Dogs and cats may need help with the transition as their owners return to work

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As she typed on a laptop on the dining room table last month, finishing some work for her job at UC San Diego, Yvonne Grobe could feel the weight of a very serious gaze burn her. from the next room.

Working in his current office in San Carlos during the COVID-19 pandemic, Grobe slowly turned his head to the left. There, just above a half-wall separating the dining room from the family room, the family’s energetic 3.5-year-old dog Marcus was standing on the back of the sofa – his head tilted, tongue out. out and panting, big brown eyes focused on Grobe, tail wagging furiously.

Marcus jumped off the couch and leaped into the dining room victorious. Once again, he had won the eye contact game.

Grobe has been working from home for over a year, and during that time the 28-pound Gray and White French Bulldog / Boston Terrier has grown very close to her. Grobe said Marcus can cuddle with her husband or play with her two daughters, but as soon as she walks into the room the dog walks over to her.

“I went from being someone who doesn’t necessarily want a dog to say he’s the best thing that came into our lives,” Grobe said. “He just loves me, and I love him. It completes our family.

Grobe’s husband is an electrician, so he worked throughout the pandemic, going to construction sites. Her daughters, aged 10 and 12, were home part of the time during the last school year.

So, with Grobe at home, Marcus got quite used to his daily routine – morning coffee, online meetings, short doggie breaks outside to pee, play, and say hello to the neighbors. Then there’s lunch, a brisk walk, and of course, more attempts at eye contact when possible.

But those days will soon be over. Grobe, like thousands of employees who were able to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to return to a regular schedule, in an office that is not at home.

“Now that we’re slowly starting to get back to work, I’m afraid it will be very difficult for him,” Grobe said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. I’m sure he’ll be fine anyway, but he’s really attached to me.

The transition to the physical office can be quite intimidating for people, but it can also pose a myriad of challenges for pets like Marcus who have become even closer to their families during the pandemic, said Amanda Kowalski, director of behavioral programs for the San Diego Humane Society.

“I went from being someone who doesn’t necessarily want a dog to say he’s the best thing that came into our lives,” Yvonne Grobe said of Marcus. “He just loves me, and I love him. It completes our family.

(Karen Pearlman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

However, Kowalski said, there are a number of ways people can help prepare dogs – and cats – for long days without the company they’re used to and make a smooth transition to being at. new home alone.

Kowalski first suggests getting a feel for your pet’s type of behavior, what they’re really doing, using a camera.

“Technology is your friend, so watch them: see what happens when you leave them alone and record them for a few minutes to see if there is any transition stress,” she said. “Are they stressed at lower levels and bored, or do they engage in toy destruction or do they experience real separation anxiety? “

She suggests making any changes by leaving the house gradually. First, try to go around the block, then move up to 15 minutes and start increasing the time. Some dogs do well in a crate or enclosure, she said, and this could be a good stopover for these animals, but for other dogs, being in a crate for long periods of time while owners are absent can make them claustrophobic and exacerbate anxiety.

To test a dog’s readiness to be in a pen or crate, “always start slowly, do it for a few minutes, don’t go to extremes to see how far you can push it,” said Kowalski. “Make changes gradually. “

She said that because dogs tend to be very social animals, it can be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member or to hire a dog walker to interrupt the day. Dog day care is also a possibility.

It is important to exercise them before leaving for an extended period of time, and Kowalski said that enrichment toys that provide animals with activities that increase their levels of physical and mental activity can also help. .

“A lot of the stress of transition has to do with not getting the kind of stimulation they need,” she said. “Food dispenser toys are really great for dogs, (to avoid) boredom and frustration. This is a good way if your dog needs extra stimulation.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s barking when he’s alone, consider talking to the neighbors and letting them know that your pet may be having a hard time getting out of the house, and ask if they can. report any barking.

“If after trying these things you notice your dog has severe symptoms of stress, such as urinating and defecating, prolonged stimulation and inability to calm down, barking, crying or screaming, or repetitive scratching or chewing patterns when left alone, I recommend working with a behavior consultant, ”Kowalski said. “We have an online list of training partners we work with in the San Diego community, and a few of them specialize in anxiety separation. They can get a personalized plan for you and your pet.

Kowalski said medications such as anti-stress nutraceuticals and pheromones “could be incredibly helpful during this time” and that a consultation with your pet’s vet about these medications may be an option.

Kowalski said cats can also suffer from separation anxiety and depression from being left alone after months of working with their owner.

Donna Quinn, who works for Intuit as an executive assistant, said she worried about the reaction of Pumbaa, the cat she adopted in 2016, when she returned to work. She has been at home with him since March 17, 2020.

When Donna Quinn has Zoom meetings with her coworkers at Intuit, her Bengal cat Pumbaa likes to be included.

When Donna Quinn has Zoom meetings with her coworkers at Intuit, her Bengal cat Pumbaa likes to be included.

(Donna Quinn)

She said that she and Pumbaa grew closer during this time – one of the “good things that came out of this whole ordeal.” He follows her around like a dog, Quinn said, and loves being in every room she is in.

“A month after (the pandemic), instead of hanging out under the bed or in my room, which he always did, he started climbing on the desk, lying next to me or sitting on my lap “Quinn said. “I started putting his blanket on the desk where I was working.”

Her 5-year-old Bengal has become the star of Quinn’s online Zoom Meetings and often sits on her lap.

“At first I was like a mother trying to put her kids aside while she’s on the phone,” Quinn said. “You could see me talking and with my left hand pushing him, trying to get him to lie down.” Now my colleagues all know him.

Quinn said she was starting to consider working two days at her company headquarters and three days at home. She gave her a try one day last month and when she walked through the door at 5:30 p.m., Pumbaa greeted her warmly. She said the next day, when we got home, it was “going back to the old routine”.

“I know that if I were to start five days a week it sure wouldn’t be a good thing for him,” she said. “One of the characteristics of Bengal cats is that they are talkative and talkative. He has different voices: one in the middle of the night, one while eating, another if he’s sad. If I’m gone for long now I know I’m going to have a low howl because he knows something’s been disturbed.

Many families adopted new animals during the pandemic.

Many families adopted new animals during the pandemic, and pets may need help as they get used to spending more time alone.

(Karen Pearlman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Advice on separation anxiety

The San Diego Humane Society offers behavioral classes and seminars to help pet owners, for a small fee. A schedule of their offerings can be found at sdhumane.org/behavior-and-training/pet-training-classes/. Kowalski recommends that pet owners check out Humane Society instructor Tina Flores’ “Treating Separation Anxiety” seminar via a live online classroom. This event is set from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 10.

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