For many of us, summer signals our annual family vacation – a time to get away, relax, see new sights, and have fun. Vacations, however, aren’t always eagerly anticipated by our animal companions. For some pets, their human being away for any length of time is a sad, lonely, perhaps anxiety-ridden experience.
Each animal reacts differently to time away from their primary human guardians, and their reaction can vary depending on the arrangements made for their care. My two dogs are night and day different when it comes to me being gone. My male loves his wonderful caregiver and looks forward to what he considers his “summer camp” experience. My female, on the other hand, would be perfectly happy if I never left her side. It’s not that she has separation anxiety – she does perfectly fine bossing all the other dogs around when she gets to the caregivers home. But given her preference, she’d be at my side 24/7 and I would never leave the house without her. Never…. ever!
Preparing myself for a vacation means preparing my animals as well, and in different ways according to their needs. Boy-dog gets the “you have fun, but behave yourself” talk, along with my reassurance that I will return soon, refreshed and relaxed. The talk with my girl is different. I gently explain that I’ll be gone for a few days, but that she’ll be going to the same place she’s familiar with. She’ll be well taken care of and I’ll think of her and send her love while I’m away. I explain that I love being home with her, but that it is important for me, a human, to go away without her occasionally, and that I’ll be having fun and enjoying myself and will tell her all about it when I return. For both, I finish my described preparation exercise with envisioning a wonderful, joy-filled homecoming with snuggles, kisses (if you insist, mom!) and a small treat.
When the suitcases come out, your animals know that something is about to change in their world. Most will respond more positively when they are brought into the experience. Start with envisioning your departure with your suitcase in hand. Then visualize their experience, whatever that may be – a friend, neighbor, or caregiver staying with them in their home, or going to visit a family member or qualified kennel (yes, kitties can go to a kennel too!) – while you are away. Then envision your joyous homecoming, with everyone safe, happy, and relaxed.
Your animals may or may not pick up on all the subtleties of your visualization exercise, but the process seems to be a calming one for all concerned, and that helps everyone when it is time to leave. As with most things, “practice makes perfect.” In this case, your pets may never grow to love the thought of you going away without them, but the more times you leave AND safely return to them, the more they will trust the process.
If your pets are prone to a little separation anxiety, attempt to have a similar routine for them while you are away. This could include the same caregiver if possible, or the consistency of staying in their own home, even if the caregiver varies. If you’ve never left your pet but have an extended vacation period approaching, consider a couple of trial runs – a night or weekend away to put a structure in place before your several-day vacation arrives. For example, if you periodically leave your cats alone for a night or weekend but plan to have a caregiver come in while you are on a two-week vacation, make sure your cats can meet and get to know the caregiver before you leave on your vacation. Introduce them, and let your kitties participate as you walk the caregiver through their daily routine.
Vacations are exciting, and don’t have to be feared by our animals. Preparation and compassionate consideration of their views on the change in their environment, even if only for a few days, will aid in a more peaceful departure, less resentment while you are away, and a wonderful reunion when you return.