English in the Time of the Pandemic 3 – Animals and fake news

My best friend has four legs

Welcome to English in the Time of the Pandemic #3

Today we are looking at animals in the time of the pandemic. Pets are a great source of comfort, especially for those who live alone. More so today. There are reports of wild animals roaming the near empty streets. Some of these reports and true, are some are just fake news.

One of our teachers, Benedicte, says reports about dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice might sound wonderful and inspiring, but are in fact, simply not true. You can read her report below. There are plenty of vocabulary exercises to work on. We’ve also given you a writing exercise.

Young children and parents can join Sarah and Duck to find games to play around the house.

And finally, wash your hands regularly. This is how you do it:


Animals and fake news

(upper intermediate to advanced B2-C2) See vocabulary exercises below

I have two cats, Billie and Tigra. I love them dearly. As soon as I heard about the forced confinement in France, I went to the supermarket to stock up on cat food and cat litter (you know, the material used for their, er, toilet). I really was worried for my protégés. I found cat food but no litter. People had bought all of it. As they did the toilet paper. It seems we have toilet-anxiety, either about ourselves or about our pets.

Normally, animals do not catch the new coronavirus. But they are experiencing the crisis in different ways. Some domestic animals or pets, such as cats and dogs have been abandoned by their terrified owners – this happened a lot in China. On the other hand, some people are adopting pets at the moment, as seen in Australia. And then there’s dog walking; according to Garry in Geneva, neighbours and friends are are volunteering to take dogs for a walk, so they have an excuse to go out. These dogs have never walked so much!

Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist in the U.S. says the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads only from humans to humans. However, she tells Science Mag, if you are sick, you should not touch your pets. In fact, many experts recommend that you wash your hands before and after you caress your dog or cat. The more hand-washing, the better. This dog in Hong Kong reportedly got sick after his owner got sick. This is a rare case. You can read Dr. Rankin’s recommendations here.

Wild animals are surely going through their own experiences. We will know more about that in hindsight. But in the meantime, many fake stories are making the rounds on social media. For example, there is a story about elephants in China getting drunk and falling asleep in a vineyard. Or dolphins roaming the canals of Venice. Among the true stories, The Guardian reported on Sunday that some wild animals are starting to visit cities and beaches: for example, in Nara, Japan, deer wandered through city streets and subway stations. Raccoons were seen on the beach in San Felipe, Panama. And turkeys have been walking around in Oakland, California.

Posting these kinds of fake stories and getting lots of feedback from the readers makes us feel good, Erin Vogel, a social psychologist, told National Geographic. “In times when we’re all really lonely, it’s tempting to hold onto that feeling, especially if we’re posting something that gives people a lot of hope,” she says. The idea that animals and nature could actually flourish during this crisis “could help give us a sense of meaning and purpose—that we went through this for a reason.”


        Tigra (left) and Billie

Tell us about your pets in the pandemic

What about your pets? Are they helping you? Have you heard of any animal-related stories, true or fake? Send us your pet’s story, or tell us about a true or fake story you have heard (maximum 100 words)! Use as many new words, from this text or other, as possible. The best ones will be published in this blog. You can write your story in the comment section below or send it to [email protected]


Vocabulary exercises: Match the words with their definitions


  1. Reportedly:       a. someone who owns / has something.
  2. Grateful:            b. to not lose something
  3. Hindsight:         c. feeling that you want to thank someone because they have given you something or have done something for you.
  4. Owner:               d. to gradually affect or cover a larger area.
  5. Hold on to s/t:   e. used for showing that you are not certain that something you are reporting is true.
  6. Spread:               g. the opportunity to judge or understand past events using knowledge that you have gained since then.


Answer key:

1: e   2: c   3: g   4: a   5: b   6: d



  1. Roam:                              h. during the time between two events or between the present time and a future event.
  2. Do/make the rounds:     i. a story that is presented as being a genuine item of news but is in fact not true and is intended to deceive people.
  3. Brawl:                               j. to be passed from one person to another.
  4. In the meantime:            k. a farm that grows grapes and produces wine
  5. Fake news:                       l. to move or travel with no particular purpose.
  6. Vineyard:                         m. to fight in a noisy way, especially in a public place.


Answer key:

7: l    8: j   9: m   10: h   11: i   12: k 



  1. Flourish:                  n. to prove that something such as an idea or belief is false and silly
  2. Purpose:                  o. to put writing or images online where other people can see them.
  3. Go through s/t:      p. comments about how well or how badly someone is doing something, which are intended to help them do it better.
  4. Debunk:                  q. to grow well and be healthy.
  5. Feedback:               r. the aim that someone wants to achieve, or that something is intended to achieve.
  6. Post:                        s. to experience something difficult or unpleasant.


Answer key:

13: q   14: r   15: s   16: n   18: o   17: p


For parents and young kids:

 Sarah and Duck

Sarah and Duck find games to play at home. It’s an interactive game from www.cbeebies.com from the BBC. Enjoy!

Play with Sarah and Duck here


English in the Time of the Pandemic

We (The Language House team) will publish regular articles, exercises and advice for those who want to improve and practise their English communication skills. The content will range from A2 level (pre-intermediate) through to C2 level (high-advanced), for those of you who like a challenge. We will cover general and professional English communication skills. Choose the level that is right for you. We’ll try and offer something for all the family.

We welcome your feedback and we will do our best to respond to your “homework” and feedback. The email address for all correspondence is [email protected]. You can also leave your comments and questions below.

If you wish to subscribe to English in the time of the Pandemic, please add your email address on the right-hand column of this blog under abbonez vous.

Best wishes from:

Benedicte (Tigra and Billie), Garry and Sian and Uma, the four-legged neurologue sitting on the park bench in the photo above.


Garry Littman

Garry Littman est le fondateur de The Language House à Genève. The Language House propose des coachings d'anglais à Genève pour les particuliers et les entreprises, ainsi que des cours intensifs d'anglais dans les pays anglophones. Garry a été journaliste en Australie et en Asie, il a travaillé pour World Radio Switzerland.

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