Pet industry seizes opportunities as owners return to work

TORONTO – After remortgaging her home and borrowing from friends and family to keep her business going during the pandemic, Carolyn Hatfield is happily battling to meet the demand of pet owners looking for daycare for their COVID puppies.

“We are fully booked for assessments until June,” the owner of The Canine Social Company Ltd. said. in an interview.

Like many in the pet industry whose businesses have been disrupted by COVID, Hatfield’s biggest challenge now is dealing with the heightened separation anxiety of workers and their pets as more and more people return to the office.

She carefully selects dogs to ensure they are suitable for her dog daycare east of Greektown in Toronto. While most dogs were approved in the years before COVID, only 40% of applicants are currently accepted because their high stress would disturb other four-legged clients.

“It’s kind of (like) the phenomenon of kids going to kindergarten for the first time and grabbing their parents’ leg,” she said.

Almost half of the dogs she sees are anxious these days. Most are puppies that have never been separated from their owners, but even some older dogs report that they prefer to be home on the couch.

This animal anxiety comes after the pandemic upended the pet trade. Retail stores have been periodically forced to close in successive waves after being declared non-essential services while demand for dog walkers, daycare centers and boarding homes dried up as pet owners worked from home and stop traveling.

Through it all, Canadians have added pets to their families in record numbers. Pet placement has increased 70% during the pandemic, while space-related euthanasia cases in shelters have been virtually eliminated for dogs and dramatically reduced for cats.

COVID “has really demonstrated how much Canadians love animals,” said Barbara Cartwright, CEO of Humane Canada, whose members include humane societies and SPCAs across the country.

Fears that there will be a wave of pet abandonment as Canadians return to work have so far failed to materialize, she said.

Melanie Patterson, owner of Pamper the Pooch, is welcoming furry guests back to the house as demand for her small dog boarding and cat visiting business surges after bookings dwindled during the pandemic.

“I would say it’s definitely back to how it was before COVID, if not a little better, because of the new customers that seem to be coming in,” she said.

But caring for these dogs can be difficult as many aren’t used to being alone or around other dogs.

“I had a dog here that literally sat by a window for an entire day, just crying, waiting for their (owners) to come back for them.”

Dogs aren’t the only ones stressed out. Patterson said she had to help new pet owners who were worried about being separated from their pup.

“I’m doing a lot more communication, I’m sending a lot more photos, videos, texts, any form of communication my clients want just to reassure them that their dogs are fine.”

Pandemic puppies pose an additional problem because many are not well socialized and may be nervous around walkers and bark or bite in frustration, said Nicola Smith, owner of We Wag Toronto dog walking service.

Anxious pet owners are increasingly turning to technology or distractions to occupy their pets or monitor their behavior when they are home alone. They buy remote cameras with treat dispensers, two-way cameras with microphones, and apps that enable home video calls.

The use of CBD oil to calm dogs is also on the rise.

Anxiety in animals can manifest as constant barking and footsteps, urination and defecation and, in extreme cases, destructive behavior. There can also be tremendous stress for owners if they live in a multi-tenant building, with threats of eviction as well as guilt over the animal’s misfortune, said Andre Yeu, founder and trainer. chief of When Hounds Fly, a dog training service in Toronto. and Vancouver.

Treatment can help, but it may take weeks or months of gradually increasing separations before the dog is confident of being left alone.

Animal behavior specialist Dr. Colleen Wilson says videotaping a dog can help determine if they have separation anxiety or another problem. Telemedicine can also be useful in assessing animal behavior because separation anxiety is often misdiagnosed.

“It’s great because the true meaning of animal is when there are no strangers in your home or you don’t take your dog to a vet clinic,” he said. she stated.

Wilson said studies have shown pets are often stressed because owners are stressed. Thus, being calm will model appropriate behavior in pets. And adopting independence training that takes a slow approach to getting an animal used to being alone will avoid problems, she said.

Some Canadian companies have opened their doors to the dogs of their employees. Vancouver-based tech company HootSuite, which has welcomed pets for years in some of its global offices, said the practice helps relieve stress for both pets and employees.

It’s also a big plus in attracting and retaining employees in a tight job market, said Carol Waldman, director of global facilities and real estate.

“Anything we can add to make it a better employee experience and to encourage mental health, well-being and happiness at work, I think we’re really trying to continue to grow in those areas,” said she declared.

The company also runs a free dog-walking service for one hour per week.

Carolina Heyman, Level 2 Technical Support Manager, says her mini goldendoodle Nessie, acquired during the pandemic when Hootsuite’s offices were closed, loves going to the office. And Heyman said it relieved her own stress of not having to leave her dog at home.

“I would probably work from home more often because it’s important to me not to leave her alone all day.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 17, 2022.

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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