The Pandemic Puppy Journey to Emotional Stability
We adopted a puppy in the middle of a pandemic - here's how it's going. (Survey included!)
The Rat was adopted in March 2021.
'The Rat' is my name for her. She also goes by 'Airpod', 'Deathstick' and 'That Bloody Basket Case of a Dog'.
Her 'real' name is Sable. She's my mother's dog - my mother has always loved whippets.
The Rat was adopted as a bit of a whimsical 'why not?'.
It turns out that there were, in fact, many reasons not to adopt a whippet puppy. In the almost-two-years of The Rat's life here so far, she has destroyed about sixteen single shoes (only the left ones), three hats (only the expensive ones), two rabbits (half-decomposed), a window (????) and one snake (*insert screech*).
These destructions were left in convenient, vaguely disguised locations around the house, like little treasures to be discovered (often by smell). I'm sure that The Rat thinks of them as presents, because it's unlikely that she would feel the need to leave them under our pillows otherwise. I can imagine her little Rat Brain, full of adoring glee, burrowing under the sheets of my bed to leave the rotten, maggot-filled carcass of some poor rabbit behind as a token of her love.
I'm vegetarian, by the way.
There is no way that a poodle would have managed to create this amount of strife.
COVID Lockdown and the 'Pandemic Puppy' Syndrome
Both of my parents have vet degrees, but Dad is the only one that still practices. He says that business has exponentially increased during the COVID pandemic, to the point where it's become a strain. Everyone has been at home, feeling more lonely and bored than usual, and we collectively decided to adopt a pet to fill the time.
The RSPCA has seen pet adoption rates double since the beginning of the pandemic, with many shelters completely emptying. Waitlists for puppies have also increased, with some reported to be as long as three years.
Not only are adoption rates increasing, but less and less pets are getting lost or going stray. More people are at home looking after their animals. But unfortunately for many vets, this has involved an increased occurrence of a new form of hypochrondria - people are imagining that their pets have illnesses that aren't there.
3am house-visits have been made to dogs who coughed once. Pet owners call seeking drug prescriptions for invisible lamenesses. My Dad thinks that people have been looking for an excuse to leave the house - a vet visit can be considered an 'essential' activity.
But lockdown has been having effects on the animals themselves, too. Owners have been noticing increased levels of separation anxiety and codependency in their pets, who have become accustomed to having their humans at home all day, every day.
The Rat is a textbook example of this. For months, she chased the car up our 2km driveway every time we tried to leave, and she wouldn't let herself be caught and tied up or locked in the house.
She's a smart dog - she began to recognise the early warning signs of departure. Jingling keys, putting on shoes, carrying a handbag. Even walking with purpose towards the front door would be enough to send her scurrying, gluing herself to our legs so that we couldn't get out the door without her.
The Window Incident happened one day when we left to get groceries, locking her behind us so that she wouldn't chase the car onto the road. The Rat (or, in this instance, That Bloody Basket Case of a Dog) tried to chew through the window in an attempt to escape the house and follow us.
The beautiful french doors to my parents' room lay in tatters when we returned. The Rat was forced to sleep outside for a week (outside the bedroom, mind you, not actually outside. She probably would have chewed through the doors again, to get in, if that had been the case). Yet she did not seem remorseful.
After the Window Incident, my parents decided that it was time for The Rat to receive some conditioning in an attempt to help her separation anxiety.
We started small: making her spend brief periods with no contact with us. The first day, Mum locked her in the spare room for half an hour then let her out. After spending the entire time whimpering and pacing, the door was opened and a blur of Rat came flying out. Her tail wagged so hard you could barely see it.
Over days, the amount spent locked away was increased until she could survive a few hours on her own.
Then lockdown ended, and we all went back to work or school. This was the real doggy-test. We didn't know how she would react to a whole day of an empty house. Would she run away from home? We live on a property of about forty acres, but she's a fit dog, and she could have made it onto the road if she'd wanted to. We hoped that the presence of the other, more emotionally stable dogs would be enough to anchor her.
But our 'training' had been successful - The Rat was still there when we got home (although I'm not sure that this was good news for the local rabbits). She was ecstatic to see us, and ran to greet the car as it drove down the driveway. We all got extra whippet love that afternoon.
She only chases the car occasionally now, on seemingly random occasions, and she'll turn around and walk home if she's yelled at. The codependency situation has significantly improved, and she's considerably more emotionally stable.
But the other day she brought a dead snake to the front doorstep - a move with undertones of doggy passive-aggressiveness (intentional or otherwise, I'm not sure), so maybe there's still some canine therapy to be undergone.
I'm sure she enjoyed the exhibition of human hysteria from my Mum when she found it.
The journey continues.