While not much positive has come from the current pandemic, around the country many animal shelters are finding themselves empty like never before. With practically the whole workforce abandoning the conventional 9-5 at the office and trading in for work from home, many people who never had the time at home or found the new workspace lonely turned to furry new family members for companionship. There are great benefits to pet ownership–decreased loneliness in a time of isolation, the obvious decrease in the burden on shelters, as well as the health benefits to owning a pet such as the lower incidence of depression and obesity in pet owners. I worry about the burden the veterinary community may face in the coming months as vaccination continues and the world slowly but surely returns to normal.
An industry already plagued with mental health disparities and high levels of burnout, part of these difficulties are contributed by the more negative parts of the job–noncompliant owners, the consequences of irresponsible pet ownership, and humane euthanasia. I worry as life returns to normal, increased cases of separation anxiety will be seen, as well as increased trips to an already plagued veterinary ER, as pet owners learn the new places and things their pets can get into when not supervised all day. When people lose time in their day to commute to the office, will there still be opportunities in the day to exercise a pet, which has become a regular activity in work from home life? Not that these are necessarily bad things, but if in post-pandemic life it is realized that a puppy was only ideal with the work from home lifestyle, we may face a crisis in veterinary medicine where difficult conversations are being had about how busting bad habits takes time and patience, or even worse, an increased surrender of pets.
A glimmer of hope to this anxiety is that more and more companies will likely remain at home as to not waste money on rent, or even allowing pets in the workplace. Pets can make life so great and I am so happy more and more people are realizing how fulfilling pet ownership can be! I just hope as veterinary professionals we can work patiently with clients if the days do get frustrating when life is again normal and we can create a supportive place of education to work as a team with these new pet parents.