Like many pet owners, I’ve gotten used to spending time with my 1-year old cat, Cielo since the pandemic began.
She’s been spoiled having me around, too. I know this from her adorable, but somewhat destructive behavior. The few times I’ve left the house for longer than she’d like, Cielo — displaying a mild case of separation anxiety — scratched the side panel of the front door.
My beautiful tabby cat also is prone to leaving her toy mice near said door to let me know she isn’t too keen on the solo time. But as soon as I return, I’m greeted by her meows paired with back rolls on the floor while she demands belly rubs and kisses.
With many of us working and attending school from home, adoptions of cuddly kittens and waggish puppies has been a hot COVID-related trend.
According to the PetPoint, animal welfare organizations in the United States saw a spike in the second half of March 2020 from 58% in the beginning of the month to 85% in the second half.
The ASPCA reported similar numbers in the first few weeks of stay-at-home orders last March.
“There’s no doubt that the public’s desire to support their local shelters by fostering and adopting vulnerable animals amid the COVID-19 crisis has been demonstrated through an enormous and unprecedented response,” said ASPCA’s Vice President Christa Chadwick.
“In the first few weeks of stay-at-home orders in March 2020, the ASPCA saw a nearly 70 percent increase in animals going into foster homes through our New York City and Los Angeles foster programs, compared to the same period in 2019, with interest in adoption at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City increasing by more than 177 percent in 2020 from March through October compared to the previous year.”
If you are one of the lucky ones who opened your hearts and home to a new cat or dog during the lockdown, there are some things to consider before leaving them for long amounts of time, perhaps for the first time since joining your family.
If you’re a cat person, will scratching issues such as Cielo’s be something you’ll encounter?
Will your dogs act out by chewing your Louboutins, destroying fancy throw pillows or, even worse, soiling the carpet?
We spoke with celebrity pet trainers and animal welfare organizations about how to deal with your pampered pooch or kitty if they feel neglected (and show it) once we head back to the office, to school or take an extended vacay:
Prep your pet – and maybe get them a pal
Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, based in Kanab, Utah, and with locations in Los Angeles, Houston and New York City, runs one of the biggest no-kill animal shelters in the states.
She hopes this new phenomenon — people working from home — will become more a part of our culture.
“We’re trying to look into our crystal ball and say, ‘Is this a new normal? Are companies going to allow people to work from home or hybrid?’ It has become cheaper for companies, it’s efficient and people don’t have to commute,” she said.
Less time in the car or train and more time to spend with your four-legged bestie sounds good, right?
But if you must pull out that blazer and briefcase and head to the office, consider adopting another pet, and start getting your furry family member used to the idea of you leaving for eight hours or more.
“One of the best things to do is leave the house for a a few minutes for a time to see how you dog is going to respond,” Castle said. “If you leave your house and your dog starts to bark or paw and scratch the door don’t return until they get quiet, and that’s a reward for them.
“I think we tend to give our misbehaved dogs attention with they’re loud and noisy and misbehaving … It’s that reward chain. Whereas if they’re being quiet and being good and well-behaved, that’s really when you should reward them.”
At her Utah home, Castle is mom to a few cats and two German shepherds.
Giving them with stability helps when she needs to leave the house for a hours at a time.
“The more consistent you can make your home, the better. It’s really about creating structure, because they love structure and consistency,” Castle said. “And also try to keep their minds active and engaged. At home, I do a lot of food puzzles. And of course, they have a lot of toys. And I’ve created a space for them so they feel safe whenever I leave,” Castle continued.
“I turn on music, and that’s a cue that I’m leaving, but they know I’m coming back.”
And as Castle notes, dogs are pack animals, so getting another canine isn’t a bad idea.
“If that is something that people have in their hearts and homes, one of the best teachers for a dog is another dog,” she said.
If you dog has other issues such as mild aggression, not unlike President Biden’s rescue shepherd, Major or bite a White House, try not to punish the pooch or overreact.
Make an appointment with your veterinarian and consider hiring a dog trainer.
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“German shepherds are the most loyal breed around and they are going to protect their person. From my personal experience, if someone comes to my house and I hug them goodbye. They come up to us,” Castle said.
“When I think about Major and what happened is that he probably came from this really structured and great environment. I think probably what happened thinking that through from Major’s perspective and the dog’s perspective. His world was totally uprooted and the only people he knows was his owners and then introducing him to all these new people. Those are all triggers, it’s stranger danger. I’m not surprised with a shepherd really what it comes down to is managing the environment.”
Exercise is key
Celebrity dog trainer and YouTube star Zak George makes sure his dogs, Indiana Jones and Inertia, get plenty of movement in between training sessions.
“A lot it really depends on your lifestyle,” he said. “I’ve traditionally given advice to people with busy schedules and busy jobs. Dogs are pretty capable of adapting to our lifestyles as long as we are good at giving them that outlet that they deserve.”
“In the case of having a high-energy dog that is constantly used to our attention giving them exercise first thing in the morning before you go to work is a great way of putting them at ease and gets them to chill out and maybe even sleep for an extra few hours before you go,” he continued.
Preparation is everything.
“The ideal thing to do with separation anxiety or that kind of anxiety is to be very good at preparing them ahead of time so not just going from ‘I’m with you all the time’ to ‘I’m leaving hours at a time.’ ”
Long walks or a game of fetch with a Frisbee also work wonders.
“The fastest way I know how to reduce virtually and any kind of anxiety with dogs is through vigorous exercise before the anxiety is likely to occur,” George said.
