Downtown dogs and cats and the bridge project
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I’m writing this on the third day after the Grand Avenue bridge came down. Everyone in the valley has had to deal, one way or another, with its broad disruptive effects — and that includes our pets, especially those who live downtown.
No, they don’t have to commute. But perhaps because their humans do, they are alone for more hours every day. Those living close enough to the demolition are certainly subjected to the noise, dust and chaos these first couple of weeks. Indirectly, everything that stresses us, stresses them.
Recently, I had to drive into Glenwood in the middle of the day, and I saw quite a few obviously frightened, disoriented animals leashed to folks who were enjoying the universal sport of demolition-gazing. The fascination of watching the old bridge disappear and the new one take its place is hard for humans to resist when we get an opportunity to indulge it. But maybe it’s a pleasure, like Fourth of July fireworks, best not shared with our dogs and cats.
Our animals’ sensitive hearing is only one factor causing them distress. They are closer to the ground than we are, and they don’t wear shoes. The vibrations from demolition operations probably seem like small earthquakes to them. The fumes and dust are unfamiliar and irritating to sensitive noses and eyes. Traffic anomalies, including more bikes and pedestrians crowding the streets and sidewalks, change the dynamics of town walks. A few dogs may find all this stimulating, but more of them will be upset, to varying degrees.
What to do?
Well, if you live downtown where the demolition noise is a constant right now, I suggest creating a safe spot in your home to which your pet can retreat. You might create a cozy cave from a card table, cushions and a blanket. It could even be big enough for you to crawl into with him to read or listen to music or just chill out together. Continuous-play classical music recordings, nature sounds, radio or TV for white noise when you’re away, may help.
Dogs and cats respond to aroma therapy, and lavender is a calming essential oil you might try diffusing or dabbing on pet beds or favorite resting spots. Time your outings to avoid as much chaotic cacophony as possible, even if it alters your routines. Mental stimulation can substitute for physical exercise to a surprising extent. Play hide it/find it games; play hide and seek; practice obedience routines and teach some new tricks. Remember that for dogs, chewing is a prime stress-reliever, so provide plenty of appropriate, safe bones and chew toys.
If you live outside of the immediate vicinity of bridge activity but are having a longer work day because of transportation issues, think about having someone come in the middle of the day to walk the dog and just spend time with her, brushing, playing, leaving a treat-stuffed toy for her to find. Recruit a retired friend in your neighborhood, or hire a dog walker so you won’t come home to an anxious, lonely pet. If you are short on energy and patience after an extended commute, you need calm companionship, not demands and guilt.
When walking your dog even in familiar neighborhoods, be aware of unusual traffic patterns and the greater likelihood of distracted, stressed drivers. Ditch the retractable leash in favor of a fixed length one, at least until you get to a safe (big, empty space) location. There are too many ways those devices can hurt your dog, or you.
If your dog, cat or other pet seems to be reacting with great distress to the ways the bridge project has created upheavals in your household, talk with your vet, trainer or other knowledgeable person about other actions you can take. It’s only three months. But your pets can’t know that and experience it like an eternity of unwelcome change. You can make it bearable for them.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters.