• Brittany Gerris

PET SEPARATION ANXIETY AND SELF ISOLATION

While we’re all stuck at home trying to entertain ourselves, work remotely, keep the kids entertained, sanitize our hands – and everything else multiple times a day – there’s another member of the family that you may not be considering during the current Covid-19 crisis: our furry friends.

It isn’t just people who are having a hard time; our pets feel it too. Have you noticed when you’re sad that you feel a lick on your hand or fluffy shoving her head under your arm? They want to protect us, make sure we’re feeling okay and just be with us in general. And that’s great right now because we’re going through a lot and their support means the world to us, but it also comes at a cost. When we’re stuck at home, our pets get used to it and come to rely on it.

What happens when things go back to some kind of “normal” and we return to making our daily commute into the office? What happens when the kids go back to school? Separation anxiety is a common problem for pets, and we have to keep in mind that we’ll need to ween them off seeing us all day every day, otherwise they could become depressed.

I’m going to use my fur baby as an example. Khione is a rescue dog and she had some tough times before I adopted her. I don’t know the full story, but she is still terrified of men and tolerates women, so she became very attached to me as a puppy. When I went to work or even just grocery shopping, she would howl like a wolf from her kennel. As she got older, I started letting her out to sleep with me at night, then on short 15-minute trips until she could be in the house alone and not get into trouble, but those first months were bad. She managed to destroy her bed (twice), her stuffed elephant, a small blanket, and two towels that I gave her for her kennel. Beyond that, she also pulled into her kennel: my housecoat, a comforter, a pair of pajamas, a pillow, and a bag of stuffing (that was fun to clean up). Maybe it was the kennel, maybe it was boredom or simply puppy antics; however, I think she was just angry that her new human protector left her.

Khione is still very attached to me, and now my boyfriend as well. When we leave, she whines a bit, but she doesn’t howl anymore. In preparation for when I go back to teaching, we try to leave her alone in the house for a while each day, out in the backyard, or even in the bedroom with the door closed for an hour or so in the afternoon. I know she’s in there sleeping because that’s what she does all day, but it’s her “alone time”. The point is that we’re trying to ensure she doesn’t spend every moment of every day with us, so she doesn’t freak out when life goes back to “normal”.

While it may not be possible for everyone to separate themselves from the family pets for a few hours each day, many pet experts have already been on the news advising pet owners of the potential separation anxiety for our pets. Rescue animals especially seem to form a special bond with their new human saviours and they may put up a fight when you try to leave them. City News (1:50 mark) reports that dogs could start howling, pacing, or barking more due to anxiety. They suggest planning to leave your pet alone for a while, so the shock doesn’t hit so hard. Start with 20 minutes and work up to longer times that you’re away.

An animal rescue worker, Rory O’Neill, from Alberta put it nicely, telling CTV News, “When they [pet owners] go back to work, it could be upsetting to the dog because it’s a pack animal, it wouldn’t be used to be suddenly by itself.” She’s specifically talking about recently adopted rescue animals here, but the same can be said for all animals. They love us and want to be with us, so when we’re not there, they get lonely. Let’s not make it worse on them by spoiling them with non-stop affection, then taking it away all at once.

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