CHICAGO – Your pet eased the loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic, sitting close as you binge-watched “Bridgerton,” making cameos on your Zoom calls and forcing you outside for walks.
But now you’re vaccinated, your boss wants you back in the office at least part-time, you just bought Lollapalooza tickets and you’d really like to travel. What happens to your faithful companion, the one who enjoyed the pandemic routine?
The health crisis created a new group of pet parents who emptied shelters in search of companionship while the dogs, cats, rabbits and birds already in homes got used to their owners suddenly being around all the time. There’s a transition ahead, particularly for dogs, and it might be rocky, warn the people who care for pets while you’re away.
“Dogs in their perfect world would just be sitting on your laps, and that’s really what they did for a year,” said Betsy Puterbaugh, co-owner of Yuppy Puppy, a dog day care, boarding and grooming business in Lake Bluff. “No matter what you do, you’re about to mess up their perfect world.”
After a tough 2020, Yuppy Puppy boarded 65 dogs during spring break and is half booked for summer boardings. At Windy City Dog Walkers in Chicago’s River West neighborhood, owner Tony Schreck said business is at 60% of its pre-pandemic level, and new clients calling to make arrangements are worried.
“They’ve had their puppies 24/7,” he said. “They’re very worried about what happens when they go back to work.”
Allyn Huston said he didn’t spent a lot of time with his Shih Tzu Emma when he was working in the front office of a West Loop hotel. That changed in March 2020, when he was laid off in the early days of the pandemic.
Huston and Emma hung out together and took more walks. He has been a near-constant presence for half the 3-year-old dog’s life. “She helped me,” said Huston, 48, of Lawndale. “I wasn’t as stressed.”
On Thursday, the hotel called Huston back to work, starting in early June. He’s mulling what that will mean for Emma, whether he should hire a dog walker, and how confused she’ll be at the start of the day.
“She sees me putting on my clothes, she assumes we’re going,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be an adjustment period.”