Talking Pets: Dealing with the changes that life can bring

September 20, 2013 

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "The only thing that is constant is change."

While some people embrace this philosophy, others don't deal well with change at all.

Our pets don't know philosophy from a Philly cheesesteak, and as creatures of habit, they often have a hard time dealing with change, too.

Moving to a new house, welcoming a new family member or having their schedule disrupted can sometimes bring out the worst in animals.

When we adopted Muddy Waters, the shepherd-Lab who was 4 years old and uprooted from the only home he'd ever known, the first few days were traumatic. We let him sleep on a

screened porch the first night, and the next morning there were pooch pies everywhere. Good thing the porch had a tile floor.

Some years later when we moved to a new house, we had Jethro the hound and Reba the pit mix, who was about a year old. She was doing real well overcoming her chewing habit, but after we moved she reverted back to gnawing and, even worse, peeing in the house.

When Ella moved in, there was a period of adjustment for both her and Reba. Ella was a skinny, scared little waifish pit mix, and Reba the diva was used to getting all the attention.

If you've had a life change or adopted a new pet, resign yourself to the fact that there's a period of adjustment ahead for you and the pet members of your family.

My experience has been that you need at least 6 months for everybody to settle down.

It took about that long for all my adoptees to adjust. (Except for Jethro the hound who, the very day he moved in, plopped himself down on Muddy's dog bed and took a nap.)

It took Reba that long to learn to stop eating bugs and mulch, and get it through her head that a person's lap could be a very comfortable place, indeed.

It took Ella that long to learn that she was going to be fed every day and she didn't have to inhale her kibble.

So if you've just adopted a new pet from one of the local shelters, please keep in mind that it's going to take a while for them to adjust to not living in a cage.

Don't give up on an animal that may have forgotten -- or never known -- what it means to have a home with a time for breakfast, for the humans to go to work or school, for a walk in the evening, for supper and for bed.

And when Heraclitus comes calling with his mantra of change, remember too that together you can get through it.

Last week I had to work some day shifts, and I discovered it's still dark at 6:30 in the morning. Ella discovered it, too.

As I was sitting on the side of the bed easing into being awake, she was looking at me like, "Seriously? We're getting up?" I told her she could stay in bed, but noooooo, she was right there giving me the stink eye as I made my coffee.

We went outside to greet the day, and she was all ears listening to the sounds of the morning: the birds waking up, the garbage men with their "beep beep beep" trucks backing down the street, the neighbors letting their dogs out before they went off to work.

I think she could get used to being a morning dog, and it's a good thing, too, because big changes are coming.

Saturday will be my last day at the Herald. Beginning Monday, I will be joining the public relations staff at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, working on the Bradenton campus.

It's a bit of a homecoming for me, as I graduated from SCF in 2000, when it was still Manatee Community College, and I'm thrilled to be returning to my alma mater.

For the past few weeks, I've been telling Ella that we're going to have a new life.

We'll be able to go to the dog park after work, and she can make some new doggie friends. We'll be able to go to events on the weekends and she can practice her leash walking and good-dog manners. There will be no more night shift/day shift confusion, and we'll have a new routine.

But together, we will adjust.

So this is my last Talking Pets column for the Herald. I've enjoyed sharing my experiences with you, and wish you all happy trails and happy tails.

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