Writing Challenge Day 17: Pets on Zoom

What is it with pets and video calls? They just seem to know when the camera is on, and they aren't shy. Let's talk about how this seemingly frustrating distraction could be a saving grace during this tumultuous time.

You don't have to be a pet lover to understand the value pets have brought to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Yes, they can bark loud enough to cause feedback on those new speakers you bought—at times, they can bark the thoughts right out of your mind—and they have a knack of crawling on your head just when you were about to ask for project funding. I've pondered the idea they might even be in cahoots with Amazon, UPS, and FedEx, so together, they can maximize the disruptions at the most inopportune moments of your workday. I'm sure you can come up with many examples with your pets or those that show up on your colleagues' video.

This article isn’t about turning you into a pet lover (although, seriously, what are you waiting for?). It’s about taking a different perspective when you encounter those furry companions during the workday, especially if they’re someone else's pet. The benefit I've experienced is tenfold any short-term disruption my pets or my coworkers' pets could’ve caused.

I'm a simple guy, and I’ll tell you without a doubt, my pets have brought more joy to my life than I can explain. They’ve helped me cope with stress countless times, and now they’ve become part of the work experience. I believe with the right attitude, our furry companions can make our confinement to our home offices a little more pleasant, a little more interesting, and just a tad healthier. The impact can be the same for both pet lovers and—if they’re really out there—those who aren’t big fans of our furry friends.

Seeing, hearing, and experiencing our coworkers' pets during a call helps you learn a little more about the person you're engaging with, and the better we know someone, the better we can work with them. I'll be the first to admit it (and even if you don't, I know you do, too), I love getting a small glimpse into my coworkers' homes. Just seeing books on a shelf, pictures on a desk or wall, or color choices can provide insight into who you've been working with, and this is an awesome way to get a deeper connection with them. It’s much the same when their pets are part of this landscape. In addition to pets being an extension of who we are, they’re so damn cute, even the ugly ones. They have nothing but love in their hearts, and even though they can be mildly disruptive, I question whether anyone doesn't have a little smile on their face when they see pets trying to get some love from their owner in the middle of a meeting.

When we first started spinning up video call after video call, I was initially mortified my dogs would be a considerable disruption. Still, even when the FedEx truck would show up, my Ring doorbell would go off, and the dogs would want to greet them with a loud cheer, it wasn't that bad, and it gave us a moment to talk about our furry friends. We took a moment to share a few short stories, and it was a great way to start a meeting. Sometimes, it provided sorely needed comic relief.

What do the professional say? Pets can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions. For Better Mental Health, Experience the Pet Effect—Mental Health America. I don't know about you, but since our professional world is now viewed through a laptop screen or monitor, limited to where we go and what we do, I suggest we all need a massive dose of the Pet Effect. A report in Psychology Today stated pets could improve mental health during COVID lockdowns. The report said 70% of the 4,000 dog owners they surveyed agreed their pets helped them cope with the pandemic's loneliness and depression. They had me at hello, but we’re on our fourth generation of pets since we've been married, so we didn't need a pandemic to understand our furry family members' medicinal value.

I've laughed and have almost been brought to tears by some of the stories I've heard about my coworkers' pets. It’s brought me closer to them, and I believe it’s improved our working relationships. If you lose a few minutes during a call, no problem; the juice is most definitely worth the squeeze (sorry, I've always wanted to use that phrase).

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Top Row: Cleo, Crosby (R.I.P.). Bottom Row: Harley, Dianna, and Spock.

So the next time you see Harley, Cleo, Spock, or Dianna in the corner of the Zoom call you’re on, give us a pass. Give your coworkers a pass and take a moment to let them brag on their pets. Let them tell you something about how special they are, and reciprocate with your own stories. If you don't have a pet, don't worry. There’s still time, but hurry up—pet adoptions and sales are soaring during the pandemic. I wonder why.

Anonymous
  • My dog has been one of my great challenges this year, and has made many appearances on video calls. I have a wide-angle lensed camera, so my entire office is pretty much on display for meetings. Whether she is just shoving toys at me to throw, shoving her way halfway onto my lap for attention, or just running around in the background - she makes herself known. My other visitor is often my son, but he works very hard to stay off camera (he's shy).

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     Don't let this picture fool you, she is the kindest (and yet most destructive) dog I have ever had.

  • Dogs barking to be let out, dogs barking to be let in, cats that walk across the keyboard and hang up the call. All this and more has happened during the last 9 months. While my groups has never been shy about talking about our pets before, we now get to experience them. The most astounding thing is the noises that some of the birds make. If you think dogs barking is annoying wait until you experience a coworkers parrot or cockatoo constantly squawking. Now that is some background noise.

    Here is one of my coworkers many cats. His wife's degree is in anthropology so taxidermy is a thing in their house. We had to ask him why he kept a cat head on his desk.

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  • Provided the pets are mature enough to not destroy the house when you're not paying them attention, and well-trained enough to "do their business" in the appropriate places, or at least give you enough warning to put them on a rope, let them outside, or give them access to the litter box--before making a mess, all is well.

    The rest is simple space management, keeping the animals out of where they'll cause trouble, and training them to be alone without you while you're in the home.  Yes, easier said than done, I know.

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  • My dog doesn't try often to get on camera but every once in awhile she try's and never gives up. It is cute but also very distracting. 

  • We had friends who had an adorable Norwich. My wife prevailed on me to let her have the dog over for a couple of nights while our friends were out of town. Kacy (the pooch) loved it -- stretched its little body out so that my wife couldn't find room to sleep. She had to move the dog a couple of times during the night. I still felt the aftereffects for a few days after Kacy went back home.

    In other words, the allergies are pretty bad.