This undated photo shows a dog being weighed at Mission Animal Hospital in Eden Prairie, Minn., which provides subsidized care to low income pet owners.
( Kirsten Eitreim/Mission Animal Hospital via AP
Tanzina: Throughout this pandemic, many of us have spent more time at home than we likely ever have before and for pet owners, that's meant more time with your favorite animal companion.
Doris: This is Doris from Greenville, South Carolina. We love them the same now as before the pandemic but I think our dogs are thinking, "Yay, the humans are always home."
Cindy: This is Cindy. I'm in St. Louis and my dogs are probably the reason I am saying through all of the politics and the pandemic. My husband's great company, but he talks politics and pandemic all the time.
Sage: Hi, this is Sage from Jefferson Township, New Jersey. My pets are driving me crazy. They have not brought me any comfort whatsoever. In fact, they're making my virtual teaching much harder because they don't shut up.
Ed: This is Ed from Portland, Oregon. All the usual benefits apply, a furry companion, but best of all she's an automatic alarm telling me when UPS or FedEx packages have arrived. No worries about someone stealing a package before I get to it. Ha-ha, woof woof.
Tanzina: Thanks so much for those calls listeners. You gave us a lot. Keep calling us at 877-869-8253 to share more of your pet stories. With vaccines on the horizon though, a return to normalcy feels like it could be in sight, but going back to the office and to some of our pre-pandemic routines means pets will have to adjust no longer having their humans around all the time. Joining me now to talk about this is Clive Wynne, the director of director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University and the author of Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You. Clive, thanks for being with us.
Clive: Tanzina, great to be with you.
Tanzina: Clive, let's talk about how the pandemic is affecting pets here. Are our pets aware that things are different in 2020?
Clive: I think so. Very much so, Tanzina. I think it's very apparent to our pets though, as your callers said, we're there all the time. This is the new normal, has been for nine months, we will be for some time to come. I think by and large, there are exceptions, your calls, I thought, were an interesting sample. I think for most people and most pets, this is one of those small silver linings of the strange times that we're living through at the moment.
Tanzina: What about the pets themselves? What I'm thinking here about how a lot of pets may not have had opportunities to connect with other pets or other humans outside of their owners during this period. Will it be hard for pets to adapt to other humans as we begin to connect more or have pet owners been doing a good job, I guess here specifically dog owners, about getting their pets out and about?
Clive: I think that what we've seen in the pandemic is that people and their pets have bonded more strongly because they're spending more time together. there is this issue that we, like our pets, have been seeing fewer other people. I think there might be a problem, that there will at least be some pets that are going to be more nervous around strangers, that are going to have more difficulty. We're talking about walking dogs at a dog park, they might have more difficulty interacting with other dogs. Those are skills that we all have to practice and we end, our dogs are probably lost some of the knack of interacting with strangers.
Tanzina: We know that during the pandemic, there are folks who are taking more comfort in the pets they already have. Then there are those who adopted new pets to bring home for some comfort. What should people consider before adopting a pet?
Clive: Oh my goodness. I'm not going to say that it worries me that people are adopting pets during the pandemic because I understand why they're doing it, but I think the same rules apply during the pandemic as apply at any other time. That is when people ask me about getting particularly a dog, I always check with them to make sure that they have a dog shaped space in their lives because our dogs need things from us. They need our company, they need opportunities to exercise. I'm a university professor so I have a lot of young people ask me about getting a pet and I sit them down and I asked them about their lifestyle. What do they do?
These students here at Arizona State, they work hard and then they play hard and so they're not actually home very much at the time that they could actually be giving quality time to a dog or another pet. I usually, in that case, try and talk people out of getting a pet. The danger in the pandemic is that during these exceptional circumstances where we're all stuck at home all day, every day, in this exceptional time it might look like we can easily fit a pet into our lives. The real danger is what happens when we go back to normal. You've got to be confident that normal life has a pet shaped space in it if you're going to get a pet.
It's not enough to be able to give your pet a good life for what looks like it'll be a year. It looks like this pandemic experience will be about 12 months, and it's not enough because hopefully your dog, your cat, your whatever is going to live a lot longer than just this one year. You're going to have another decade or more afterwards when you need to find some way to live a rich life together with your pet.
Tanzina: Clive, one of the things that we're noticing is that some pets might start to get very used to having us home during the pandemic and so what should pet owners be looking for in terms of ways to determine whether or not their pet will have a hard time adapting once their humans start leaving the house more often?
Clive: Tanzina, it's going to be difficult to predict in advance. It might be noticeable that a pet is exceptionally clingy when we're home all-day, but until we start going back to work and leaving the house without them, we're really not going to know what's going to happen. It's going to be unpredictable. The crucial thing is that we try and do the best we can so that we're not suddenly going up to the edge of a cliff and jumping off, confronting the animal with a change in its lifestyle which is just so radical and so shocking and so unexpected that the animal is sure to be seriously distressed.
Instead we try and make this a gradual slope and we try and give our animals a chance, baby steps to get used to how life is changing. Meaning that we go out sometimes, even though at the moment we don't need to be going to work or whatever. I hardly ever go out that I couldn't be taking my dog with, but we're going to need to do that. We're going to need to run some errands without the dog, go for some walks without the dog and just get the animal used to, "Hey, my human can go away, but my human will come back. It's okay. It's a natural part of life is being left alone. It doesn't mean the world has ended.'
Tanzina: What about the humans who might have a hard time? The flip side of this is leaving their pets home. How should owners feel about their own separation anxiety or even guilt about leaving their pets home.
Clive: Tanzina, the exact same way. Let's give ourselves the same baby steps. I advise people to do this, and yet it feels so crazy. I can't bring myself to do it. That is just go for a walk without the dog. That feels like a bad thing to do, but that's what we need to do to get ourselves and them used to separation.
Tanzina: You heard it here first, Clive Wynne is the psychology professor and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University and also the author of Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You. Clive, thanks so much for being with us.
Clive: Tanzina, it was a real pleasure. Thank you.
Mercedes: My name is Mercedes and I'm calling from Orange County, California. Just wanted to let you know that during this pandemic my pet, my dog Lennon, keeps me sane. Now more than ever. Couldn't get through this without him.
Kevin: Hi, this is Kevin from Dallas, Texas. My cat Benjamin is a lovable and affectionate little fella. I've depended on him as someone to talk to or pat and to provide some physical affection when it's not safe to be close to other human beings. I've always been attached to my pets, but I love this little critter now more than ever.
Stephanie: Stephanie from Blissfield, Michigan. I began the pandemic with a dog I inherited half-time from my partner's previous relationship, and secretly I hated him. Many months later, this doggy rarely leaves my side and I think I might wither away to nothing without our morning snuggles.
Mia: This is Mia from Bridgeport, Connecticut. I have divorced and moved during this pandemic and I know I've spoiled my two cats more because of everything that's going on. New toys, new bedding and more. They've become more affectionate with me since I'm working from home now. I do worry about how they'll react when I go back to the office.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.