May 23, 2022

Yesterday’s NY Times feed addressed the stress and anxiety faced by puppies adopted during the pandemic as their owners return to work.  A team from Auburn University found the “pandemic puppies” adopted in the US are fearful during encounters with other dogs and humans because they spent so much of their early lives cooped up inside.  They were also found to sometimes panic when exposed to an unfamiliar environment and are struggling to cope with being alone as their owners return to the office.  The first three months are extremely important to the puppies’ social development and even trips to the vet can be stressful as a new encounter.  

When I looked online, I found Dr. Christopher Lea of Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine said, “Primary socialization occurs during the first three to six weeks with a puppy’s littermates.  Then there is a secondary period of development from 6 to 12 weeks.  This is when a puppy learns to interact with humans.”  This is the time puppies learn to bond and communicate with other dogs and people properly, and how to interact and respond to different environments.  Like their owners, pandemic puppies were secluded from the world, and many were adopted by first-time owners who are more likely to make mistakes raising a young pet.  This produced what the researchers called, “a perfect storm of bad circumstances at a critical time” for the puppies and often results in separation anxiety.  This will likely get worse as owners return to the office.  The puppies have never been left alone and now the owners are returning to their normal routine.

One response to the social development issues of these puppies has been a doubling of pets returned to shelters.  What began as instant companionship during the pandemic has become an ongoing responsibility that many pet owners refuse to accept.  The American Kennel Club estimates 73% of first-time dog owners who adopted puppies during the pandemic have at least considered rehoming or turning them in to a shelter.  According to Aron Jones of Moms and Mutts Colorado Rescue in Englewood, Colorado, “the world is opening up, people are going back to work, they’re traveling.  People aren’t just lonely anymore, so the dogs are not necessarily fitting into their lifestyles, and they are returning them instead of trying to make adjustments to keep their dog.” 

THOUGHTS:  While Zena was not adopted as one of the “pandemic puppies”, she still faces the same difficulty as we take more time away from the house.  Zena struggles with riding in a vehicle as she is still developing her inner ear and easily develops vertigo, with predictable results.  This caused Melissa to miss a scheduled trip to Kansas to stay home with the puppy.  Zena’s first hours alone resulted in an explosion in the small bathroom.  We now place her in the room where she sleeps at night along with water and a toy and she has adapted well.  Zena is in a Puppy Basics class to teach us (more than her) how to react and offer guidance.  And Zena has puppy dates with Eddie to continue the socialization began with her five littermates.  Puppies are instant companions, but like children, they are a long-term responsibility.  Like puppies, children benefit from early learning opportunities that last into adulthood.  Pre-K For All is not a slogan, it is a responsibility.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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