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Some of my best friends during the pandemic are real animals

By Matthew Prichard | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-08-04 07:33
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You see them in numerous social media posts. You've probably seen more of them since COVID-19 brought quarantines, social distancing, isolation, loneliness and far worse for some of us.

They are our furry or feathered, but nevertheless, faithful companions who have stuck with us through it all. Electronic images we share of them cross the globe, providing comfort to humans everywhere.

The pandemic has amplified this trend as we gush about a new "buddy" in our lives or collectively mourn the passing of a companion who has crossed the "rainbow bridge" to pet heaven.

I had cats and dogs growing upand birds, snakes, fish, a guinea pig and turtles, too-but I kind of evolved into more of a "cat person".My wife Dee is more of a "dog person".

But we both love animals, so there's no conflict. This year, we find ourselves separated, in different countries, with travel difficult or impossible. My constant companion at home is now a black-and-white shorthair cat named Mei Mei, or "Little Sister", who has been with us for seven years.

We got her as a tiny kitten, the only female in the litter of a market cat named Mimi, who was owned by Jian, a kind merchant on Wulumuqi Lu in Shanghai. Jian is known as the "Avocado Lady" and beloved by expats for carrying hard-to-find foods from around the world.

The tiny female kitten was being pushed away from her mother's milk by her bigger brothers. When we got her, she weakly lapped up the milk formula we fed her for the first few days from the palms of our hands.

I always call Mei Mei the Shanghai market kitty who grew up to move to the capital, and, indeed, she did. She is a talker with a brassy personality who sits on her "cat tree" on our glassed-in balcony to survey her domain. There are usually several dark red marks on my forearm where her claws have drawn blood while she was playing with me. I don't mind.

Dee, my wife, who is in Panama, now has a cat and a dog that she inherited at the house where she's staying.

Friday, a sleek black cat that Dee named on Black Friday, the marketing holiday, is a sweet kitty that loves hugs and kisses, but is a fierce warrior who has no fear of the snakes or crabs she finds in the yard. Taco the Beach Dog is a typical friendly mutt that loves nothing better than for Dee to take her for a dip in the Pacific Ocean.

While the pandemic is mostly under control in China, despite some small outbreaks, Friday and Taco have been a great comfort to Dee as Panama, like many countries, continues to go through stages of quarantine and travel limitations to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Dee tries to bring other stray neighborhood dogs into the fold. Her latest project is a skinny young dog, black with white feet, that she has named Miss Scout after a character in the classic Harper Lee novel and movie To Kill a Mockingbird. I can't object-Dee's big heart is one of the things I love the most about her. Miss Scout is still skittish but Dee won't give up.

We hope to see each other before too long, but for now, we share the antics of our respective furry companions when we talk on WeChat each night. It's not like being there in person, but it helps.

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