August has been a difficult month for Pablo, starting in 2008 when our only child left home to attend Swarthmore College. What does a cocker spaniel think when one-third of his world suddenly disappears? Pablo seemed so sad. The bounce was missing from his gait, and the wag was gone from his stumpy tail.
Back to school can be a tough transition for family pets that have enjoyed having children around all summer, said Katherine "Kat" Miller, director of anti-cruelty behavior research at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Actually, any abrupt change in household routines can be upsetting, she said.
Dogs and cats may urinate and defecate in the house, destroy furniture and flooring, or dig inside the house and out in the yard. Some may try to run away. Dogs may bark and howl. Animal experts say these are signs of "separation anxiety."
Pablo howled and barked when my husband and I left the house, but luckily he did none of those other yucky things.
There are tricks and techniques that can help, said Ms. Miller, who has a doctorate in animal behavior from the University of California, Davis.
• Try to spend more time away from the house and pets in weeks leading up to school. Gradually increase the time you spend out of the house.
• Train your dog or cat to associate being alone with good things like food. Leave them with a Kong toy or puzzle toy filled with food. It should keep them busy for at least 20-30 minutes. Don't know what those toys are? Go to a good pet store with knowledgeable staff (locally owned is a bonus) and ask them to show you.
• Give dogs 30 minutes of rigorous exercise right before everyone leaves for the day. For cats, play with them in the house with things like wands and fishing poles attached to toys they can chase.
That last tip sounds to me like it comes from people who have never spent frantic mornings getting children off to school on time. Thirty minutes of exercise every day, but at a more convenient time, goes a long way toward reducing stress and boredom, I've learned.
"Many cat owners tell me their cats don't play with toys," said Ms. Miller, who works with shelter animals and private clients. "I've used fishing line toys with those cats and they loved it. Try multiple toys until you find one that motivates them."
The first time our son came home from college, Pablo was so excited we feared he might have a heart attack. He was glued to Dante's side the entire Thanksgiving break, and he was sad when Dante left again. For the next four years, Pablo adjusted to the fact that Dante was gone for months at a time.
Since he graduated in 2012, Dante has been a Teach for America corps member in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans. Visits home occur less frequently now, but sooner or later Dante always comes back to visit, and his dog, his mother and his father are always ecstatically happy to see him.
Every dog has just one day to swim in the Dormont Pool, and this year it's Sept. 2. Proceeds from the fifth annual Labor Day Doggy Dip are split 50/50 between the pool and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.
About 600 dogs are expected, and 50 dogs are already signed up. This event has been known to sell out in advance, especially the all dog session, 5:15-6:30 p.m. Small dogs that weigh less than 30 pounds swim 4-5 p.m. The large dog session is 6:45-8 p.m.
Go to www.wpahumane.org or call 412-321-4625, ext. 248, to register. The cost is $20 per dog until Thursday. It's $25 after that and beginning at 3 p.m. Labor Day.
Each dog must be accompanied by one adult. Dogs can be unleashed inside the fenced pool area but must be under the control of owners. Dogs enter and leave the pool through a gated double-fence set up, and at least one gate is always closed.
"Dog guards" will be on deck to maintain order. Aggressive dogs will be kicked out. The Doggy Dip will go on rain or shine unless there is thunder and lightning.
Coffee shop event
The new Generoasta Coffee shop, 904 Warrendale Village Drive, Warrendale (15086) is having the Cause for Paws community day event from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. next Saturday to raise money for Animal Friends.
Most events are free, including visits with adoptable pets from the Ohio Township shelter, free "ask the vet" advice from Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, and a training demo from Carl the Dog Man.
Tickets will be sold for raffle baskets and kids activities that include a Bounce House: $1 each or six for $5.
Dogs and other pets are not invited because of "liability concerns," the owners say. Go to www.generoasta.com for further information about this event and a photo contest. Twenty percent of sales will be donated.
The Best Firehouse Dog in the Country will appear on the "Today" show and the "Chicago Fire" television series, both on NBC. Sept. 8 is the entry deadline. The top three canine candidates will appear on "Today" Sept. 24, and a public vote on Today.com will pick the winner, which will be announced Oct. 1.
Firefighters can enter dogs in the contest by emailing a photo and a 200-word essay on why their dog should be chosen. Include names of the dog and owner, an address and home phone number; also the station number, telephone number and email address. Send to ChicagoFire.TopDog@nbcuni.com and put "Chicago Fire Top Dog Contest" in the subject line. Go to www.today.com/topdog for official rules.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to email@example.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. First Published August 24, 2013 4:00 AM