People aren’t the only ones in the house affected by the pandemic. The lives of pets are subject to disruption, too.
At the start, the change has been good for pets: With many owners working from home, or at least spending more time at home, dogs and cats have welcomed the extra people time and attention.
But when the pandemic restrictions end, and the humans return to their routines and office work, pets are likely to notice the change — and not be happy.
The experts advise a gradual approach to the changes, especially for dogs.
“If you have been working from home and have had more opportunities to take longer walks, or just spending more time with your dogs in general, it’s important to make the shift to your normal work schedule a gradual one and not stopping everything all together,” said Candy Valentino, founder of Animal Friends of Westmoreland, a no-kill shelter that has an adoption center in Youngwood and a farm sanctuary in Unity. “This will not only keep your pets more emotionally stable, but also happier. Like everyone who has drastic changes in their schedules, animals need to be given time to adjust.”
The stress level of a pet will vary, said Danny Rosenmund, shelter manager at Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley in New Kensington, a no-kill animal shelter serving the Allegheny-Kiski Valley.
“Animals need to be taught to be left alone,” he said. “Most will be stressed if their owner goes back to the office. The best way to make the transition and avoid separation anxiety, and some pets will have this, is to start by leaving them in small increments at a time, so they get used to you leaving them.”
Adopting a pet
With many people working and staying at home for nearly a year now, some are deciding they want to adopt a pet.
That’s great, experts at shelters said. But they advise against a quick decision.
It’s important to think it through and know that this choice is a long-term commitment — for the lifespan of the pet, not just for the pandemic.
“Our dog population is down right now,” Rosenmund said. “We recommend the foster-to-adopt method. That way, you can try before you finalize the deal. It is so important to know if the home is the right fit for the animal. Fostering also reduces an animal’s time spent in a shelter.”
People considering pet adoption should spend the time to get to know the animal, Rosenmund said. At Animal Protectors, there are private meet and greet spaces. All visits are by appointment only for now.
Bethany Morse, animal care manager at Animal Friends of Westmoreland, said they’ve seen a strong uptick in adoptions, starting from when the state moved into the red phase of the pandemic in the spring.
“I believe that our adopters have equated more time at home with more time to train and get an animal adjusted to new surroundings,” Morse said.
Amid the pandemic restrictions, and the lack of resources both with the veterinary care, staff and volunteers, Animal Friends chose to foster out many animals. “As a result, even some of our harder-to-adopt dogs found forever homes,” said Kelli Brisbane, executive director Animal Friends of Westmoreland.
Rosenmund said a number of people surrendered their animals because downsized their home to where they might not be permitted to have a pet.
Some have lost jobs and can’t afford to feed and care for the animals. Animal Protectors can help with food for pet owners in need.
The New Kensington shelter recently moved into a $1.8 million facility, paid for by private funding, that encompasses just under 4 acres. The shelter is larger and can accommodate double the population.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop | Tribune-Review
Kiwi reaches out for a paw-shake from her cage at Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley in New Kensington on Jan. 7.
Rosenmund said while the number of dogs at the shelter is low, the cat population is high. There wasn’t an opportunity to spay and neuter them last spring because of the pandemic.
Animal shelters have faced various challenges during the pandemic. Like most nonprofits that depend on fundraising events, finances have been strained. At Animal Friends of Westmoreland, Brisbane said volunteer illnesses forced other volunteers and staff employees to work additional hours to care for the animals.
“The animals continue to need our care and services despite this pandemic, and we will do everything that we can to find them a forever home more now than ever,” said Jessica Rafferty, vice president of the board of directors for Animal Friends of Westmoreland.
Brisbane said the pandemic has been an emotional roller coaster for everyone, even pets.
“But no matter what is going on in the world, our pets are here to give us unconditional love,” Brisbane said. “We need that now more than ever.”
Courtesy of Tiffany and Gene Kowalewski
Tiffany and Gene Kowalewski of South Greensburg adopted a dog named Midnight from Animal Friends of Westmoreland in August.
A loving home
Tiffany and Gene Kowalewski of South Greensburg adopted a dog named Midnight from Animal Friends of Westmoreland.
The couple had planned to adopt, pandemic or not, said Tiffany Kowalewski. She and her husband realize the commitment they’ve made.
“Everything we have done has been planned,” said Tiffany Kowalewski. “From our engagement to our wedding to buying and house and now getting a dog, we plan everything. Midnight is definitely spoiled. She loves to be loved. But she also loves her alone time, too.”
They’ve made sure to give her both attention and opportunities to be by herself so that when they are working, she will be OK being alone. They offset those times with taking her with them to the park or for car rides, pretty much any place that allows pets.
They said they felt the minute they saw her that she was the one, but wanted to make sure so they took the time to visit and play with her several times so the husky mix could get to know them.
The adoption was finalized on Aug. 10.
The first night the couple slept in the living room with her.
“When a dog makes eye contact with you and holds that eye contact there is definitely a connection,” Tiffany Kowalewski said. “When we saw her face we were like, oh my god, look at those eyes. She leaned toward us in the cage so we could pet her. We really wanted to give this fur baby a loving home.”
She was born in April, the month they bought their house.
“It was meant to be,” Tiffany Kowalewski said.
“During this time of isolation, owning a pet can provide so many benefits,” said Brisbane. “Beyond the inevitable of companionship, having to care for and take an animal outdoors during the day, also helps the owner, especially those that may be suffering from depression or anxiety.”
Having an animal is a reason to get off the couch, a reason to breathe in the fresh air, to go for a walk or a hike, Brisbane said.
“And at the end of the day, you are never alone,” she said. “There is always someone to greet you, someone that needs you, and someone to cuddle with.”
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