The coronavirus pandemic can be a frightening time. In this constant state of isolated vigilance, we worry about the health, safety, and prosperity of ourselves and others. But as the weeks drag into months, it is human nature to find silver linings. You may be honing your skills in the kitchen or learning a new instrument. Perhaps you’re finally indulging a neglected hobby. Or maybe you’ve decided this is the perfect time to adopt a pet.
And why not? You’re stuck at home with nothing but time, and it feels like the kids may never go to school again. Everyone will be there all day and every day to help with feeding and chores and potty training. This won’t just be a puppy. It’s going to be a super puppy—the best-trained dog in history.
You’re not alone. I’ve seen a clear uptick in new dogs and cats over the last month. And that’s great! There is no shortage of homeless animals out there, and I’m not going to argue with more of them finding their rightful place in loving families. But this adoption boom may have some unintended consequences.
Even just picking a pet can be more fraught than it was before. There are always people looking to leverage a crisis, and that means watching out for irresponsible breeders and puppy mills who know that demand might currently exceed supply. This can be a tough one. It’s not always immediately obvious who is acting in good faith. But it is wise to stick with shelters and rescues with a clear physical presence and an established record of good work.
With that hurdle cleared, new challenges await. It may be hard to believe right now, but one day this awful situation is going to end. The kids will stop learning math over Zoom, and the adults will return to their daily commute. After months of everybody being home, that’s going to mean an explosion of lonely and confused pets. Separation anxiety is no picnic, and I fear I’m going to be seeing a lot of it in 2021 (or maybe 2022…the jury’s still out).
Okay, this applies more to dogs than to cats. I can’t remember the last time I met a cat with separation anxiety, so if you adopted a kitten, you’re probably safe. But dogs are pack animals, and even under the best of circumstances, they need to be taught how to be alone. Otherwise it means a lot of noise, property damage, and vet bills when they swallow half the living room carpet because they thought you were gone forever.
It is vitally important that these dogs be given time to themselves every single day. This can be hard when there just isn’t much to do outside the house and even the usual chores like grocery shopping are being carefully scheduled. Start slow and give them some time alone in their crates while you go to a different room. Gradually introduce more time and distance. Take out the trash. Do some yard work. Go for a quick walk, then start making them longer. I know it feels criminal to waste a chance to take the dog along for a stroll, but you can all go out later that day. Dogs, especially puppies, need to practice getting along without you. Even if you’ve had your dog for years already, it’s important to be mindful of these changes in the routine. It’s great that four-mile hikes have become a daily event, but that won’t be true forever.
This may be an ideal time to adopt a pet, and animals can keep you grounded when the world seems out of control. But as we inch toward restoring global normalcy, make sure to start transitioning pets back to local normalcy, too.
Dr. Mike Fietz is a small animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.