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Helping Your Dog Adjust... Post-Pandemic

The pandemic sent lots of us home for work in late March, and many workers have settled into that routine as the pandemic worsens.  The upheaval in our schedules and our everyday lives has also affected our canine friends.  So how can we help our dogs adjust when we head back to the office?  WMRA’s Jason Barr reports.

Debbie Caywood is the director of the Augusta SPCA, which, like many organizations, has struggled with keeping its staff employed.  But there’s an unexpected benefit to more people working from home.  Since March of this year, the Augusta SPCA has had 465 adoptions. That’s actually a drop from last year’s 707 dogs being adopted.  But it’s for a good reason…on a regional level, there just aren’t enough dogs to go around. 

Credit Debbie Caywood
Debbie Caywood is the director of the Augusta Regional SPCA.

DEBBIE CAYWOOD: And everyone is facing the same situation with the lack of dogs available for adoption. We've been getting one in a month and they come in on a Friday and by Wednesday, the next week, they're adopted in their forever homes.

Dr. Garrett Smith is a veterinarian at the very busy Ashby Animal Clinic in Harrisonburg, where he took some time from his break to talk with me.  He agrees that there are some positives to this pandemic.  For one thing, pets are getting a lot more quality time with their humans.

DR. GARRETT SMITH: I would say in general we've had more positive things where owners are saying that their dog seems more interactive with them, like a lot of pets genuinely seem like they're enjoying their owners being home more.

Ashby Animal Clinic sponsors programs on WMRA.

But our four-legged companions can also sense when we’re having a tough time.

Credit Molly Brennan
Molly Brennan, APDT, is the dog trainer at the Harrisonburg Petsmart. Molly has deaf dog experience and she tests for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen and Trick Dog programs. She is also the tester for the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in our area.

MOLLY BRENNAN: Dogs are very much biofeedback devices; so we have been feeling stressed.  It's just been awful on humans…

Molly Brennan is a tester for the American Kennel Club and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.  She helps dog owners train their dogs to become Good Canine Citizens.  Brennan says that, like humans, dogs may be struggling with stress during this pandemic, too.

BRENNAN: And the only time in a natural pack a dog leader would get stressed and tense up is if they're preparing to fight to protect the pack. Well, we're tense all the time. Since March, I've been tense, OK? [laughs]  So that is sending a message to the dogs that unless they see a grizzly bear in the distance, they don't know how to cope with because they're not seeing: well, where is it? Where's that danger? They are mirroring our stress levels.

And when the vaccine arrives and we start to return to a new normal, it’s important to not only prepare ourselves, but to prepare our dogs, too.

BRENNAN: Dogs are big lovers of routine. You can't make an abrupt change without it freaking your dog out, basically. So if you know that it's possible that you're going to be all of a sudden going back to work, you've got to introduce that concept gradually prior to doing that. You can't just one day on Tuesday say bye, see ya, and now you're gone for eight hours.

That echoes the advice Caywood gives to prospective adopters who come to the Augusta SPCA.

CAYWOOD: So if people use a routine, a daily routine, whether they're at home now or they return to work, most dogs adapt to that and they do very well. You'll get some with separation anxiety. But if you utilize the time that you're home with exercise and stimulating the animal then everything should work out whether you're back to work or if you're still at home.

Credit Ashby Animal Clinic
Dr. Garrett Smith (he's the tall one) is a veterinarian at Ashby Animal Clinic in Harrisonburg.

Dr. Smith agrees.

SMITH: Yeah.  I would emphasize just making sure that you do as much as you can if you have a dog, especially where you're worried about them adjusting to try and get them a little bit more acclimated prior to when you're going to be gone again full time, the more you can do on the front end, I think the better outcome that you can expect if it is something that you're worried about.

And, Molly Brennan reminds us of one very important fact, pandemic or not.

BRENNAN: You are your dog's world.

As for your much more independent cat?  Well, that’s a different story…

Jason Barr is a long-time resident of the Valley. His academic work has appeared in The Explicator, African American Review, and The Journal of Carribean Literatures. His first book, The Kaiju Film, was released in 2016 by McFarland Press. He is currently a composition and literature teacher at Blue Ridge Community College.