Friends of mine used to check their rescue cockapoo, Holly, into the kennel a day or two early so she wouldn’t see them packing. Holly, of course, knew they were going away long before the suitcases came out.
At this point in 2021, many folks are traveling again, perhaps with some anxiety. That’s on top of the usual anxiety over leaving pets behind if you are doing so. I have fought back tears when pulling out of the driveway or dropping somebody off at the vet clinic for boarding. Even when you trust those caring for your precious family member, when the moment comes, there may be pleading looks, trembling, and whining. The animal may not take it well, either.
However, you don’t have to deceive your cat or dog (you probably can’t anyway) to make the situation kinder.
The obvious place to start is with the best possible arrangements for your animal’s care, whether in your home with a relative, friend, or sitter coming in; at someone else’s home; or at a boarding kennel or vet clinic. Consider the animal’s individual needs and personality, and trust your intuition. (Got fish? Check out this very useful information from a fish veterinarian. Everything you may have assumed about vacation fish care is probably wrong.)
Once those plans are in place, here are a few ideas:
• Give it to ’em straight. With pictures. Tell the animal what you’re doing, who will care for him or her and where, and when you will be back. As you speak, calmly hold the corresponding images in your mind, because these — just as much as or more than your words — will get the message across.
For example, you could tell your dog: “We are going to visit Grandma next week, and Susan is going to come stay here and take care of you. Remember how much fun you had last time she was here? We’ll be back in four days.”
While you’re saying these things, picture Grandma … then Susan … then the dog playing with Susan last time … then the sun rising and setting four times … and finally, you coming back in the door with your suitcases.
• Acknowledge any challenges or negative feelings. “I know you got upset the last time you went to the kennel, and that was hard for me, too. We’re going to try it again. I’ll try to be braver and hope you will, too.” Again – picture it.
This respects both of you and sets the intention for a better outcome. It also affirms you as the decision maker. Again, get in charge of your own state of mind first; if you are angry or anxious, that will drown out whatever you’re trying to communicate.
• Check in. While you’re gone, you can call and have someone hold the phone out to Fluffy while you talk to her. Then you can listen as the human comes back on the line and tells you Fluffy twitched her ear and stalked off. Or you can skip this potential awkwardness and touch base telepathically. Yes, you can; there’s a reason some dogs (and cats, and birds, and horses, etc.) know when their people are on their way.
Find a (relatively) quiet moment, bring your animal companion to mind, and just say hello. Tell her you’re thinking of her, that you love her, and remind her when you will be home. You can leave it at that, or you can ask a question and listen for a response. Either way, she will appreciate you checking in.
Try one or more of these next time you travel, and please be safe.