Millions have found solace during the pandemic in the embrace of a dog or cat. For some, comfort comes in other forms – like a horse or pig, perhaps an opossum-like glider or even a tarantula.
Skeptics say the animals are often abandoned by drowning owners less dedicated than Alvarez — who herself advises potential owners — or suffer at the hands of people unprepared for the special behaviors, diets, and needs of a tree-dwelling nocturnal creature that can glide 50 yards (meters) when be free. Some places, including California and New York City, ban them as pets.
Argentine veterinarian Adrian Beta, who specializes in unconventional pets, said he has seen hundreds of animals during the past 18 months of the epidemic – pigs, rabbits, birds, ferrets, geckos and the like.
“A lot of people have felt lonely and looked for pets, or they are tired of TV and computers and need more romantic relationships,” he said. Even with those who show no emotion, “people can feed them and feel like someone needs them or something.”
Such is the case for Osvaldo Negri, a 50-year-old nurse.
Negri said he started raising spiders to overcome his arachnophobia, and is now 60 years old. He said caring for him at the time helped him deal with hospital work in the midst of COVID-19, and “disconnected” spiders while watching and occasionally touching spiders, feeding them crickets.
“I focus on having to move slowly because if they get scared, they can fall” and could die, he said, showing in the palm of his hand a colorful and somewhat poisonous Mexican tarantula.
As with gliders, choosing a pet can be controversial. The Brachypelma smithi tarantula which he displayed has been listed as a “Near Threatened” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature,
But the trade in similar arachnids has helped push 21 other species to its official list of threatened and endangered species.
For Solana Pesca, companionship comes with bright-eyed rats Regue and Brama, who scratch their cage when they see her entering the door of her small Buenos Aires apartment.
“They understand what you’re feeling, and they’re looking for you,” said Solis, who works in an animal lab.
South of Buenos Aires, in the town of Tandil, 77-year-old Alberto Castro spent most of his time in Hogar San Jose, a home for the elderly, sitting in a chair.
That changed in March of last year, when the epidemic began to unfold, when a domestic worker, Alejandro Moreno Huyo, brought a horse named Coco.
Castro took care of the horse, which had arrived in poor condition.
“It changed my life. I care about him, he looks for me and when I get close, he hums. As long as I’m there, nothing will happen to that,” he said.