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Separation anxiety | Return to workplace poses issues for pandemic pets and their owners

by Lois K. Solomon | South Florida Sun Sentinel | May 15, 2021 at 9:15 p.m. | Updated May 15, 2021 at 9:18 p.m.
Lindsay Beattie works on her computer as her new dog, Moose, hangs by her side at home in Fort Lauderdale. There's been a rush on new pets during the pandemic with pet owners having more time to take care of an animal, but now that many have to return to the office, there's lots of anxiety about leaving the pets home alone. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. If you've been home with your pet during the pandemic, you know what's coming.

Separation anxiety.

We can't stay home forever. Soon we'll start heading back to the office and taking vacations. Our pets will wonder where we went. And we will get that pit in our stomach, like when we left our kids at school for the first time, because we have become so attached to our faithful animals.

Calls from uneasy dog owners are starting to come in to Dogstown University in Deerfield Beach, Florida, which has a dog day care center and offers overnight boarding. Owner Adam Feingold tries to cheer them up.

"We are getting lots of calls from people going back to work," Feingold said. "People want to be reassured that their dogs will not be alone. They have been attached at the hip for a year. We work it through with them."

Lindsay Beattie of Fort Lauderdale is among those getting ready to enter the post-COVID work world, but now she has two pets to consider. When the pandemic hit last year, she took in a foster puppy to keep her and her 12-year-old shih tzu mix, Doc, company.

She fell in love with Moose, a purebred shih tzu who is now 18 months old, and decided to keep him. Now comes the hard part. She's a sales manager for a multinational company who is about to start traveling again. To ease the transition, she's been making arrangements with dog-sitters who will stay at her house while she's gone.

"The older one is happy when I leave," Beattie said. "The younger one is like, 'How dare you?' That creates anxiety for me. He is so spoiled."

Lisa Laufman also went back to the office recently, and can't stop thinking about her kitten, Missy, adopted on Jan. 25.

"I put off going back to work as long as possible," said Laufman, a commercial insurance manager. "When I knew I had to go back, I would leave the house for a few hours at a time to get her ready. Now I go home at lunchtime to check on her. I don't even want to go out at night because I want to be with her."

Some pet owners may have gotten overly attached during quarantine. But these human-animal connections are healthy, pandemic or no pandemic, said Karyn Hoffman, a Boca Raton social worker and therapist.

"As a dog lover, I understand this," Hoffman said. "Research shows animals have a calming effect on us. If your animal is your companion, you are going to miss them when you leave the house."

For those leaving their canines home while they go to work, Jeff Nelson of Palm Beach Dog Academy offers these transition tips:

Keep your dogs mentally stimulated when you're with them. Give them lots of attention. Take them out in public. Teach them to sit and stay.

Make sure they get at least several good walks or playtime in the yard each day. Nelson says take them out first thing in the morning, feed them, then walk them before work. When you come home, take them on a 10-minute walk that includes training to obey commands, have some dinner and take them out again.

"The more short walks, the better," he said.

Leave the television or radio on when you're gone so the dogs are comforted by human voices and hear less outside noise.

Keep an interior camera on in the house so you can watch what your pets are doing. There are even cameras now that allow "two-way conversations" and will throw your dog a treat.

Don't leave them for more than eight hours. If you'll be out longer, hire someone to give the dog a mid-day walk.

Many pet owners who are heading back to work are heeding these suggestions. Kim Serota, a reading coach for Broward schools, went back to the office in October after getting a Bernedoodle puppy, Murphy, four months earlier.

"Our puppy was accustomed to having us 24-7," Serota said. "We weren't going places. No one was coming over."

When she went back to work and her kids back to school, Serota hired a dog walker, who walked Murphy and stayed with him for an hour. Now, the walker stays with him for a half hour, and in the coming months, Serota believes Murphy will no longer need the mid-day exercise.


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