The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Animal Shelters, Pet Adoptions and Post-Pandemic Care

DEAR DR. FOX: Here in New Jersey, almost everything that had shut down due to the pandemic has been reopened, wholly or in part. But not animal shelters. At the shelters near me, anyone interested in adopting must select a pet from an online picture, then make an appointment to meet the animal. What is the rationale for this, and do you think these strict rules are still necessary? -- J.W., Allenhurst, New Jersey

DEAR J.W.: Yes, I think these restrictions are very much in order, and wish similar ones would have been applied months ago in other situations where people gather in confined areas. Such steps would have done much to reduce America’s high death rate and uncounted numbers of survivors suffering from some of the chronic health consequences of this highly contagious virus.

Many people now shop online, and the internet is a tool shelters have effectively used to facilitate adoptions, as you describe. Many adoptable animals are currently being held in foster homes, leaving the shelters themselves mostly empty. But the shelters may soon fill up again when more people go back to work and children return to school: If the transition is not managed thoughtfully, animals adopted during the shutdown may not adapt well to the long hours of now being left alone. Separation anxiety can lead to behavioral problems, which can lead to families surrendering or abandoning these “animals of convenience.”

People who have adopted animals during the pandemic to entertain their children, and for company in this time of social isolation, should utilize the American Veterinary Medical Association’s tips to avoid such problems. The AVMA recommends seven steps to get pets ready for your return to work.


-- Slowly introduce workday routines. Schedule waking up, feeding and walking as you might for your expected workday routine, then introduce a consistent departure schedule that builds on that routine.

-- Take anxiety out of your departure. Practice short departures on a daily basis and gradually extend the time you are gone. Give a small treat just as you walk out the door to condition the pet to find it rewarding when you leave. If signs of anxiety -- such as destructive activity -- occur, do not punish the pet. Instead, shorten the time away and slowly build up to longer periods. Stay calm when leaving or returning home.

-- Exercise. Before leaving, engage in play and activity. Burning energy can help keep pets calm and relaxed. ... Keep cats indoors if possible. Do not put face coverings on pets, and do not wipe or bathe your pet with chemical disinfectants, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or any other products not approved for animal use.

-- Keep them engaged. Long-lasting treats, food puzzles and automatic feeders can help keep pets occupied during the day while you’re out.

-- Create a safe space. If you have typically used a crate when you were gone but haven’t been crating your dog while at home, now is a good time to either explore not using a crate (gradually increasing the length of time you are away) or to reintroduce crating while still working from home.

-- Look for signs of stress. Excessive barking or whining, agitation, destructive behavior and inappropriate urination/defecation can all be signs of stress. If you are concerned, consider filming your pets when you leave so you can better observe them and sharing the video with your veterinarian.

-- Talk to your veterinarian. Concerns about behavior, stress and well-being may require a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist and/or medical intervention.


From a Sept. 11 release from the Humane Society -- including a quote from my daughter, Camilla Fox, of Project Coyote:

“A coalition of state and national wildlife protection organizations is applauding the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for its vote today banning wildlife killing contests, in which participants compete to kill the most, the largest, or even the smallest animals for cash and prizes. The new rule, put forth by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, prohibits the killing of unprotected species including coyotes, bobcats, crows, foxes and raccoons as part of a contest. Contest participants killed at least 1,427 in these events in Washington between 2013 and 2018.

“Washington joins six other states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Vermont -- that have taken a stand against cruel, unsporting and wasteful wildlife killing contests.

“’Wildlife killing contests are a blood sport just like dogfighting and cockfighting, which have been outlawed nationwide,’ said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. ‘We commend Commissioner Baker and the entire Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for relegating these ecologically and ethically indefensible events to the history books.’”

My daughter’s statement (shortened for the release) continues, “Wildlife killing contests are also destructive to healthy ecosystems, within which all wildlife species play a crucial role. For example, coyotes and other targeted species help to control rabbit and rodent populations and restrict rodent- and tick-borne disease transmission.”

I would add this thought to my daughter’s statement: Those who find pleasure in killing any living being as a competitive, recreational sport must be deeply uninformed and in need of empathy-enhancement through better education.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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