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MSPCA-Angell Poll: Owners Worried about how Pets Will Adjust to our “New Normal”

24 Percent of Pet Owners Expect their Dog to Experience Separation Anxiety, Nearly Six in 10 Taking Steps to Help Fido Adjust

BOSTON—May 4, 2021 – As the country charts a new and tentative path forward, pet owners preparing a return to work outside the home are worried their pets will suffer separation anxiety—and nearly as many are concerned that they themselves will struggle to adjust to the new normal—according to an MSPCA-Angell poll released today.

A quarter of the 500 people polled say they believe their pets will experience separation anxiety after more than a year of having their owners by their side nearly every day.  And people are faring no better: a full 27 percent say it is very likely they will also suffer emotional issues tied to a return to work outside the home.

Massive Increase in Pet Ownership

Eighty four percent of respondents acquired at least one new pet in the last year, when stay-at-home orders provided just the incentive needed for fence-sitting adopters to make the leap.  A full 45 percent of them say they anticipate having to return to work now that vaccination rates are skyrocketing.

Adopter Marissa Casillo of Boston, who brought her dog, Charlie, home from the Northeast Animal Shelter last October, is committed to ensuring her beloved pet makes a smooth transition.

“Charlie is one of the best decisions we ever made,” said Casillo.  “He is painfully shy—but an absolute sweetheart.  Having the opportunity to build a relationship and gain his trust by being home has been vital for him and us.  Once we return to the office, we will have to work on adjusting his routine.”

Marissa’s experience is shared by hundreds of others.  Thirty four percent of respondents say the pandemic’s stay-at-home order significantly strengthened the bond between themselves and their pet, leaving so many worried about the road ahead.

Experts: Prepare NOW to Ease the Transition for Pets

According to Dr. Terri Bright, head of behavior services at the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center, the time to prepare pets for this transition is now.

“Dogs, especially, get very attached to routine—they love knowing that a morning meal is followed by a walk and then a nap, or whatever their daily habits have coalesced around during the last year,” she said.  “And just like us, they may welcome a transition to a new schedule that may not only be less busy, but involve much more alone time than before.”

In some cases, animals prefer a bit of alone time, said Dr. Bright.  “I’ve seen dogs this year who became jittery because the owners were home too much and the dog was not getting its usual amount of sleep during the day,” she added.

Dr. Bright offers the following tips to help prepare pet owners to successfully transition back to work:

  • Acclimation: Bake in periods of the day in which Fido will be left alone for at least thirty minutes—not only to help him adjust, but so that you can monitor any unforeseen behavior issues that may arise.  Dr. Bright suggests using a Wi-Fi camera to assess pet behavior in real time, while away from home.
  • Get smart about toys: Stimulating toys—particularly those with hidden cavities for treats—can be a dog’s best friend, occupying them for hours at home and filling the time between when you leave for work and when you return.
  • Call in the experts: Dr. Bright advises that anyone overwhelmed at the prospect of preparing their dog for such a radical shift to contact the MSPCA-Angell’s Behavior Department. And if they see signs of anxiety such as drooling, going to the bathroom inside, destructiveness, attempts to escape or excessive vocalization, they should contact a certified behaviorist ASAP.

Survey Methodology

The MSPCA-Angell survey was conducted via email on April 28, 2021 and includes owners of at least one pet.  Eighty eight percent of respondents are based in Massachusetts, with 12 percent residing in neighboring states including Connecticut and New Hampshire.