On the Move: The Effects of Relocating on Pets

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My family of birth could’ve been dubbed the quintessential urban nomads of the 1950’s and 60’s.

By the time I was 10, we’d lived in six different homes in the Los Angeles area. No sooner had we befriended neighbors, we were packing up the wagon and hitting the trail again.

As a result, I made few friends - and never let myself get too comfy with the layout of my bedroom.

Picking up and replanting stakes was stressful for all of us, though our experience is hardy novel. Moving has been identified as one of life’s top stressors. It ranks right up there with marital separation, divorce, and job loss (all of which we knew as well).

But people haven't cornered the concession stand of stress from moving. Our animal companions feel it too - and more deeply than we might imagine.

Hardly any of us will ever know the agony of being dumped on the street by the families we thought had loved us. Few will spend the night inside a cold box of steel and concrete because someone misread our facial expression or our bladders gave out on a prized carpet. Involuntary displacement is by no means a move any animal would choose.

While our Lilly, the Boston terrier, never tasted the icy confines of a shelter (my wife, Susan, and I were in the right place at the right time) she knew how it felt to be given up on. At nine months old, she had been surrendered by the only human family she’d known. Her time with them had been spent scrapping for goods and affection in return for few rewards. She competed for attention with two other established family dogs and was kept outdoors for being the “poop machine” no one would bother house-training.

Understandably, it took time and trust for Lilly to feel settled with us. Still, Lilly always senses when we’re mobilizing for work or for a trip. No matter how matter-of-factly we haul out the suitcases, lay out our clothes and pick up our keys, Lilly whines and paces earnestly back and forth between her mommy and daddy. It's highly likely that the uncertainty over whether she’s coming with us or if she’s about to be dropped off at her loving aunt and uncle’s house is what’s upped her stress level.

So, it’s no wonder that Lilly’s stress level has been elevated now that we’ve thinking about moving.

Over the past six weeks, my wife and I have been looking at homes in another county, far away from the summer inferno and maddening congestion of the San Fernando Valley. Los Angeles has been good to us, but we’re talking change as we arc toward our senior years.

Part of this venture has involved getting our condo staged for a possible open house. At the suggestion of our realtor, we decided to have our kitchen cabinets stained. You can probably imagine Lilly’s response as we clanged utensils together and unloaded shelves into cardboard boxes. Long walks, extra play sessions and extended cuddle time have helped to simmer her angst.

We may be moving in a month - or a year. In any event, Lilly will need to adjust to new sights and smells, make new friends and scout out the places in her new home where she can enjoy quiet, alone time. Throughout this process, we will share Lilly’s journey of adjustment with you.

One thing about moving will be different from when I was 10: when we finally hang up our hats and lay down the welcome mat outside our new front door, all of our family members will be together.