October 7, 2020

DELGADO | Caring for an Animal Can Help You Get Through the Pandemic

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College students around the country have been tucked away at home for months, following social distancing protocols — hopefully — and coping with less personable, virtual instruction. You may be wondering how much more shall we need to endure before returning to a normal societal agenda. Being at home illustrates an opaque picture for many acclimating to life with Mom and co: family responsibilities, financial struggle and the inability to socialize, to name a few. It is hard to keep sane when constantly surrounded by the same four walls, but during my time at home, I have found one particular activity that has kept me motivated and in high spirits.

As a kid, I always had an affinity for pet companions; growing up with parakeets, felines and canines gave me warmth. Growing up in lower-end Buffalo, I never had much opportunity to venture far out of my neighborhood. Fortunately, my household pets gave me more than enough opportunity to not feel super left out.

In Atul Gwande’s Being Mortal, he illustrates a moment in which he visited a nursing home, where many of their residents were fatigued with ritual activities that never seemed to spark any motivation. The only item related to life were faux plants, placed awkwardly in each of the residents’ rooms. Realizing a lack of liveliness may be an issue, Gwande spoke to the director of the nursery to plan something daring: the integration of live animals and plants into the nursing home. After months of debate, the director of the establishment allowed animal visits, including that of sheep, chickens, and other farm animals. At that moment, the nursing home became “ecstatic and lively,” teeming with elders — once hopeless — finally excited to be where they were.

Of course, us college students are not in nursing homes, but a similar ideology applies. Having the last few months to develop differently habitual activities, I have substantially developed behaviors I would never have had the chance to during a regular academic year at Cornell. Students — especially those attending within the Ivy League — believe that every second has to be spent in academia, with little or no time for reflection and hobbies. As our good friend, Ferris Bueller, once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you’ll miss it.”

Attempting to abide by the wise words of Philosopher Bueller, I decided to conduct some research of my own. A study directed by a team of medical professionals found that regular maintenance of a fish tank is directly associated with lower blood pressure and heart rates. Thus, a friend of mine and I decided to purchase a betta fish — later named Porkbun — from our local PetSmart.

First and foremost, caring for a living creature like Porkbun at home comes with its responsibilities. Given that nobody else has time to take care of the creatures in the home, I am tasked to keep everything healthy and accounted for. Although caring for these creatures seems rather simple, it is more time consuming than one might think. Whether it be discovering my cockapoo’s favorite scratch spot or learning when Porkbun eats best, becoming aware of my pets’ behaviors led to better relationships in my home and better mental health for me.

Secondly, building and designing my fish tank gave me an outlet for my creativity. The coloration of neon gravel sitting transforms the vividness of the environment. The lush, green moss balls that sit atop of the water, along with the various bottom feeders swimming around the 12-gallon cylindrical home, have created an exceptional amount of movement—an oasis for me to observe.

Lastly, simply having the chance to analyze the behavior of Porkbun has been amusing. Porkbun often finds himself hanging out at the top of the tank or laying down on some foliage provided by the plants. His coloration of cyan, pomegranate red and fuchsia provides an exotic look that mesmerizes any pair of eyes lay upon him. Porkbun — unlike many male Bettas — tends to shy away from altercations with tankmates. Sometimes, he will even nestle himself next to a snail or ghost shrimp after feeding, demonstrating his unusually calm nature.

If you’ve ever been lacking the energetic spark to get through your days, investing in live organisms and analyzing their behavioral patterns may deliver happier moments. Being responsible for my plants and pets, I realize that they depend solely on my assistance. Although my PetSmart companion is valued merely at $15, the lessons and happiness derived from caring for him are invaluable. At the end of the day, caring for someone else will bring about three things: empathy, responsibility and a life worth living.

Canaan Delgado is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at cdelgado@cornellsun.com. ¿Que pasa? runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.