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North Hills Monthly

Routine is Key for Pets through Pandemic

May 28, 2020 06:42PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Not everyone is excited about people going back to work, including Garth. Photo courtesy Animal Friends

There’s always so much excitement when you bring home a new pet, especially one you’ve adopted from a shelter. And while you want nothing more than to spend every minute with your new arrival, your animal may need a little more time to settle in.

For those who have adopted during the pandemic, it’s also a good time to think about how your pet is going to adjust once you have to go back to work. It might take a little bit of time to realize that they’ll be okay without you 24/7…and you can help them prepare.

“It really depends on the animal, and each animal is different,” explained Cody Hoellerman, director of communications, Animal Friends. “Some dogs might adjust in a couple of days, and some may need more time. You need to take it at their pace, because you can’t rush these things.”

Despite the fact that Animal Friends has been closed to the public during the pandemic, people have still been able to adopt animals after working remotely with adoption counselors by phone or email. In some areas of the country, shelters have actually emptied as people looked for companions during the pandemic and realized that sheltering at home was the perfect time to train a new family member.

“We’re very close to the same adoption numbers as we were during this period of time last year,” said Hoellerman. “That speaks volumes about the job our amazing adoption team is doing, especially since they’ve had to do everything remotely.”

Welcoming Your New Pet

One of the most important things to remember when bringing an animal into your home is that everything is new—the smells, the sounds, and especially the people. While some dogs might jump right into the situation, others may be overwhelmed.

“A lot of dogs like to have a ‘safe space’ which can be a bed, or a crate, or just a quiet, secluded place away from the rest of the house,” said Hoellerman. “This way, they have somewhere they can go if they just need a minute—and it helps them settle in with a lot less pressure.

“While some dogs thrive on all of the excitement and energy, others may need quiet time,” he added.

Hoellerman suggests creating a routine for the animal as soon as possible so that it knows what to expect. This can include bathroom walks and eating at the same times every day.

“When things are regimented, it gives them a little more stability,” Hoellerman explained. “For shelter animals, being in a home is completely different, and this can do wonders to help them adjust.”

He adds that this is especially helpful for younger pets who often need more time and attention than older animals. In the case of housebreaking, it’s advisable to take dogs outside as often as you can, and to look for subtle hints that they need to go. 

“With puppies, you have to be right there with them, so this is a great time to work on this—before they are left at home for six or eight hours a day,” Hoellerman said. 

He added that it’s important, especially with a new animal, to set up a routine that will be sustainable when you’re not home around the clock anymore. “You don’t want to get them used to a level of attention that you can’t continue,” he said. “While it’s hard not to spend every second of the day with a new pet, it’s better for their mental health to have a sustainable level of care.”

Having to Leave Home

For many people who have been at home during the quarantine, this has been a great time to spend hours on end with their pets. And just like you don’t want to leave them…they don’t want you to go.

“This is where it all comes back to routine,” said Hoellerman, who added that he, too, is guilty of changing his own pet’s routine while staying at home. “Getting them back on the schedule that they’re used to will make it less of a shock when things go back to normal.”

He also suggests taking a bit of a trial separation to give the animals practice in being apart. You can do this at home by working in another room with the door closed for an hour or two, or taking short car trips while leaving them at home.

If your dog does suffer from separation anxiety, it might be smart to employ a dogwalker, or have someone who can check in on the pet during the day. Other options, including pheromones and treats that contain calming elements can be used, though a visit to the vet might be required for more severe anxiety. 

“Put on the radio or TV so they have a distraction, and make sure they have toys, a bed, and a place to go that makes them feel secure,” Hoellerman added, noting that even though Animal Friends was closed during the quarantine, the Behavior Helpline is always open, and there also other pet resources on their website.

As people return to work, preparing ahead of time can help both pets, and their people, adjust.

“We try to give as much guidance up front as possible, and we also talk to potential adopters to see what their ‘normal’ is like, so we know how a shelter animal will fit in their life,” said Hoellerman of any worries that those who adopted during the pandemic will want to return their pets when they return to busy lives.

“While a lot of people adopted animals during this time because it was convenient while they were home, we work with all adopters to make sure they understand that having a pet is a long-term relationship that requires a long-term commitment. They deserve the same quality of care no matter what the circumstances.”

For further pet resources (or to look for your future pet), visit https://www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org. Animal Friends’ Behavior Hotline can be reached at 412-847-7059.