Are pets suffering from generalized deconfinement?

Canine educator Simonne Raffa recently had to take care of a little dog (let’s call her Lili to protect her identity) who panicked as soon as she left the house where she had been confined since the start of the pandemic.

“Her owners have taken her out very little,” explains the expert in animal behavior and co-founder of the company De main de maître. She was overly stressed. She was afraid of all humans. She was hypersalivating. She was always trying to get back home. It’s a common problem, and dogs that suffer from it even have a hard time meeting with their veterinarian. »

Lili was nevertheless examined by her own, who prescribed her medication to reduce her anxiety. Rehabilitation based on a cognitive-behavioural approach then made it possible to transform the emotions linked to certain situations.

The usual therapeutic routine, what, for animals as for their masters. The same socio-psychological ills of the pandemic correspond to the same remedies.

Mme Raffa has seen many more or less similar cases for some time. A more serious one concerned a dog that bit a passer-by after leaving his residence.

“We see more frightened biting dogs,” says the educator. This one was adopted from a bad breeder who badly socialized the animal and badly selected the parents. The pandemic has exacerbated the problems and the dog has not had the proper training. »

Whether corrections (including a muzzle) and rehabilitation will save this vicious dog remains to be seen. Anyway, for him as for his less ill-fated peers, the hour of truth has come: their owners are returning to work face-to-face and en masse. They must now learn to live in a new world, in a depopulated home during the day and an environment overloaded with humans, animals and stimuli during the rare daily outings.

3.2 million friends

The number of dogs and cats living in Quebec homes increased by 200,000 during the first 18 months of the pandemic, according to a survey commissioned in the fall of 2021 by the Association of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec (AMVQ) in small animal practice. These furry people now number around 3.25 million, with roughly two kitties for one pup. For the first time, more than half of Quebec homes have at least one.

Relations were going very well then, since barely 3.5% of respondents to the survey complained about the “cohabitation experience” with the new dog, judged more or less good (2%) or downright bad. (1.5%). However, various problems were mentioned, including the animal’s fear of strangers (19%), its difficulty staying home alone (17%) and excessive yelping (15%).

You don’t have to mix it all up either. (Let’s say) pre-pandemic animals seem to adapt more easily to returning to near-normalcy.

People who have a dog old enough to have known the world before, interviewed Sunday at Laurier Park in Montreal, had only good words for their companion. Julien Demonchy adopted Oka (“like cheese”) three and a half years ago. He called on an instructor “very early” and the adaptation to recent changes (six months confined, a return to full-time work as a baker and pastry chef) has been exemplary.

“It’s not easy to leave my dog ​​alone all day,” says Mr. Demonchy, sitting on the grass while Oka slept behind him. But she is well educated and she does not cause problems. I do my part too. As soon as the work is finished, I go home to take care of her. »

The challenges seem greater with those that canine educator Jean Lessard calls “COVID puppies”, adopted and then isolated for two years. For them, hell is the absence of the master and the presence of other beasts.

“COVID puppies have had no socialization. They have developed a lot of aversion and fear towards all sorts of things in their environment, including other dogs, he says. They stayed with their human owners 24/7. It’s hard to leave them alone now. »

Two friends, Clara Costa and Andrew McPhee, also met on Sunday at Laurier Park, gave positive counter-examples. Mme Costa adopted little Soka in the midst of a pandemic in Spain. They emigrated together. “She is very quiet,” she says. She is well brought up. Mr. McPhee has owned Archer, a young crossbred dog, for two months. He telecommutes, like his wife. “He’s an animal with a lot of energy,” he said. I take it out very often. »

Canine tele-education

Jean Lessard has been a dog trainer for about 25 years. His volume of work has increased since the start of the pandemic (“perhaps by a quarter”), but simply because more dogs and cats have been adopted. Mme Raffa claims an increase of around 45% in the volume of its services.

“There has been an increase in the number of pets and therefore an increase in requests for services, she summarizes. There are more dogs in town than before. They cross paths more and the problems of socialization increase. In addition, we are understaffed, like other companies, so we are saturated with requests. »

Jean Lessard was able to transfer part of his services to video. Simonne Raffa was already well established there even before the pandemic. De main de maître now offers no less than 77 online training courses.

“Rehabilitating an animal is only part of the job,” she explains. In fact, we intervene with the owner so that he learns to act better with his animal. It is the owner who must change, for example to set up a program for his dog’s energy expenditure or to reduce his aggressive behavior. »

Separation anxiety linked to the fear of abandonment requires even more tact and even more specialized educators. An American study has just assessed that the rate of separation anxiety has increased by 700% in dogs in two years.

“People are going back to work and their dogs are developing behavioral issues,” says Rafa. Some are abandoning them, and the shelters are now full to bursting even before the July moving period. If someone wants to abandon their animal, they must now make an appointment [qui sera] fixed two or three weeks later, and in the meantime find solutions. »

Élise Desaulniers, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Montreal, is much less alarmist. She says she hasn’t heard of any particular problems for pets related to face-to-face work and wonders if the gradual return to a hybrid mode has something to do with it.

“The change is less drastic than at the start of the pandemic, with the confinement, she says. The return to normality is gradual, and I don’t feel a shock wave around me. »

The SPCA has resumed its usual rhythm or almost, with a very busy end of spring due to the more numerous births of kittens, the care given to orphaned wildlife (squirrels, raccoons, etc.). And then, like many others, this employer has to deal with inflation and the difficulty of recruiting staff.

Mme Desaulniers herself has started working in the office again three or four days a week for a few months. “My two cats are a little angry with me,” she says. I think they preferred having me at home, but it’s hard to say, because communication isn’t so easy with cats. I still have the impression that they are bored. When I come back at the end of the day, they are near the door and ask for more attention. But when I work at home, if I make too much noise, I know I annoy them…”

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