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How To Ease Separation Anxiety For Pets Being Left Alone For First Time In Months

Animal rescues saw a significant increase in pet adoptions and foster care during the stay home order. But some people are now headed back to work.

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DOWNTOWN — As people emerge from their homes and return to work in person, pet-owners — many who adopted or fostered during the pandemic — are figuring out how to readjust not only their own lives but their pets’ as well.

Animal rescues and shelters saw a significant spike in pet adoptions and foster care since Illinois enacted the state home order in March to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Kathy Ihlenfeldt, the staff trainer at One Tail at a Time, said they have seen a huge increase in the number of people fostering or adopting a pet. Ihlenfeldt estimated that the organization saw about 2,000 foster applications in just one month, which she said was “insane.”

“Just in the month of June we hit record-breaking adoption numbers, and dogs and cats that we were able to save in in one month — we beat that record for the entire existence of One Tail, which has been around for 12 years, so that’s pretty incredible,” she said.

Joan Harris, the director of canine behavior and training at PAWS Chicago, said PAWS started a virtual adoption program in late March which has since received roughly 14,400 applications. She said PAWS completed 956 adoptions through the virtual program and 2,080 adoptions in total this year.   

Now that Chicago has moved into Phase 4 of reopening, gyms, restaurants, bars, some entertainment venues and other workplaces are beginning to open their doors. People are streaming out of their houses to return to a semblance of normal life. Veterinarians and animal experts say people with pets will need to ease into this new routine that promises less time at home together.

As PAWS put dogs into foster care, they asked caretakers to prepare them for people leaving the house by avoiding spending “24-7 with the dog even though sometimes they want to,” Harris said.

People adopting pets, especially puppies, were advised to put them on a “really consistent schedule,” she said.

“A lot of people will not adopt puppies because they’re not home enough to go through the two hours out, three hours out, four hours out,” Harris said. “And since this pandemic, they’ve been able to do that, so hopefully they’ve done their work and they’re able to easily leave the house at this point.”

Donna Solomon, owner and veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center of Chicago, said every pet owner will need to deal with potential “separation anxiety” after they leave home for work and other outdoor activities.

“Dogs and cats like to be on a schedule,” Solomon said. “They like consistency — they truly love consistency. So, I would establish the same consistent pattern that you had before work, or in anticipation of working.”

“Let’s say you know you’re going to go back to work in a month, which would be idealistic. … This is the time now to start setting up a schedule,” she added.

Solomon also said that routine and positive reinforcement is especially important for rescue dogs, many of who face trauma and stress. She recommended online classes to help train pets for this transition.

Pet experts agreed that services like pet daycare and pet-walking are also beneficial to adjusting a pet’s schedule while their caretakers are at work.

“Daycare is a great solution for some dogs,” Ihlenfeldt said. “Not every dog is a daycare dog, but it can be a really great outlet for some of those super energetic guys. There’s a lot of really great dog walking companies out there, especially if you have a long day.”

Byron De La Navarro, the chief of staff at Animal House of Chicago, even suggested keeping the television or radio on during the day to give pets “an auditory stimulation distraction.”

De La Navarro said the correct strategy for pets depends on a their personalities. He noted that cats were far more “individual” than dogs and that the response to separation may even vary among dogs.

“I have a few clients who told me that they feel their cats are more stressed out because they’re around more often,” he said.

“It’s the dogs and particularly … the dogs that are more needy, more anxious, that, again, whether you adopted them during the pandemic or whether they were that way before the pandemic, those are the ones that you want to be aware of, who will be needing something extra,” he added.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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