Among the hundreds of thousands of pets adopted from U.S. animal shelters each year, are an unfortunate minority who are eventually returned to the shelters because they required more money, time, or responsibility than anticipated. The “return” problem got substantial media attention in late 2021 and through 2022, as the COVID pandemic eased and many remote workers were called back to the office, giving many pets and pet parents substantial adjustments to make.
Humans at Work, Pets at Home
Working where your pets aren’t allowed can create challenges at home. Many animals—dogs are notorious for it—get lonely and restless when left alone for eleven hours. They may vent their feelings through howling or barking, making their households unpopular with stay-at-home neighbors. Or they may take things out on your home furnishings—and once the damage is done, few animals understand why their people are so angry upon returning home.
If your pet has an emotional need for company, your best bet is a “doggy day care” center or a pet sitter. Among the best apps for locating reliable care is Rover, which can be searched by animal types and services, and also sends virtual updates while you’re separated from your pet.
If your pet does fine spending workdays at home alone (most cats do), technology can still help with their care. Options include:
- Smart thermostats that adjust inside temperatures for maximum comfort
- Sound systems that produce soothing background noise
- Monitoring systems that let you keep a remote eye on your pet
- Pet feeders that automatically dispense meals on schedule (useful if you have a compulsive plate-cleaner among your animals, or just don’t want uneaten food sitting around)
- Self-cleaning litter boxes
Some of the newer household robots even use dangling toys and laser pointers to add action to playtimes, or can take camera monitors where mounted cameras can’t see. If you’re considering anything that sophisticated (or anything else, even a remote microphone, that moves or makes noise), give it a test run and observe how your pet reacts. Dogs and cats rely on smell as well as sound and sight to identify living things. Since robotic and remote devices have no “living” smell (at least not yet), many animals respond to their “lifelike” behavior with bewilderment, panic, or aggression.
Pets and the Remote Worker
The remote or hybrid worker with pets at home faces different challenges. Animals have little concept of “within earshot and scent range, but not available.” If you attend remote meetings, you’ve probably seen one of those cats who push into their people’s camera images to demand a scratch behind the ears. Or perhaps step on their people’s keyboards, or press a nose against the touchscreen’s “Leave Meeting” button.
Cats and dogs alike can drive you to distraction if they sit outside your home-office door, crying for you to come out and pay some attention to them. It helps to make the far end of your home extra-appealing to them, and your home office rather bare and boring. (You’ll work better in an uncluttered area, too.) Give your pets a special work-hours zone, with favorite atmosphere, favorite comfort objects, and dispensers for favorite treats. (Try the Chewy app for product recommendations.)
If your pets still won’t keep their noses out of your business, see the above section on pet sitters and the Rover app. Look for a sitter who will keep your pets company in your home, or take them out for short periods.
Finally, don’t let yourself get chronically annoyed with your pets for needing you. They may just be trying to tell you that you should take time to rest or play—and they may be right. Life isn’t all about working to get ahead. Sign out of work on schedule; enjoy your pets’ company during your off hours; and when your cat falls asleep on your lap, open a relaxation app you can use with one hand while petting him with the other. You’ll find that a doubly relaxing experience!