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Pet health an issue with owners transitioning back to work

Kayla Anderson
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Quinn is a German shepherd mix.
Provided

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding people’s mental health and the best ways to deal with stress and anxiety during the coronavirus quarantine, but what about their pets?

Jokes have been going around about how happy dogs are to have their people home all the time — two months ago a dog owner in the United Kingdom shared that her dachshund sprained his tail from wagging it too much — and that maybe independent cats aren’t so thrilled about their owners invading their space during the day.

So now, as more businesses reopen and people go back to work, the question remains, what will happen to the mental health of their pets?

Over at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, the pet shelter in Truckee is closed yet accepting adoptions by appointment only. Normally receiving 70-80% of its pets (usually at risk of being euthanized) from overcrowded and underfunded shelters in large cities such as San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, staff at HSTT is starting to see an influx of animals going back to shelters as people go back to work. And with animal shelters being closed, this is the worst time to surrender a pet.

“When the pandemic hit, shelters were told to try to keep animals from coming in by urging people to keep them in their homes, probably because we don’t have any volunteers to check on them as everyone is working from home,” says HSTT Community Engagement Director Erin Ellis.

She adds that with a skeletal staff managing the shelter and not being around, it’s best for the pet’s wellbeing if they can stay in their home a little longer.

Ellis does believe that pet problems may start to spring up when owners go back to work, and they don’t get lots of walks and constant companionship anymore.

“That was my first thought, is that as businesses start to reopen there may be behavioral issues associated with people going back to work,” Ellis says.

When people can’t exercise their dogs anymore or have never crate-trained their pet, it may cause a shift in the pet-owner dynamic.

Before the pandemic happened, Ellis admits that she and her husband adopted a 6-month old puppy that required a lot of training.

“He’s not used to us being away from him, so we wonder how that is going to go,” Ellis said.

To prepare for the back-to-work transition, HSTT staff is being proactive by setting up resources online, giving people tips for how to make a symbiotic relationship work between pets and their owners.

“We expect to be really busy when the shelter opens back up again,” she said. “So first we want to direct people to the website and provide information and resources for training pets. If that doesn’t work, then we can provide information about reputable trainers available to hire that can go to their home. We do have staff available on a limited basis, so people can also call us, and we can try to walk them through some of those behavioral issues.

“We are doing all of this with the hope that people won’t be turning their pets in, that they’ll keep them in their home,” she added. “However, dogs will probably have some separation anxiety when the owner leaves — especially with puppies.”

Keeping the health and safety of the community and pets first and foremost in mind, the HSTT doesn’t have an estimated time when volunteers will be back to socialize, train, and take care of the pets. Fortunately, in an animal-centric place like Lake Tahoe, all HSTT’s pets are currently in foster homes right now.

“If pets can’t handle the shelter then they go into foster care,” she said. “We track cats and dogs’ health every day and do progress reports, checking to see if they’re eating, vomiting, being destructive in their room. We monitor their mental health and wellbeing on an individual case-by-case scenario.”

She said they will be expanding their foster program with the goal to bring in more adult dogs from other areas that are more at risk for euthanasia and adopting them out into Tahoe.

“We’re hoping to be able to house another 20-30 dogs in the shelter because they’re the ones more likely to be euthanized,” she said.

The number of fostered dogs and adoptions changes daily, but there are generally around 20-30 cats and dogs that are out in foster homes at any given time.

“The plan is to keep the shelter full, within reason, and increase the foster program,” Ellis said. “There are times when we have a big transport from Los Angeles with kittens and cats. We’re just keeping an eye on other communities. We don’t have a problem necessarily here but in other areas it can be bad, especially in kitten season (which is right now).”

In the new fostering program, the humane society has started facilitating video meetings between the foster and adopting parents to talk about any issues that the forever pet owners should be aware of.

“Had this pandemic not happened we wouldn’t have seen or thought of some of these new processes, so that’s been the positive that’s come from this, at least in our little world,” she said. “We’re slowly reopening right now and when we have dogs back on our adoption floor, they will be available to pick up by appointment only. The adoption process is so well-solidified. I’ve never seen a huge tidal wave of animals coming back, even in the recession.”

Therefore, the best way to maintain your pet’s mental health is to keep them around and understand that they might act out if they’re not getting the attention that they had during the pandemic.

And for those who are now spending more time working from home and are in a position to foster or adopt a pet, they can always email adoptions@hstt.org to start the process.

To access additional information about how to maintain your pet’s mental health, visit https://hstt.org/.


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