I have separation anxiety. I’m stuck in locked-down Sydney without my dog

When I was at my lowest lockdown point – maybe three or even four lockdowns ago – my sensible friend Jenni offered me some consolation. The pandemic may be miserable for humanity, she said, but we should take heart that it was a true golden age for dogs.I glanced down. Our dachshund, Germanicus, was curled up beside me on the couch, in the shape of a fur croissant. His little bronze head was tucked against my leg. He was napping and smiling, and Jenni was, as she usually is, quite right.
‘It’s not a photo opportunity’: adopting a pet is hard work, Victorian shelters warn as returns surge

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Seeing spots? Or not… Dalmatian puppies are pure white when they are born and develop their spots as they grow older.

I am a late-life convert to dogloverism. I fought the entire progress of dog acquisition from the moment my dog-soppy, fur-brained partner mooted it four years ago. “You can only get a dog if I’m the one who names it,” was as brilliant as my tactics got in a strategy to dissuade him from the purchase once the deposit was laid down. Was my partner really prepared to wander round the local park screaming “Germanicus Ulysses!” into the bushes if the mutt caught the scent of a rabbit? He wasn’t merely prepared; he was elated. The dog arrived the next day, my love for the soft, precious thing flowered, and we have both been screaming “Germ! GERM!” into the bushes ever since.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Dachshunds were originally bred to fight badgers.

If I adored the dog before the pandemic, my relationship with him since the seemingly endless cycles of lockdown began has transformed into the symbiotic. My sausage-shaped shadow and I have been a constant pair. In the before times, the churn of locations and colleagues in my career as a subcontracting freelancer was as loud as the whirr of my packed social life. Into the sudden social silence wandered the dog, with opportune cuddles and wise eyes, and the occasional bullying shove with his nose to get me off the couch and into the yard with him, or a stomping insistence he be taken to the park for an airy rabbit chase and a walk.

Be Diligent about Vet Visits. “Don’t wait for the signs,” Dr. Becker stresses. Focus on “prevention first.” Pets age fast, and when it comes to illness they are programmed to mask weakness, “they’re naturally secretive.” One to two visits a year is ideal, but if you suspect a problem, don’t hesitate, and don’t self-diagnose. “In the last two years I’ve seen four or five cases where people went to the internet for help, and by the time they get to the vet it’s too late,” says Dr. Becker.

The dog has not just been a sponge for our need to interact that we haven’t often been able to enjoy in person with our friends. He’s been our carer, too. His demand for routine has prevented us from sliding into the fog of lockdown’s indistinct hours. He needs to eat, so we eat; he decides to go to bed, and we follow him. He becomes delighted by a butterfly or obsessed with a stick and shows us that confined space does not have to mean restricted joy. He gets scared of the wind and barks at it and reminds us that a world exists beyond lockdown and our house.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Stray dogs in Russia have learned how to ride the complex subway system, and get off at specific stops in search of food.

Van Badham’s dog‘The chemical effect of my companion is an also an increase in serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that my brain, even with pills, can’t properly manage on its own.’ Photograph: Supplied

I have known life with a depressive disorder and PTSD longer than I’ve known the dog and can vouch for the positive difference he has made to my illness. Studies confirm that the bond between a loving owner and dog is a chemical one, that both species release the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin over the length of their mutual gaze. The chemical effect of my companion is an also an increase in serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that my brain, even with pills, can’t properly manage on its own. Dogs reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. The intimate analysis they make of your facial expressions means that they can listen and respond when you talk about your problems even if they’ll never understand them.

The logic of pet companionship in these lonely times drove pandemic purchases of dogs because it was obvious. Little wonder stories of “pandemic puppies” dumped on shelters after lockdowns eased went viral. As studies compare the chemical bond between humans and dogs to that of nursing mothers and infants, the idea of abandoning either no doubt provokes a similar instinctive moral scorn.

Socialize your pet. This is especially important for puppies. Again – behavior problems are the number one reason dogs don’t stay with their families and don’t get adopted by new families. Lack of proper socialization can result in inappropriate fears, aggressive behavior, general timidity, and a host of other behavior problems that are difficult to extinguish once a dog is mature.

How I fell in love with my dog | Van Badham

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Yes, costs of upkeep and vets can become too much for some people to maintain. Given the health benefits of dogs, there are maths that can and should be worked out about providing community veterinary services as a form of cost-efficient health support.

With profound relief I read that “No, People Are Not Returning Pandemic Dogs in Droves”, and was reassured that for many, separation was unthinkable. There have been many recommendations, too, about preparing dogs against anxiety for when owners must once again leave home to work.

But what if the anxiety’s in the opposite direction?

Towards late June, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I managed to slip into New South Wales from Victoria the day before the Sydney lockdown started so I could care for her. My partner planned to bounce between the cities with Germanicus. The Delta variant, lockdown, unfathomable government unpreparedness for this crisis has kept our little family separated for two months.

Make Your Own Elevated Food Bowl. You can make your own elevated pet food bowl with an $8 table from Ikea. Elevated food bowls make eating easier on dogs with arthritis and joint problems since they won’t have to bend down as much.

We are hardly the hardest-hit family of corona, but ongoing frustration and calamity have hurt every family in its own way. My partner and I can, at least, commiserate about our separation in our daily phone calls. I am grateful I can be with my mum.

The dog hears only the distant crackle of my voice if those calls are on speaker and he becomes distressed. He searches for me in the yard. My partner has given him my empty dressing gown to sleep on so he can settle at night.

I am not so settled. I’m aware that my shadow is missing, and Sydney’s lockdown drags on.

The routine of caring for a pet can bring structure and purpose to daily life. Maybe you don’t always want to get out of bed, but your pet wants you to. Isn’t that a good thing?