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All you need to know if you feel separation anxiety when away from your pet

Some simple coping mechanisms if you're away from your dog and feeling guilty or sad about it

Among those who have pets, separation anxiety and guilt is quite common.(Unsplash)

By Riddhi Doshi

LAST PUBLISHED 02.02.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

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When the grilled gate of the small garden closed behind us, my then-3-month-old puppy, sniffing around without a care in the world, started running towards us. His trainer restrained his movement, pulling him by his leash. But my pup pulled too, with all his might, dragging the 5.6-feet tall adult man a few steps towards us. He wanted to catch us before we were gone.

We were just leaving my dog, Khal Dogo, at a dog boarding and training centre. We were going away for two months. It’s been a year now, but the memory of subjecting ourselves to the separation anxiety, still leaves me in tears. Today, too, being without Khal, whether for a few days when I’m travelling, or for a few hours while running an errand, is hard. I miss him terribly and all the time.

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Among those who have pets, separation anxiety and guilt is quite common. Whether you have to leave them at home while going to office, a wedding, or when travelling out of town.

Aaisha Mandal, an 18-year-old pet parent of an Indie named Whiskey recalls how she, her younger sister and their mother had all cried the first (and only time) they left Whiskey at a pet boarding facility for a trip to Kolkata. “I felt guilty thinking that while we were together, having a good time, Whiskey was alone in an unknown environment," says Mandal. “What helped us was to see videos of Whiskey playing with other dogs at the boarding facility."

For 23-year-old Vaishnavi Nayagam, talking about her three-year-old Golden Retriever August’s mischiefs and adorable moments with her mother, and having a hearty laugh, helps her feel better when they’re away from their pup. Only just a bit better however, “...because no matter what, there will not be a time when you don’t miss them," says Ameeta Janvekar, also a 20-year-old pet parent of a three-year-old beagle, Coco.

As a journalist, I often travel for work and over the last year have managed to device a few coping techniques that help me deal with my emotions better when I am away from my dog, Khal. First, acceptance: I have learnt to accept that no matter how fancy or exotic or exciting a place or assignment, I am going to miss Khal. I no longer feel silly or crazy to be thinking about him often or calling my husband or the pet boarding facility a couple of times to check how he is doing. Listening to what he is doing, makes me feel better.

Looking at his photos and videos always brings a smile on my face, and talking about him, to whoever is interested, is a great way for me to channel my emotions as well. But I try to be careful of not overdoing it – I don’t want to bore others.

There have also been times when I have wanted to deny a longer travel itinerary because it’s too much time away from my dog. This is when I put my rational mind to use, listing all the practical reasons I must go the trip.

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1. It’s work and helps me earn a living.

2. It’s this money that pays for Khal’s upbringing as well.

3. Khal is important, but so am I and I can’t derive myself of all things fun in life just because I will miss him terribly.

Plus, it helps to know that Khal’s favourite human, my husband will take great care of him.

But if both of us are to be away, it’s harder: we don’t prefer to leave him in a kennel, in a new environment with unknown people, where I know my anxious dog might be stressed. Here, I let my optimistic side take over:

1. I remind myself to learn to trust others

2. I remind myself to trust my decision, research and choice of the kennel.

3. I tell myself to trust the work I have put in to build a strong bond with Khal, which will reassure him that we will be taking him home soon.

4. Several online articles say that dog needs some kennel time to play and live with other dogs. I think of it as sending him to an educational picnic, where he not just learns to be independent, but also have fun.

But what also helps is a harsh reality check: I remind myself that I will have to bid Khal farewell, eventually, in a few years. These intervals away from each other will prepare me and him for the time we will not be able to bring him home, ever.

Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent