I have to admit it, I’ve found myself strangely staring at my dog and envying it for the last few days. Why? Well, while I struggle to get any work done, she’s blissfully enjoying her 100th nap for the day. She sleeps for a while, then wakes up, immediately gets her favorite toy, and brings it to me with her eyes full of joy signalizing me that it is playtime. I look in those bright, big, brown eyes and I think to myself… How could this wonderful creature be so calm and joyous while the world outside is literally falling to pieces?
Dogs have been our greatest emotional support since forever. Their primary function in the past may have been pulling sleds and hunting, but right now it’s being our own keepers. Our mental health gurus. But as they offer their unconditional love and presence during these hard times, you have to ask yourself. What have we done in return and how much do we really owe them?
Have we been taking their love for granted all of this time?
When it comes to their needs, unlike us, they have always been programmed to be close to us. Being close to their humans have always been their version of heaven. But, right now, we are developing those same urges for closeness, and the more time passes, the needier we get. And yet, we don’t perceive that as a behavior that needs to be pathologized.
Which opens the following subject. Why do we frown upon the attention-seeking behavior that our dogs show when it is nothing more than them wanting attention when we don’t feel like it? Why do we feel like we need to yell at them and punish them for being too needy? And more importantly, why most animal behaviorists advise us to ignore their need for our affection?
For those who do not know, this phenomenon is called “separation anxiety”. It is a term that is used to explain dogs’ needy behavior which eventually prevents us from empathizing with them.
Right now the tables have finally turned. We are the ones isolated from everyone and we are the ones that are in desperate need of love and physical closeness. And now that we are forced to stay at home, both our needs for affection and physical closeness have increased. And significantly, I might add.
So, the question remains…
Will we use this crisis and our current solitude to explore the one-sidedness in our interactions with our canine companions and through it understand that our social isolation is pretty much complex and uncomfortable as theirs when they are rejected? Or we’ll continue minding our business thinking that they are perfectly fine without us?
On one side, there is news that the number of fostered dogs in the last month has drastically increased. One example is the animal shelter that the New York Times wrote about. They sent out a call for 200 foster placements but received 2000 applications. And that’s truly wonderful and heartwarming news.
However, there’s also a dark side to it. One of the reasons for the fostering frenzy right now is the fact that most people who work very far from home and have chosen not to have a pet, are now suddenly trapped inside their homes. They do work, but they also have a lot more time on their hands. And less social interaction, for that matter. So, they adopt. But let’s think for a minute. Pretty soon things we’ll go back to normal. So, what’s going to happen with these poor souls when all of this is suddenly over and all of these people go back to work?
Quite honestly, I fear that most of these dogs will be loved intensely, showered with affection, and used for emotional comfort until this crisis last. After that who knows where they’ll end up. Some will probably be returned to their shelters and some, well… Some will most likely be left alone in the streets…
Believe it or not, the madness has just started. In the U.S. there already are reports of dogs thrown out, chained up in the cold weather, or left at shelters. The only reason for it? People’s irrational fears that their dogs may get infected by COVID19 and eventually infect them as well.
Fortunately, as I already said, this is just the beginning. All dogs will suffer great emotional trauma once this is over. Even those who have spent their entire lives with an owner will need time to adjust to life without their humans as soon as people return to work. So, even though this situation might be an opportunity for many dogs to finally get the attention they needed, it may also be one the most stressful and most challenging times for them.
So, let’s be thankful for them. Let’s be thankful for they are the greatest gifts that one could ever ask for. Let’s appreciate their utmost support and their unconditional love for us each and every second of their lives. Let’s take some time and think about how much they are giving us and what we’re giving them in return. But let’s also reflect on our most precious moments beside them and ask ourselves,
“Have we done enough for these incredible, loving creatures?”
“Do we perhaps owe them much more than we’ve already given them?”