By Lauren Leazenby Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Will your pet suffer from separation anxiety when you return to the office? According to Joan Harris, the director of training and canine development at PAWS Chicago, it is not out of the question. However, there are steps you can take to help ease the pain.
Working remotely during the stay-at-home order, Kelly Sorfleet moved from the city to her parents' cottage in Michigan. Her loneliness led her to take in a foster dog in late May: 2-year-old basset hound Desi.
"After fostering dogs for a while, you prepare yourself to see the dog off to a new home," she said. "With this dog, I didn't see myself letting him go, ever. Once he was here, he was here for the long haul."
Sorfleet's was a "revolving door" foster home with One Tail At A Time for a year and a half, taking in dogs one after another that would later move on to forever homes. She said she had wanted to adopt a dog, but she always had a packed schedule that was better suited to acclimating foster dogs to being on their own for an eight-hour workday.
Desi's adoption was official in June, Sorfleet said. Working remotely has given her the time to train and get to know him.
Dogs aren't the only animals benefitting from lockdown. The stay-at-home order made for the "perfect" time to adopt, said Rachel Stopchinski. She adopted Mocha, a 2-year-old black cat, from PAWS Chicago in May, seeking a companion for her other cat. Mocha had been at PAWS for more than two years because her epilepsy required a home that could provide a special level of care. Stopchinski, who also has epilepsy, said she connected to Mocha's story and the timing was just right.
"The idea of introducing two cats when you're working full time is really daunting," she said. "This was the perfect opportunity to finally make the leap and adopt."
Stopchinski, who is working remotely, said she will eventually have to return to her workplace. Mocha won't be alone, but she still worries her absence will be jarring for the cat who has gotten used to her being around.
Joan Harris, director of canine training and development at PAWS Chicago said having their owners around all day is a "pet's dream." She said it's understandable owners are worried about the transition back to being gone for multiple hours at a time.
Harris said owners may not know if their recently adopted pet has separation anxiety because they haven't been left alone for long periods. Symptoms of separation anxiety include barking or other vocalization, destructive behavior, shaking, salivating or self-injury. Harris recommends doing a few test runs of leaving your pet home alone for increasing stretches of time before leaving the house for full workdays.
If symptoms of separation anxiety show themselves, Harris said to contact a vet or vet behaviorist. She said dogs with severe separation anxiety may need medication.
Being home with your pet all day won't create separation anxiety when you have to leave again, Harris said. To prepare for your absence, she said it's important to put your dog on a schedule. She suggests crate training your dogs and putting them in the crate during the hours you would normally be at work. When you do leave, hiring a dog walker to take your dog out during the day or putting your dog in daycare a few days a week might help your pet feel less lonely.
Stopchinski said she is going to try to soften the shock to her cats by building up a new morning routine with them. She plans to mimic what she does when she gets ready for work, then leave the house for a few minutes so they learn her patterns. On the weekends, she will leave them alone for longer periods. She also has a camera so she can check on her cats throughout the day.
Having fostered dogs with separation anxiety, Sorfleet has found it can be mitigated by making them feel comfortable in their environment. That might include feeding them their favorite treats before you leave, or putting them in the room of your home they like most, she said.
She's not worried about leaving Desi alone when the time comes for her to return to the office. She said he has done well with crate training and has a calm demeanor most of the time.
"I wish I could say that he will be upset (when I leave)," Sorfleet said. "But, I honestly think he'll be happy to sleep all day."
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