Gretchen M. Michelfeld
With some adorable exceptions, most of us do not bring our pets to work. We were used to coming home at the end of a long day to a cat clamoring to be fed or a dog dancing ecstatically at our return. The sudden change in work culture throughout the Tri-Institutional community has served to expand the work environment through videoconferencing (I just discovered that one of my bosses loves Monet and another likes antique cameras). At the same time, it’s hard to be trapped inside all day. We go a little stir crazy. And now we spend the whole day with our crazy pets, as well!
I interviewed members of the community to see just how working at home with pets is impacting their daily working lives:
“Yogi has definitely made it easier for me,” said Joyce Ng of the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration. “He is my emotional support pup in these uncertain times.” Yogi is Ng’s twelve year old Pomeranian, who is very happy to have her home with him all day. However, “He has definitely become more attached and needy.”
According to Adam Collier of the Leibowitz Lab, Yogi would appear to be the opposite of his cat Zelda.
“Zelda is an independent lady, so I always appreciate it when she lets me pet her,” Collier explained. “I think she is difficult to impress, but my talk of zebrafish piques her interest. At first, she seemed pretty confused with me being home all day and wondered why I’m in her house so much, but I think she has slowly gotten used to the idea of sharing her space with me.”
My own cat, Cleo, starts driving me crazy in the late afternoon.
Something about the way the late-day sun creates shadows right above my desk makes her bounce off the walls, and she insists on having her supper much earlier than she would normally get it when I’m out of the apartment all day. Collier says Zelda has never really been motivated by food or treats—just catnip. Cleo definitely does not need catnip! But in these difficult times, there is nothing like a purring little furball in my lap to calm my frayed nerves. Cleo is usually excellent company.
Anna Amelianchik of the Strickland Lab feels the same way about her cat, Mila.
“Mila has been in our family for nearly eleven years,” Amelianchik explained to me over email. “Last year, I brought her with me from Russia, and despite the many challenges of caring for a pet, she has been a source of great comfort because she is the only family I have around. She is not exactly needy or cuddly like other cats, but when I am visibly upset or very ill, she sits next to me looking all concerned. And in trying times like these, what else do you need other than knowing that someone cares for your well-being?”
Unlike Cleo, Mila makes Amelianchik’s apartment a peaceful place to work.
“Mila makes it much easier to be isolated alone in a tiny studio apartment. She doesn’t tend to disturb me much when I work, but a few times a day she wakes up from a nap and comes to me asking for pets. It always makes me smile, but also gives me a chance to unpeel my eyes from the screen and let them rest before returning to work.”
Isolating alone can be very lonely, but quarantining with other people presents a whole other set of challenges. The first few days that I was trying to both work from home and help my eleven year old son, Beckett with online schooling, we both got very frustrated. But by the end of the first week, Cleo helped him calm down and focus. Now it’s comforting to see him casually snuggling with her while he logs onto Google Classroom or reads a novel for his English Language Arts class. It’s good for both of our stress levels, and I get a lot more work done.
The Rout Lab’s Natalia Ketaren finds her cat, Little Kitty, to be a stress reliever as well, but her home sometimes has the same challenges that ours does!
“Little Kitty is definitely a stress reliever,” said Ketaren. “Pets are a calming presence and ours makes us laugh. She breaks up the work day. However, at times she goes completely wild and does circuits around the apartment. You have to put away your cups of tea or coffee to protect the electronics!”
What does Little Kitty think of Ketaren’s work?
“She sees my notebooks and papers as a bed. My laptop is both a bed and a chin scratcher. My pens are her toys. She often likes to be the center of attention. However, she will self-isolate somewhere where we can’t reach her to get some uninterrupted nap time.”
I think all of us working from home are pretty jealous of Little Kitty’s opportunities for uninterrupted nap time! We’ll just have to keep plugging away and make the best of a very strange situation. The thing is, our animals know nothing of this scary pandemic. They remind us of life’s simpler concerns and rewards.