Won’t Somebody Think Of The Dogs

Lockdown may have sucked for us, but for our dogs, it was the time of their lives. Writer Jade Morellini ponders just how she’ll wean her dog off 24/7 attention.

Most mornings, I wake to the obnoxious sound of snoring and a back ache. The culprit responsible for both of my woes is always the same: my dog.

See, she has a tendency of plopping her sausage body across the entire bed, giving me barely any room to sleep without some awkward maneuvering. Her snores and heavy breathing could wake even the deepest sleepers. And while these things are annoying and uncomfortable, I let it happen. For some reason, I just can’t resist her adorable presence.

During lockdown, my Dachshund pretty much took over my household. My bed now belongs to her. She is my own personal bodyguard. She’s my boss, always instructing me when she wants a treat and exactly what treat in particular that should be. She tells me when she needs to go to the bathroom and follows me when I go. It’s impossible to leave without her noticing. She’s kind of like my little colleague, sleeping in her bed by my feet all day while I work.

When I went out for the first time post-lockdown, it was great for me. I had a fun night out, socialising with friends for the first time in what felt like forever – but when I got home, I was met by a very distressed puppy acting like I’d been a missing person for over a year.

I live with my parents, so she wasn’t home alone, but my absence was heavily noticed. It got me thinking, though, what about all the lockdown dogs out there who have never experienced being home alone? How will they react now that the best time of their lives (lockdown) is over?

Animal Care Manager and Veterinarian at Sydney Cats & Dogs Home, Renae Jackson shared that at her shelter alone, there had been a substantial increase in adoptions during lockdown.

“It's been very much up and down, in line with lockdowns and restrictions as they've been changing. Certainly, when COVID first started, we had hundreds of applications for adopting and fostering. Every day, we would come in to unbelievable amounts of applications.”

“That was when people were starting to work from home and were looking for that animal companionship. That was a whole new world, we weren't sure what to expect and most of the animals absolutely flew out the door, and have not come back again, which is a really good thing.”

The RSPCA NSW had similar stats to share – they adopted out just over 500 animals across the state, they told me.

“During the initial wave of COVID restrictions, RSPCA NSW saw an incredible increase in adoptions across the state’s shelters and Petbarn adoption centres, with an increase of 28% in adoptions across the state, compared to this time last year. For Petbarn adoption centres only, the increase has been a staggering 48% compared to this time last year.”

While my heart warms that so many dogs have found their forever home during lockdown, it’s also concerning. These dogs may not be prepared for the real world of their owners waking up early, leaving for work and not coming home for eight hours. And it’s unclear whether all owners are prepared to train and care for this massive change in their dog’s life.

“Some dogs find it really, really distressing to be left alone and that can end up in a condition called separation anxiety, which is an actual medical anxiety condition where they're just extremely distressed when left by themselves.”

Many shelters are concerned with the possibility of an increase in surrender rates now that owners may not have enough time to look after their dogs – which is never okay.

“We've had a few inquiries about people surrendering animals that they had adopted or purchased during COVID. We had a couple who had bought a puppy and it just turned out to be too much for them, so they needed to move it on…”

“At the moment, we're just waiting and seeing, there's certainly that worry in the air that as people go back to work, as animals are left at home by themselves, a lot of welfare issues and behaviour issues can come out. Are we going to see a lot of animals coming in? I'm certainly nervous about it. But yeah, just waiting and seeing at this point.”

But RSPCA NSW is now confident that they won’t have a rush in surrenders of the animals they adopted out.

“We made sure each animal went to the right home as we had multiple candidates for all our animals, especially during the height of the pandemic. There is a chance that some animals might have been purchased by people who might have been impulsive, but if they decide that their pet no longer fits into their lifestyle, then RSPCA NSW will have an open door to rescue and assist that animal.”

But surrendering a dog should never be a first option, after all, pets should never be impulse purchases. If you adopt a dog, it's because you’re ready to care for them for their entire life. It’s a commitment.

“Responsible pet ownership is the key to finding forever homes for all animals. Before adopting, please consider your long-term commitments and how your pet will fit into your life 10 or even 20 years down the track. Animals are living creatures and enrich our lives; they deserve a loving and stable home,” the spokesperson for the RSPCA said.

So, what can we do to make sure surrendering our furry friend never needs to be an option?

“To avoid that, we recommend setting up a really solid routine which is similar to the routine you'll have when you go back to work. Wake up at the time you'd be going to work, walk the dog in the morning as if it was before work, so the dog knows what to expect.”

Another strategy can be leaving the house in small increments, not just leaving suddenly.

“That can be as simple as walking out the door, closing the door and immediately walking back in again. It’s all about starting off slow, and not letting your dog get into an anxious state, make sure that they're still calm and happy. And then coming back in again, and gradually building that up to leaving for longer periods of time.”

Dogs are creatures of habit and having a strong routine can alleviate their anxiety. It’s crucial to make leaving the home not a big deal, so no more screaming and jumping around with them when you leave or get home. Instead, give them a calm goodbye or hello.

Or, make you leaving the house a positive experience.

“Find your dog's favourite thing, whether that's a pig's ear to chew on, or some toys to play with and leave them with that when you do leave the house.”

… Clearly, I’ve got some work to do. But I’m sure that even once we’re all settled into a new, post-lockdown routine, my Dachshund will still be living her best life. And I, inevitably, will be tired with a sore back. Such is (dog) life.

Written by Jade Morellini, dog fanatic and writer from Sydney. Find her online as @jademorellini.

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