The Art Of Leaving Animals Behind
Leaving animals behind is one of the most emotionally fraught elements of owning a pet like a dog or a cat. We love our donkeys, but we never think much about leaving them behind when we go away, they are quite self-sufficient and independent.
Dogs are a more complex matter.
Red, in particular, is difficult for me to leave behind, he is with me everywhere I go and will leave his food uneaten and go off and search for me if he doesn't know where I am. When Maria goes out to the farm chores on mornings when I am busy, Red goes to the gate and watches for me.
I am also concerned about Gus, he is still a puppy and needs some extra attention.
Leaving dogs behind is an art. I do it very casually, but also, thoughtfully.
There is no question that the dogs know we are going away when they see out suitcases or when we pack, they become clingy and anxious. So I let them outside while we pack. People love to believe their dogs pine for them – many people can't go on vacation without them – but dogs mirror us, it is easy to confuse disorientation with grieving or anxiety.
Let dogs be dogs, they can live easily and happily without us for a week or so, or even for good, if it comes to that.
If you doubt that, just look at the many thousands of hurricane dogs who are already happily and comfortably re-homed. I haven't heard of a single one who died of grief from being re-homed or separated from their people. Dogs are wonderful, but they are also opportunists and among the most highly adaptable creatures on the earth.
Keep some perspective. They can be left behind, it is often the best thing for them.
When I leave, I never say goodbye, or hug them desperately, or talk about how much I miss them.
For one thing, it just makes them anxious, and signals to them that I am upset – they can read that emotion easily.
For another, it isn't true. Once I pull out of the driveway, I rarely think about the dogs when I am gone, I love them dearly, but I need a vacation from them as well as everything else, and I believe it is also healthy for them to be cared for by people other than me and Maria.
They need vacations too.
I don't believe in separation anxiety among grounded or well-trained dogs, I have never seen it in my dogs, perhaps because I don't think it is as true as many people would like to believe or need to believe.
When I leave the house, I don't say goodbye or make a fuss, and when I come back from wherever I've been, I just come into the house and check the mail. I act normally.
The bigger the drama we create, the bigger the drama we will have, dogs are very good at that. They take our cues from us, and dogs that are hysterical or out of control when their people leave them are not healthy and have not been trained well. Same goes for the people.
I have no quarrels with good kennels, but generally, I prefer to leave the dog at home, I think it is where they are the most comfortable.
I look for experienced dog and cat handlers, professionals who love animal but are not looking to project their own needs and emotions onto them. I look for people who will move into the house and watch over the farm.
I look for animals lovers who also have balanced lives and broader concerns than pets. It's a fine line.
In Shelby, I have what I think is the perfect balance. She is a vet tech, she knows about animals and their health, she knows what to do if they are injured or sick. She is independent and confident, she will make her own decisions and only contact us if there is a serious emergency. Vacation is vacation, I don't need videos of the dogs, or daily reports on their bowel movements and moods.
I guess the best way to put it is that I am not looking for drama, or anyone who is drawn to drama. Pet-sitting is a profession, and the good ones are thoroughly professional.
Shelby is also a farm girl, and can care for the donkeys and sheep, and knows who to call in an emergency. Like most farm kids, she doesn't do drama. There is nothing much we can do from New Mexico. We're not going there to worry about dogs.
For the past month, Shelby has come once or twice a week to get to know the dogs, feed them, exercise them and, I am sure, do some cuddling. She and her boyfriend Kirby have become friends, we are fond of them and much impressed by them. She asked the right questions and knows how to handle dogs. She was great helping out at our Open House.
When she comes to the door, the dogs rush to greet her, shower her with kisses, happily run outside with her, and chase balls and run for her. They aren't worried about where we are.
This is what I want to see, the art of leaving animals is making sure they are well cared for.
The human sets the tone, if I'm not frantic and crying and dramatic, they will be fine. It is not a tragedy to go on vacation without animals, it is essential to our health.
The art of leaving animals is about getting out of your head and into a vacation mind, which means leaving the farm and the dogs and my town behind. I want to see new things, and rest and be refreshed. New technology is a snare in many ways, because it keeps people from ever disconnecting, everyone is always in touch with everyone. I don't like that on vacations, I will assume the dogs are fine unless told otherwise.
And towards the end, I will miss them and think of them, and be very happy to see them again. I told Shelby half-jokingly, that what I really want is for them to be healthy and alive when I return. I leave the rest to her.
I also left a note for Shelby asking her not to feel any pressure to give us daily animal reports and live videos. No news is no news. And in our time, good news.
I'm just about packed. Maria is blogging. The dogs are in the yard.