During this time of mandatory quarantine, the feelings of isolation can be overwhelming and debilitating. Organizations such as the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County have taken steps to ensure their participants are well-connected, but a surprising alternative to human contact has been the participant’s four-legged friends.
Carolyn Quinn, 32, of Galloway Township, has been a group facilitator with the MHAAC for more than seven years. She said pets have become a regular sit-in on their Zoom calls and offer her clients support and a sense of purpose.
“One of the groups I facilitate each week is about wellness tools — things we can do to feel better or stay well,” she said. “Pets come up during each group, including my own dog, Bo. Bo has made appearances during multiple groups and group members often get so excited to talk to him. Once Bo’s tail starts wagging, a peace seems to be brought over everyone, myself included.”
“Lots of our group members have also been able to share their pets — dogs, cats, rabbits,” Quinn added. “If we were meeting in person we wouldn’t have been able to see each member's home, and pets! The pets are bringing a more intimate supportive connection to the group.”
AJ Frieze, 24, of Galloway Township, has a 4-year-old pet cockapoo named Nova. Frieze has been taking part in the programs the MHAAC offers since December. She said having Nova has greatly helped her during this time of isolation, and she likes to join her on Zoom calls during her classes.
“She has helped me tremendously by getting me out of the house to walk,” Frieze said. “She's someone to talk to and she never leaves my side, so I'm always relaxed because I can pet her and get kisses.”
Bryan Shimmin, 34, of Galloway Township, has been a member of the MHAAC for about three years. His Boston terrier, Ziggy, has provided some laughs during quarantine.
“He gets into play stance when I have a plastic bag or snap my pants, and he attacks the vacuum and brooms and rakes,” Shimmin explained.
Ziggy also helps to keep Shimmin active.
“He helps because I walk him almost every day, and he keeps me company and loves to play,” he said.
Frieze’s dog Nova has provided some quality entertainment too.
“We learned that she's very OCD because of all the packages we've been ordering,” Frieze said. “Whenever we get them and leave them on the table, she's not happy and will bark at the packages until they are put away and out of sight.”
During this time of isolation, Quinn sees the value in what the MHAAC continues to offer.
“We (MHAAC) are working very hard to continue to provide support, education and advocacy to our community during COVID-19," she said. "I am proud that MHAAC is offering more groups virtually than we were in person due to logistics, need and convenience."
For more information on MHAAC online classes and programs, see MHAAC.info.