When human contact was in short supply last year droves of Americans turned to their local shelters and adopted pets. The timing seemed ideal. Not only were you seeking companionship because you were cut off from friends and family, but that new dog or cat would get all the company it could stand since you were working from home indefinitely.
Flash forward to the present-day and 'indefinitely' appears to be coming to an end. Vaccinations are rising steadily across the country. And your office is now making plans to bring its employees back together under one roof. But try explaining that to 'Fido' or 'Daisy' who've been spoiled rotten by your presence.
According to a new survey from Banfield Pet Hospital, 1 in 3 people – and nearly 1 in 2 Gen Zers – say they got a new pet during the pandemic. As you'd expect a large number, 80%, said they were able to bond with their pet more during this time. In addition, 32% of owners – including 48% of Gen Zers and 35% millennials – said they've recently reached out to their veterinarian for advice on making the transition back to the workplace easier on their pets.
Dr. Pamela Reid is vice president of the ASPCA Behavioral Sciences Team. Reid urged pet owners to begin preparing their pets right now for their eventual return to the office.
"It definitely will pose a challenge for animals... some more than others. And it's hard to know in advance. But the best thing that people can do to try to prevent problems from developing is to get the animal gradually accustomed to your absence before you actually do have to go back to work," she said. "Hopefully people will have enough advance notice that they can start to take action before it's time to return."
Darcia Kostiuk is a veterinarian with ACANA and ORIJEN pet foods with more than 20 years of experience and she agrees. Kostiuk says it's critical to recreate what your new schedule will look like now, both for yourself and your pet.
"Wake up, feed your pet and leave the house at the same time you would when going to work. It’s also good to set up the goodbye in the right way – try to stay upbeat and happy but not overly dramatic," says Kostiuk. "The same goes for your return home. We’re naturally inclined to show our pets how much we missed them, but if we’re too exuberant, it can make our pets too excited and always
looking forward to our return."
Tackling Separation Anxiety Head On
"(Separating yourself) may make it a little easier for some animals to adapt than having you completely gone," says Reid. "Other animals are probably better if they know you're not even in the house at all. So set up a comfortable place for them, someplace that they really like to spend time in. It could be a crate for a dog. Or a nice window with sunshine for a cat or a dog."
But if you have an animal that's truly struggling with separation anxiety you want to seek professional help. "If it's a dog it may be that that you need to have a dog walker come in partway through the day to get the dog more exercise," says Reid. Also, she suggests making sure your pet gets exercise before you leave as it can help... a lot. "It really is true that a tired dog tends to be a good dog, and it works the same for cats. You can tire them out with toys and things before you leave to make them more likely to sleep. Also, giving them a meal before you leave can also help because you tend to want to nap after you've had a meal."
One other finding from the Banfield study was the increasing desire among pet owners to work at companies that offer pet-friendly accommodations. Nearly 1 in 2 Gen Zers and 1 in 3 millennials surveyed said they would consider looking for another job post-pandemic if their workplace was not pet-friendly. The study reports 20% of business leaders are hoping to allow pets in the office as it would also increase employee retention.
"It's certainly a wonderful idea if (more companies) have the ability to do that," said Reid. "And it's a great way to train your puppy dog to be calm and well behaved in public and lounge around your work colleagues."
Above all else, vets are advising that you pack your patience when it comes to establishing a new routine with your pets.
"There is a 3/3/3 rule of thumb with adopting animals into your home – it takes 3 days for them decompress when you first bring them home, 3 weeks to learn the routine of the house and 3 months to feel fully integrated into the new home. The same can be applied to this situation," says Kostiuk. "The sooner you begin (re)introducing them to the new routine, the better."