It’s also important to give your pet its own safe space.
“Get them used to be comfortable in a part of the house, whether it’s a crate — or if they’re not comfortable in a crate — maybe in a spare part of the house for a short period of time … Five minutes at a time if you have to start off that way get them used to that before leaving them for an extended period of time,” George said.
Webcams help, too.
“What I like to do with separation anxiety, if I’m dealing with a dog with that issue, is to have a camera on them, so that you can really see how they are responding when you’re away for short periods of time,” George added.
Dealing with house training
If you notice your dog soiling inside the house, make sure Fido’s getting those walks in.
“The general solution to house training is to take your dog out more often. You may want to allow for more time to come back to the house at lunch, if that’s practical with ones job or occupation. If you can let your dog out midday and give them time to relieve themselves,” George said.
If that’s not feasible, he says to consider hiring a pet sitter.
“You want to make sure it’s someone you’re comfortable with. Ideally, a friend or family member. But there are number of services and apps these days where you can see their reviews. You can meet them ahead of time to make sure you’re comfortable with them. I love living in the age of reviews. Chances are if you’ve got someone with 75% of reviews with five stars on one of these apps, they’re probably going to do (the) job quite well.”
The case of cats: a purr-fect scenario
Don’t let the aloofness of your cat fool you.
Sure, they don’t need to be walked four times a day, nor are they known for chewing your shoes. But they are just as needy and also can suffer from the same issues as canines, including separation anxiety.
“My Cat From Hell” Animal Planet TV star Jackson Galaxy, aka the “Cat Daddy” knows this well.
“I was on the road six months out of a year and now I’ve been home for a year and that has changed (our) relationships,” Galaxy, a cat behavior and wellness expert, said. “It changes the way that cats interact with their territory also because there’s just more of us and our schedules change, so they adapted to our schedules.”
His advice: If you must go back to work or take off on a long vacation, you need to help your cats adjust to change slowly.
“To get them back to a life where they are alone more — and where there isn’t as much activity — it’s great for people to plan ahead for that,” he said. “It’s a safe assumption to say our cats are going to have a moment to adjust as we will to change to actually wearing pants. In this case, start slow and go through your normal routine that you do every morning — and the leave and come back in an hour and do it again.”
And just because your kitty cat sleeps all day (on average they catnap for about 20 hours), don’t assume they don’t need exercise.
Aim for 10 to 30 minutes a day of playtime. Catnip-stuffed mice, crinkly tunnels and feather wands are the cat’s meow when it comes to toys.
“It’s such a fallacy … if you think you can give them all this attention over a course of a year and them remove it and it’s going to be cool. One of my missions, and it’s very important, is to tell people not to make the assumption cats don’t need interaction, bonding or exercise.”
Galaxy will host a free weekend virtual cat camp on April 10, where he and other cat connoisseurs will dish about all thing feline which also will include an adopted portion for those looking to adopt a new furry friend.
Don’t give up on your furballs
It takes time to get to know your pet, so think about that before you consider making that commitment or surrendering your new best friend to a shelter or another home.
“I would hope (people) would consider if a dog or a cat was right for them and consider the amount of time it takes (to train them),” George said.
“It’s very common for people to underestimate the amount of time it really takes to get a dog up to par,” George said. “It takes about one to two years to truly train a dog. To really give them the life experience that they need to get in order to know how to listen to you in a broad generalized context.
“Just because your dog can leave a treat alone when you drop it doesn’t mean they’re going to leave a dog alone when one walks by — maybe they’ll leave one dog alone, but then they’ll see a Great Dane for the first time and they don’t know how to compose themselves.”
In cases such as pulling on leashes or barking at strangers, behavioral experts or online tutorials can help, George suggested.
Adopt — not shop
If you’re mulling over bringing home a new pooch or feline, there are plenty of pets who need a loving home.
With many Best Friends shelters closed due to COVID-19, the organization held virtual adoptions. Although the respective owners weren’t able to meet dogs in person, the response was overwhelming.
“I think it’s one of the coolest things that happened during the pandemic and in our sector,” Castle said. “It’s really put our mission through the forefront and it’s helped with our message that the best thing to do is adopt and save a life.”
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If you are looking to add a pet to your home, the ASPCA encourages you to consider one of the thousands of animals waiting to be adopted from shelters and rescues across the country.
“For those families who wish to purchase a pet, we encourage them to work with a responsible breeder, and not utilize pet stores or online store fronts,” Chadwick said.
“Adopting from an animal shelter gives you the opportunity to speak with shelter staff directly about an animal’s health and behavioral needs. Similarly, a good breeder will be transparent, they will invite and ask questions, and they should be able to provide references and serve as a resource as your puppy grows,” she said.
When you adopt a pet from a shelter, the animal should already have been examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated, spayed or neutered and may be microchipped; expenses covered by the adoption fee, which saves on costs, she added.
Another benefit of adopting from a shelter is that shelter staff know the animals well and usually can provide detailed information about an animal’s history, medical needs, behavior and temperament, she said.
“They also consider a potential adopter’s lifestyle, home environment and the animal’s potential compatibility with children and other animals in the home. In addition, if an animal has been in a foster home, the shelter can often provide useful background on how the animal has adjusted to a home setting to make the transition easier; all of this information ensures stronger matches.
“Finally, and importantly, adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue organization saves more than one life by freeing up resources for another animal in need.”