Image by Eva Blanco
Returning to work soon? Ready for post-pandemic pet care? It’s time to take a look at your pet’s upcoming new normal…
The coronavirus pandemic left few areas of our lives untouched. Before March 2020, it was no big deal to head to work in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, or go out to lunch with work friends. These days, some of us only leave our homes to buy groceries or walk the dog.
It’s unclear when the pandemic will end or how the new normal will look and feel. But one thing is certain: many of us have turned to pets to help us cope. From Canada to India, demand for adoption or animal fostering has risen, especially for dogs. Between March 2020 and September 2020, foster pets in U.S. homes went up by 8%.
But as the world slowly re-opens, we’re faced with a reality we once took for granted: leaving our pets alone at home. There is no doubt: Our relationship with our pets will change – again.
Here’s what returning to the office means for our pets, what responsible pet owners can do to help their pets adjust, and how pet perks might become a new essential workplace benefit.
The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet
For many of us, our pet is our best friend. During the time of lockdown and COVID-19, when many of us were cut off from in-person interaction with our loved ones, our pets became – and still are – more important than ever.
A study of 6,000 people in lockdown in Britain, 90% of whom had at least one pet, found there are links between a person’s mental health and the emotional bond they form with their pet. Measures of the human-animal bond were stronger among those with lower mental health scores as a baseline. The strength of the bond – and the benefits derived from it – do not differ among the types of pets.
People have strong bonds with their animals, lockdown or not. But during shelter-in-place orders, those bonds help us pull through.
How Pets Help Us Cope During COVID-19
During shelter-in-place orders and months of lockdown, pets offer much-needed levity and solace. They counteract the two most significant pandemic pain points:
- The isolation brought on by social distancing.
- Worry and anxiety brought on by health fears.
Pets provide unconditional love and companionship, but they also prompt us to participate in everyday life beyond our own needs. They force us into a routine – while it would be easy to stay in bed all day if you live alone, you have to get up to feed your dog or cat. We prioritize their wellbeing and happiness, and the care given benefits us humans in the process.
Dogs get the most attention, and for good reason – they relieve stress, prod us out of our shells, and make us feel more friendly and trusting. Cats also provide much-needed resilience – one study found that cat owners were calmest during stressful tasks and made the fewest errors when their cat was present. Cats may get some grief for being more aloof than dogs, but by the same token, they offer a constant presence that can make our burdens and worries seem superfluous.
The Stress of COVID-19 for Pets
That said, while the pandemic has brought us closer to our pets, it’s also brought a lot of stress – on pets as well as humans.
On the one hand, pets love being able to spend every day with us. On the other hand, the pandemic turned their worlds upside down. Pets thrive on routine, and having their human home every day is a dramatic shift in that routine. All pets react differently, but the general shift represents a significant challenge for our four-legged friends.
Chances are, you’ve noticed the shift. Pets are needier than usual, constantly underfoot, constantly nosing us to pet them, or (in the case of dogs) barking incessantly to go outside. Once we upend their routines, pets have no clue what to expect, and so they look for our attention to relieve their own anxiety.
How to Manage Separation Anxiety When Returning to Work
The good news? Pets have had a year to get used to the new normal.
The bad news? Pets will have their routines upended all over again as re-opening picks up speed. The adjustment will be even worse for animals adopted during quarantine, who have no concept of what pre-pandemic life was like.
Here are a few ways to ease the adjustment as you prepare to go back to work.
Create a Routine
Pets thrive on a routine in much the same way kids do. The difference is that you can’t sit your dog down and explain to them that lockdown is lifting. You can’t rationalize the need to go back to work.
Instead, you have to ease them gradually into the new routine.
Think about what your routine will look like when you return to work. Then, implement the same schedule with your pet as you prepare to go back to work. That doesn’t mean you have to leave them alone for eight hours a day, but gradually easing them into the same mealtimes, playtimes, and bedtime each day will help them understand the new normal.
Practice Being Alone
A vital component of this process is to help your pet practice being alone.
This won’t be your favorite part of the process. But it’s the only way your pet will acclimate to being alone – and the idea that when you leave, you’re always going to come back. Start small. Even a trip to the grocery store for an hour is an excellent place to start. So, at least as you make this transition to post-pandemic pet care, view errands as an opportunity for pets to practice being away from you.
When you’re not around, make sure your pet has a safe haven. This is a spot in the room where your pet is most comfortable. Keep in mind that this spot may have changed in the course of the pandemic. A dog that adjusted to spending all day in the office with you, for example, will likely want to stay there while you’re gone.
Make Your Return Special
Pets – especially dogs – tend to celebrate the return of their humans. And not just because they now get to go outside or enjoy a meal. Take a few extra minutes with your pet. Let them know you’re as happy to see them as they are you. Your inbox and your cell phone will wait.
The extra time you give your pets once you’re home from work tells your pet you will return safely home each day. It also shows them that the bond established during the pandemic is real. Sure, you are no longer spending all day with them. But they’ll understand that you need them as much as they need you.
Navigating the New World of Work and Post-Pandemic Pet Care
Navigating the world of work has been challenging – and not just for humans. We didn’t know how we’d adjust to lockdowns, and we made it work. We can do the same once the COVID crisis is finally behind us – with a little help from our pets, of course.
In anticipation of a return to the office, start planning your post-pandemic pet care plan today.