick and has poor bladder control but we can’t imagine life without him’
Let sleeping cats lie … Bozo in the garden. Photograph: Maureen Kowles
In early March last year, we went to our son’s one morning to do our weekly childcare for our grandchildren. We usually arrive to find sleepy children eating cereal in a trance, but on that day, there was tension. Our son rushed out, late to work (he’s a primary school headteacher) and our daughter-in-law was in no mood for niceties. As well as the three children, she was dealing with their old cat, who had eaten too quickly and been sick on the sofa for the third time that week. “Do you want us to take him for a couple of weeks?” we said.
Almost a year later, we still have Bozo – a large black-and-white 14-year-old mog – and we really can’t imagine life without him. He is often sick, his bladder control isn’t perfect and he has disgraced himself on a couple of occasions – we’ve had to wash duvet covers and cushions. During the lovely summer, he would sleep out in the garden and we would check on him through the night. Now with the colder weather, he loves the underfloor heating and doesn’t move for hours at a time. We bought him an electric blanket (a small heated pad intended for reptiles) for Christmas, and it’s a hit.
Our grandkids have decided that as much as they miss Bozo, we need him more than they do: with no visiting or entertaining friends or family, our life has shrunk. But we send them lots of pictures. He is a real living thing that needs us, too, and we love having him in our retirement home.
Maureen and Roger Knowles, in their 70s, Bristol
Wooders. Photograph: John Thoo
‘We have a purpose to get up every day and go out, regardless of the weather’
My son is an only child and, at the start of lockdown, he was struggling a lot. He’s an extrovert and loves being around his friends, aunties, grandparents – sometimes his boring old mum and dad are just not fun enough. It was breaking my heart.
My girlfriend is a nurse, so was pretty sure that Covid was going to be around for a while. We didn’t want our son to continue to be so lonely, so decided the time was finally right to get a dog.
Wooders, our little pup, has been a revelation in the family. Not only has he helped with my son, keeping him busy with a “mate” that is always delighted to see him, it’s helped me and my girlfriend, too. Wooders has given me a purpose when I’ve been on and off furlough in my job as a bartender. Walking him has been keeping me fit, and has really helped with my mental health. Before we got Wooders, I was finding myself slipping into a very bad habit of laziness, getting up late, not going to bed at a reasonable time, and allowing my son to fall into those traps, too. Wooders has brought in a routine. We need to be up at certain times, we need to take him for a walk three times a day, regardless of the weather.
Even the social side of having a dog is something I never expected, as I’ve never had one before. I feel part of the community for the first time since having moved to the area – you begin to develop friendships with the walkers you see every day.
The only problem was the barking, for which I profusely apologise to my neighbours, but I’ve booked some online tutorials to train him out of chasing every leaf that blows past the window.
John Thoo, 24, Liverpool
‘The guinea pigs get me out for walks, collecting leaves for them to eat’
Helen Nicolson at home in south Manchester with Snowdrop and Sable. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
Lockdown hit me pretty hard at first. I am no stranger to depression, but before coronavirus, I had created a lifestyle that worked well for me, with plenty of activities that involved being with other people: playing chamber music, playreading, going to see films and concerts. Suddenly, I was cut off from all that.
For the few years before lockdown, I had been a long-distance carer for my father, who lived alone in Cambridge. Sadly he died last March (of old age, at nearly 95), but I was relieved that he didn’t have to live through this weird era, and I haven’t had to worry about him being exposed to the virus. The pandemic meant that what should have been a carefree time to travel and see distant family and friends has instead been lockdown – and the knowledge hanging over me that there is a house waiting to be cleared and difficult decisions about how to honour my father’s memory.
Then a glimmer of an idea popped into my mind: I had had two guinea pigs about 10 years ago, so why not get some again? I collected Sable and Snowdrop on the longest day of 2020. They have helped me hugely: just having two little living beings around, having a reason to speak aloud, hearing them rustling about, squeaking when they hear the fridge door open, having one on my lap while I watch yet another film on my computer. It gives me a real purpose to think about their needs, going for walks in places where I can gather grass, leaves and dandelions for them to eat.
I’m in danger of being a guinea pig bore, as phone calls are often punctuated with a chuckle and a report on their latest antics, and of course my iPad is filling up with photos and videos. My social life also improved as friends came round, when rules permitted, for suitably distanced admiration sessions, too.
Helen Nicolson, 72, Manchester
‘He is the only living creature I’m allowed to hug’
Freddie the kitten. Photograph: Anna
I live alone and, due to having Crohn’s disease, I am immunosuppressed. When the first lockdown happened I realised that, potentially, months lay ahead with nobody to hug and I could feel my oxytocin levels slipping away to critical. And so I decided, cat-pe diem – I bit the bullet and got myself a furry housemate. Freddie moved in at 10 weeks old, and instantly I had a warm, fluffy, purring distraction from the pandemic, my illness and a recent breakup. I loved waking up to him greeting me at my living room door with squeaky miaows at breakfast time.
I’ve suffered from insomnia on and off for 20 years, but suddenly I had a reason to keep to a better schedule (cats, like dogs, like routine) and for the first time in a while, I slept like a log and woke up like clockwork every morning. I get up, put out his breakfast, he eats half, then trots over to me and hops on my knee. I give him a cuddle and a scratch behind the ears then I plonk him down in front of his food to finish his breakfast. It is wonderfully relaxing. He is a confident, affectionate and boisterous little chap – I had to have surgery two weeks ago and when I was recovering at home his sympathy levels towards me were pretty much nonexistent as he still wanted to climb on me.
Even though I am in a support bubble, he is still the only creature I’m allowed to hug and I wouldn’t be without him now.
Anna, 37, Belfast
‘My ex-husband hates cats so having one is a celebration of being my own person again’
Sarah Mo with Kitty. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
My two children, 16 and 11, and I adopted Kitty, a 14-year-old cat, during the first lockdown. I had just gone through a difficult divorce, so adopting Kitty was partly a celebration of being my own person again – my ex-husband hates cats!
I’m surprised at how attached I have become to Kitty. I suffer from complex PTSD and she helps me with my anxiety and gives me a reason to get up and keep going – she doesn’t care if there’s a pandemic, she just wants food and strokes. She’s a constant source of unconditional love. Kitty came to us with a history of stomach issues, which have resulted in some toileting accidents on my yoga mat – she has commandeered it as her own. But despite her habits – and my having to buy a new yoga mat – she has become an indispensable part of our family. She has a wonderfully disdainful personality, which is perfect for my lockdown mood.
Sarah Mo, 51, London