My article for the last newsletter was about keeping your pets, yourselves, and your children safely occupied during the “stay at home” order. Here we are now already very cautiously starting to emerge from that, but still faced with SARS-CoV-2 in the community.
We’ve all survived the shutdown, and now, after figuring out how to get a bit of work and schooling done from home, some of us are being asked to be back at work in person. This could be about as big of a transition as the previous one was, no matter how welcome. Pets will have even bigger adjustments to negotiate than they usually do in September, when children all of a sudden disappear each day. If they’ve been accustomed to one or more adults, plus or minus children, keeping them company and interacting with them, they may “act out” with some separation anxiety signs. Those new fosters, new adoptees, or kittens and puppies who have never spent a day alone, let alone multiple days, may be affected the most.
My advice for weathering these changes is to change as little as possible. Keep a consistent schedule: Get up, feed breakfast, have a little playtime or a morning walk, etc., before the house empties out. Also be prepared with items to keep your pet occupied for a while after you head out the door, such as a Kong toy stuffed with something yummy (freeze it so it takes longer to get through), or a catnip mouse stored overnight in a jar or bag with fresh catnip so the scent is fresh. Rotate toys rather than leaving half a dozen out at all times: Make two or three available for several days, then trade out one or two of these for one or two of the old favorites you’ve sequestered. Suddenly it’s like having a new toy or reacquainting with an old familiar friend that was missed. It is important to note that some dogs and cats, like some children, just cannot be separated from their one super-favorite comfort object. You’ll know it, or it will become very clear, so don’t try to take these away.
When you return home, a nice calm greeting and then maybe a very brief play or petting/grooming session is in order. Then, do whatever it is you need to do after work/school (change clothes, start dinner, etc.) before you engage in vigorous play or a long walk: Over-exuberant greetings tend to reinforce separation anxiety issues.
Let’s not forget that it is summer. Most dogs love to go everywhere they are allowed with us (and of course places they aren’t allowed, too), but think hard before loading them into the car: A car parked in pleasant 70-degree weather will be 19 degrees higher inside within 10 minutes. After another 10 minutes, it is yet another 10 degrees higher. Even my brief shopping trips take me away from the car for 15-20 minutes, especially with 6-foot distancing in the aisles and the lines for checkout. Unless you have pre-ordered items and are simply picking up an order, it will be safer for Fluffy to stay home in the air conditioning or shade.
Let’s keep up the masks and physical distancing while we ease into our new normals—it may be quite a while before we go back to anything close to our old normals. And to those of you who adopted new pets or took on fosters during this time, thank you so much.
Dr. Frost received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Reed College, her Master’s degree in Zoology (Neuroscience) from the University of Iowa, and her DVM from Oregon State University. She started practice in a rural setting in southwest Washington, where she saw bald eagles and great blue herons daily. Although southwest Portland doesn’t offer quite the same scenic views, Dr. Frost loves being part of a family practice, being able to walk to work and when it isn’t cloudy, and seeing Mt. Hood on her daily walks.