Animals can be a strong emotional support in difficult times, and it might feel like with all the spare time during the Corona lockdown, now is the perfect time to foster or adopt an animal. However, this needs to be a carefully considered undertaking. Whilst a wonderful thing to do, adoption is a long-term commitment, and fostering should not be taken lightly.
Adopt, don’t shop
As many people are working from home now to combat the further spread of COVID-19, it is certainly true that this is a good time to adopt or foster. Adopting a pet (rather than buying one) is the best way to add a new family member. There are thousands of animals in shelters, many there through no fault of their own looking for loving permanent homes.
Anyone considering adopting or fostering a shelter animal should bear in mind that at some point our lives will go back to normal once the lockdown has curbed the spread of the virus. It is therefore important that they ensure that they are still able to take care of the animal post the lockdown, especially if adopting.
Some questions to ask yourself to help make this decision are:
- Do you have the financial means to care for a pet for their entire life?
- Do you know enough about the animal’s needs and can you fulfil them all?
- Will you be able to walk your pet regularly?
- Who will take care of your pet if you are at work or go on holiday?
- Can you spend enough time with your pet?
- Is your lifestyle suited to have an animal in your care? For example, dogs need a lot of attention and are not suitable for people who spend a large amount of their time away from home, leaving the dog on their own.
Foster care needs similar consideration. After the lockdown ends, fostered animals should not have to go back to the shelter, but rather be kept until they can find a new forever home. Fostering might provide short-term relief for shelters, but when the world returns to normal, shelter animals should not be immediately returned, this is not fair on the shelter or the animal who is in foster care.
Animals can offer wonderful emotional support especially in times of crisis like this. Their presence reduces stress and has a positive impact on mental health. It would be fantastic if the corona lockdown brought about unprecedented levels of animals finding loving homes. But it’s crucial to consider carefully if you can provide for a pet for the rest of their life, not just during the lockdown period, so that everyone benefits at the end of the day.
Pets and life after COVID-19 lockdown
Australians are currently spending significantly more time at home, which is particularly beneficial for pets, however, life after lockdown needs to be considered too. Pets who will then spend more time alone must be prepared in due time to return to their usual routine. In this way their well-being can be guaranteed even in times of change.
For dogs, big changes are often a special challenge. Through time spent together, they develop close relationships with their owners. Things become critical when something changes during this time and the dog has to do without the attention of their owner in everyday life.
“In order to get pets used to a normal routine again, it is important to gradually leave the house for a longer period and show them that their owners will always return home,” says Sarah Ross, Companion Animal Expert at FOUR PAWS.
With insecure dogs, even a temporary separation can lead to behavioural problems. Fear of separation which manifests itself through destructive behaviour like damaging furniture, barking and yelping until the owner returns, or depression as a result of loneliness, can be prevented through proper preparation and care.
Cats seem to cope more easily with such situations and generally do not show the same behavioural problems as dogs.
“Although many cats appreciate the attention and closeness of their family, most are independent and also structure their days themselves. It’s easier to prepare them for being alone again,” says Ross. Nevertheless, cats can also benefit from a few exercise sessions.
Owners must ensure that their pets continue to feel safe even when the time of constant attention has ended and the world returns to normality. As a pet owner, one can contribute a lot by teaching the pet how to deal with being alone and how to enjoy it.
“For example, feeding games keep the animals occupied longer and distract them from the absence of their owners. Pets should also be given breaks and should be respected if they withdraw of their own accord,” says Ross.
Here are a few tips to help you:
- Gradual training: As with training puppies, you can get an adult dog used to being alone again by first leaving the house for just a few minutes, extending it to 15 minutes, then half an hour etc, and slowly increasing this time. Gradually your pet will learn to trust that you will return home again.
- Allow breaks: In between the games you are playing with your pet, ensure you have decent breaks. This downtime is necessary so that your pet gets enough rest and sleep.
- Respect your pet’s rest: When your pet retreats to their sleeping place, this rest should be respected, and your pet should be allowed to rest. Make sure any children understand this too.
- Design ‘self-entertainment’ activities: For example, design a feeding game in which your pet’s treat is given in the form of food balls or by using a Kong or something similar. Your pet will have to occupy themselves for a long time to get the food, distracting them while separated from you, and teaching them to entertain themselves.
- Ignore your pet sometimes: It is healthy to ignore your pet sometimes, especially when they are demanding too much attention.
- Dressing and undressing cues: Animals are clever at associating typical exit rituals leading up to their owners leaving the house. It’s a good idea to get them used to these by putting on shoes, a jacket and other outfits several times a day without leaving your home.
- Prepare for the impact on your pets: If special circumstances like the COVID-19 crisis or even a broken leg or an illness make it necessary for you to stay at home more than usual, you should absolutely use the time to dedicate extra attention to your pet. However, for their ongoing wellbeing, the attention must be well measured so that it does not result in future problems for your pet such as separation anxiety. Time together can be enjoyed by everyone with careful consideration.
About FOUR PAWS
FOUR PAWS is the global animal protection organisation for animals under human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding.
FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions, as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Hungary, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.