Westminster Community Finds Comfort Through Pandemic Pets

Luke and his poodle Theo

April 9, 2021

Westminster College has always been a place where if you need a puppy fix, a furry belly is not difficult to find. From Political Puppy rallies to the Westminster Mutt Show, campus is no stranger to canines, felines, and even the occasional llama. The COVID-19 global pandemic cut off many opportunities for socializing. As a result, Westminster welcomed more animal companions into our community.

“When my family had to cancel our spring and summer plans due to the pandemic, we were left with an unusual amount of time at home,” says Luke Kaschmitter, a first-year student studying business in the Honors College. “Considering the amount of time and effort training a puppy takes, there really was no better time to bring in another puppy to the family.”

Luke’s family already had 10-year-old Nellie when the pandemic began. He encouraged his family to get Theo, an adorable poodle puppy.

Dogs Theo and Nellie

“Theo and Nellie have been some of the most fantastic sources of stability during the pandemic. Their loyalty and willingness to get outside to hike in the mountains really helped me and my family stay active,” Luke says.

Master of Strategic Communication student and 2018 alum Casie Peterson brought a cat into her pod. “My pandemic pet is Ghost. He is an 8-month-old, cuddly sphynx kitten with a huge personality,” describes Casie. “Ghost is leash and backpack trained so he loves going out and exploring the city and hiking in nature.”

Ghost the cat

During isolation, pets got many people outside and active. Westminster Counseling Center director, Erin Gibson, says Westminster’s pandemic pet surge is a sign of our community seeking wellness in a time of uncertainty.

“Pets can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship. They can also boost confidence in individuals who experience social anxiety. Playing with a pet brings joy and connection,” says Erin, who speaks from experience after adopting two puppies during the pandemic.

“The constant companionship has been an amazing benefit,” Casie says. “COVID had a plethora of mental and emotional challenges for me but knowing I have Ghost’s unconditional love and support is comforting and a good reminder that all is well. Being able to get out and play with him every day makes the world feel lighter and brighter.”

Erin says pets offer many health benefits. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels.  Increased exercise also has a general positive impact on mental wellbeing and emotional regulation.

pandemic puppies sleeping

As the pandemic improves there might be a few negatives to spending so much time with pets over the past year. Salt Lake County Animal Services is encouraging people to know the signs of separation anxiety in their pets.

“As people start working in-office and learning in-person more, they need to prepare their pets for more alone time,” warns Callista Pearson (MACL ’13), communications manager for Salt Lake County Animal Services. “Start slowly introducing work-day routines into life now to ease the transition.”

 “One of the biggest pros of getting Theo during the pandemic was the amount of free time we had to spend with him and train him,” Luke says. “Coincidentally, being able to be with Theo nearly all day every day happens to be one of the biggest cons of getting him during the pandemic because he has become a bit clingy. He puts on the most heartbreaking puppy dog face every time I leave.”

Animal Services recommends practicing short departures, exercising your pet before you leave, and making sure they have a safe space while you are gone. Preparing your pets now will relieve stress for them and you—extending all the benefits pets bring well after the pandemic.

pandemic dogs hiking
Dog standing on lake shore