It’s easy to overlook the huge impact WFH has had on our pets, but they need support too, as households go back to work and pets are left alone for long periods.
Melbourne based animal behaviourist Laura Vissaritis helps people understand their animals. After working for many years at a zoo with a range of animals, Vissaritis now helps domestic pet owners understand their pet’s behaviours. She has recently been involved with helping people prepare themselves and their pets for life after COVID-19.
In the past couple of decades, but even more in 2020, the importance of pets has been realised, “The pet industry has become crucial to humans and is a major part of our lives”.
Statistics show animal shelters have had record high adoption rates and even been completely cleared out and much less animals coming into the shelter during the duration of COVID-19.
“Pets are particularly popular with younger generations who are choosing not to have children as well as middle aged people who experience ‘empty nest syndrome’ as their children leave home”.
“The companionship given by pets, especially dogs, is a life saver. This is why so many shelters have become smaller during the pandemic, as restrictions have resulted in a lot of people home alone. Sometimes the only time people speak out loud all day is to their pets”.
People around the world have built much closer bonds with their pets during this time, as pets have given their owners extra love and support. “Many people have said that without their pet, they don’t know how they would have gotten through this tough time”, Vissaritis explained. “Pets have also become accustomed to having their owners around more, and have shown better behaviour as a result.”
Vissaritis has three dogs, two goats and a cat (that all get on surprisingly well!) and like every other pet owner, is starting to think about the return to normality as COVID-19 restrictions lessen.
FOGO or fear of going without pets, is a phenomenon that occurs as people get to spend increased time with their pets (like during COVID-19) and then have to go back to normal life and leave their pets home alone.
Open Farm, a premium pet food company that works to help people understand their pets better, has observed that people have recently become anxious about leaving their pets when face to face work resumes after COVID-19.
So, how do pet owners prepare themselves and their pets for normality? Vissaritis has 5 tips:
- Vissaritis explains that pets (and owners!) need to be eased into spending time alone. “Start by teaching them to sit and stay while you go out of sight, then come back and reward them with a treat”.
- Then try leaving them for five minutes alone while you go to the shops and incrementally increase this time, but teach your pet that you will always come back.
- “Pets need to have a positive experience being alone”, try setting up mental exercise like a treat dispenser with a high value treat (food that is better than their usual dog food).
- Another of Vissaritis’ suggestions is to throw your pet’s leftover food into the backyard for them to find to keep them distracted and busy.
- Pet care doesn’t stop when the work day is over either, an exercise routine helps pets let out extra energy. “Particularly dogs, who have had more walks during the pandemic have become happier, which makes them better behaved.”
Vissaritis reminds, “We can learn from our pets, they live in the moment and are optimistic, this is the key to happiness”.