The Zoom app sent me its first ping on a bright, early morning in the spring of 2020.
The software had just been installed on my computer, as emails flew back and forth between my work team.
All the noise startled my cat, Clifford, who had grown used to the quietness that prevailed in the house since my partner and I had been confined indoors; the world outside slowly coming to terms with the magnitude of what was unfolding.
We adopted Clifford a few months before the pandemic. He was only seven weeks old, malnourished and ridden with fleas. He fit easily inside a shoe and would climb in often, looking for the comfort of his mother, who abandoned him far too early in his life.
A scrawny little tuxedo, Clifford completely changed our household within hours of his arrival. We were, you could say, smitten with the kitten.
Will we struggle without our pets?
Soon after welcoming Clifford to our home, we started preparing for another cat. My partner and I had busy work lives and wished for Clifford to have company during the long afternoons when we were both at the office.
One can’t help but dwell on the benefits of being surrounded by pets, particularly at a time where all still feels so volatile
We filled in application after application to adopt another cat and nothing quite worked out. By the time we got Oliver, a tiny ball of fluff with bright blue eyes, we had been in lockdown for an entire three months.
Denied the pleasures of socialisation and exhausted from the never-ending grief of the pandemic, my partner and I found joy in watching Cliffy and Ollie get acquainted with one another. We jumped at Clifford’s first hiss and rejoiced at their first joint grooming session.
When I returned to work after a few weeks on furlough, the boys, as we began to call them, would take long naps by my improvised at-home office, the sun shining on their coats while they purred and grumbled.
As many people return to some form of routine, semi-retiring the pile of secondhand office gear they bought in a panic at the announcement of a national lockdown, much has been said about how hard it will be for pets to cope with the sudden absence of their owners after two years of constant companionship. Little has been said, however, of the opposite scenario: the many who will now have to readapt to long stretches away from their pets.
Interacting with animals breaks up the work day
All things considered, this is not the most pressing of current issues, but one can’t help but dwell on the benefits of being surrounded by pets, particularly at a time where all still feels so volatile. I am lucky – I’ve adopted a hybrid work model and am only away from home once or twice a week.
Yet, on those days where I leave before sunrise, I miss the company of my cats. I miss being able to turn to pet them gently when things get a bit too overwhelming. I miss the calming rhythms of their breathing and the soothing, husky sounds of their purring.
Most of all, I miss the short intervals the cats naturally demand of me – brief pauses for feeding, scratching, cleaning. Breaks that allow my mind to take a step back from the outpouring of notifications, and my body to move and stretch.
Having to care for two little creatures means no two days are the same, and the unexpected small joys brought by watching the cats go about their lives – pushing objects off tables and bopping their noses against the windows as birds fly by – are a highly-addictive tonic.
Should offices be more pet-friendly?
Research supports the notion that working near pets is greatly beneficial and leads to a better work-life balance, with a recent study from the University of York finding that pets decrease feelings of loneliness and help maintain a healthier lifestyle.
There is little to do but wait and see how companies will adapt to this growing need for the emotional support offered by pets
With more and more people getting pets for emotional support during the pandemic, publications such as Time Magazine and The Guardian have raised the question of whether or not work environments should become more pet-friendly. Flexible working has become a priority for those looking for a new job.
There is little to do but wait and see how companies will adapt to this growing need for the emotional support offered by pets. Until then, I shall make the most of every moment shared with the boys, every awkward Zoom call disrupted by their big whiskers curiously inspecting the camera, and every lunchtime made chaotic by their incessant need to sniff every single thing out of the fridge.
As I write these final words, Clifford is by my side, his big green eyes following the fingers tapping on keys and, as we share complicit glances, I simply can’t think of a better arrangement.
Rafa Sales Ross is a writer from Aberdeen