We’ve all heard the dreadful stories of heartless owners who abandoned their pets during the summer holidays – stories like Bertie, the Yorkshire Terrier found in a wheelie bin – and last year, the RSPCA rescued thousands of animals – with July being by the far the worst month of all. A spokesman for the charity says that a contributing factor of people dumping their animals in the summer months is down to “some owners heading off on holiday and not finding anyone to look after their pet while they are away.” Many of us will have thought that this kind of behaviour flies in the face of the traditional belief that the Festive Season was the time of year for unwanted pets and RSPCA Superintendent Simon Osborne said: “People often think that Christmas is the time we see the most abandoned animals but it is actually the summer. “
Of course, we’re rightly distressed by these stories but what can we do as responsible pet owners to ensure that our much loved pets are treated properly once ‘normal life’ resumes after the holidays?
For many families, school holidays mean that not just the children but another adult will have been around for most of the summer and, in a dog’s mind, six weeks is a lifetime – at least a long enough time for him to forget what it was like to be away from people for longer periods. As the time to return to school (and work) rolls around, try to introduce change to your recent routine by managing the periods where you leave the dog for slightly longer periods and reintroduce him to anyone that may be visiting or dog-sitting him. By avoiding a sudden change in the daily circumstances that might cause anxiety or distress to your dog you can help your pet through this period of transition.
The British weather has provided us with plenty to enjoy and lots to talk about this summer but September is often a surprisingly sunny month and the forecasters are suggesting that we may yet have a few warm days ahead. It’s worth checking the forecast before leaving the dog for prolonged periods in the garden if you’re away from home during the day.
A return to normal routines tends to focus our minds on tasks that we have yet to do before the autumn comes and getting the garden ready is high on many people’s lists. We all love to spend time in the garden in these late summer months but let’s avoid adding additional dangers for our pets. To keep our gardens safe for animals, we should use pet-friendly pesticides wherever we can and try to avoid choosing poisonous plants for areas that our dogs can access. These include daffodils, lilies, laburnum, cherry laurel, castor oil bush and yew. The PDSA has a useful list of poisonous plants on its excellent website so it’s easy to check before planting anything new.
Many gardens will look a bit untidy after the summer holidays so make sure bins are secure, with lids firmly closed, especially if the bin contains any food. Cats are notoriously curious and most dogs will eat anything that they can reach. There’s nothing like following an interesting smell to while away time spent away from humans!
They say that we all live and learn and I’ve just discovered that those cocoa shell mulches that we use to add nutrients and to keep down weeds are highly poisonous to pets as they contain high levels of theobromine, the toxic, and sometimes fatal, element that is also found in chocolate. It’s best to avoid using these if you are unable to keep pets away from areas where these are used.
If your normal routine is to take the dog to work with you or on the school run, please don’t forget that dogs die in hot cars so always leave the car in a cool, shady area and leave the dog as much ventilation as you can – better still, don’t leave the dog in the car at all even if the weather looks as if it will be cool. We all love those pictures of a dog leaning out of a car window with its furry ears blowing in the wind but it is far safer not to let them lean out of the window as a dog’s eyes or nose can so easily be injured by debris thrown up from the road. We all find the school run to be stressful with everything being done at the last minute and many dogs have been known to jump out trying to follow the children and have been injured, or worse, by passing vehicles so securing the dog properly in the car is well worth the extra minute or two that it takes on a busy morning.
Back at home, life will soon return to a more peaceful time when children are back at school and many dogs will welcome a bit of peace and quiet but don’t forget that our dogs still need regular exercise and will also still need some mental stimulus. Leaving the dog with a safe chew that will keep him occupied for half an hour is an important part of his day and can be really helpful in creating some time to get ourselves organised. There are many activity toys on the market; some feature enclosing food inside a rubber chew which requires the dog to work out how best to access the reward and others will reward him with unpredictable movement or sounds.
I’m sure you’ll be more organised that I am and may not need the checklist that I have to make the night before I do anything but I also have a checklist for the dog, showing when flea and worm treatments are due, when the booster vaccination needs to be done, when I need to order food and even the most obvious things like checking that the dog’s water bowl is full before we go out. Recently, I got all the way into town after a fifteen mile drive only to realise that I’d washed up her water bowl but hadn’t refilled it. An additional thirty mile trip and arriving an hour late for work made me keen not to repeat that mistake again particularly as I was only working part time anyway. Still, I must say that the dog was far more delighted than I was to see me back so soon !
That brings me neatly to my final point; a return to work and school often adds a degree of tension to our family lives and raised voices can often be heard across the country at this time of the year. Dogs are incredibly good at picking up on tension between us but lack our human ability to rationalise the situation. Our dogs don’t understand bus timetables or the need to create several sets of packed lunches in just three minutes so it’s really important to leave the house – even if it’s just for half an hour – in the morning with a cuddle and a friendly few words for the dog and psychologists will tell us that that’s good for us too.