Navigating the pandemic with pets

Viggo is a Spanish water dog. Photo by Ryan Van Schyndel.

By Sarah CR Clark

In December, Kari Van Schyndel and her family drove to Kansas City, Mo., to pick up their new puppy. Her family, which includes a fourth grader and a sixth grader, describes their Spanish water dog named “Viggo” as fluffy, friendly and snuggly.

Originally, Van Schyndel and her husband Ryan planned on getting a dog a couple years from now. However, they decided to find one sooner, taking advantage of their time at home during the pandemic.

“We’re not the only ones with this idea,” Van Schyndel said. “We found it really hard to find available puppies.”

The St. Anthony Park family ultimately found Viggo through a breeder in Oklahoma.

Holly Nitch, a certified veterinary technician at Minnepau Veterinary Clinic at 918 Raymond Ave., noted many families have added new pets during this pandemic year.

“Since more families are staying home due to COVID, they have more time for pets and the training and socializing that follow,” Nitch said. “People desire companionship during these difficult times.”

Nitch and Dr. Starke Mueller, veterinarian and owner of Minnepau, estimate they’ve seen a 30 percent increase in new pet ­owners and an increased demand for appointments for new pets.

“Some clinics are reaching their capacity and are unable to take on new clients,” Nitch explained. As the Bugle went to press, another local veterinary clinic, St. Francis Animal Hospital (Roseville) was not accepting new clients.

Whatever the level of business local veterinarians are experiencing, the Van Schyndels are plenty busy adjusting to life caring for a puppy, with the pandemic presenting training challenges.

“Viggo’s already starting to develop an instinct to protect his household,” Van Schyndel explained. “It would probably be helpful for him to meet people inside our home. But due to COVID-19 we don’t feel comfortable with this option.”

While friendly with people, Viggo is shy around other dogs. So, Van Schyndel and Viggo are participating in a socially distant, puppy socialization class called The Canine Coach.

“Viggo likes to be with us 24/7,” Van Schyndel reported. But Viggo’s family is planning to return to school and increase hours at work in the near future.

“As of right now the only time Viggo is OK with being in his crate is when he’s going to nap.”

When schools and work­places begin to reopen, separation anxiety will be an issue for pets adjusting to emptier households, particularly if that pet is a dog, Nitch said. Dogs suffering with separation anxiety might pace, pant excessively, vocalize more and engage in restless or destructive behaviors, she predicts.

Nitch and Mueller suggest taking a gradual training approach to transitioning pets to what post-pandemic life will be like. For example, leave pets home for longer and longer amounts of time, or slowly adjust work schedules to new, normal levels of being away.

“Pet parents can try calming supplements,” Nitch added. “We recommend contacting your pet’s primary veterinarian for recommendations.”

Doggy daycare or hiring dog walkers may also provide healthy activity for lonely pets.

What about cats?

“I don’t think we are going to notice much with cats, since they are pretty independent animals,” Nitch said.

Sarah CR Clark lives in St. Anthony Park and is regular freelance writer for the Bugle.

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