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The Deployment Effect: Pet Edition

My husband and I took home a special little dog from the local Humane Society on Halloween, 2011. Ziggy (who we expanded to Ziggy Stardust in honor of my husband’s love of David Bowie) was a 15 lbs., 4-ish-year-old mutt with the cutest little bandit face (not to mention a startling personality worthy of his own fanpage).

He also seemed to have some trust issues initially. Who knows what he had been through in his life thus far?  For whatever reason, he quickly attached himself to my husband.  I, of course, was the one who desperately wanted a dog; my husband didn’t really care either way.  However, he quickly became Zig’s favorite parent, and I accepted being second favorite.

Fast forward a year when my husband left for a long deployment.  After a couple weeks of mourning – laying by the door, sitting alone on the couch, reacting to every car door outside – Ziggy slowly started attaching himself to me.  Although I began to enjoy this extra puppy-affection, I knew it was only because of my husband’s absence.  However, I was lonely too, so I thought we were just comforting each other.

It was nice for a while, but soon this increased affection turned to outright obsession.  Ziggy followed my every move in the apartment, could never seem to relax, and began suffering from extreme separation anxiety.  It started with the normal things – while I was at work he might get into the garbage or chew on my laundry.  However, it progressed into him getting into storage of non-edible items, such as the time I found batteries and blank CDs in his bed.  Then, there were a couple back-to-back chocolate incidences, where he had been left alone for only about twenty minutes and the candy was seemingly out of reach.  The first incident ended in a huge vet bill, the second with induced vomiting, and both with (thankfully) a perfectly healthy pup afterwards.  Nevertheless, it was then I realized that this had gotten way out of hand.  Ziggy had always been a bit nutty, but his bad behaviors really got extreme as he reacted to all the changes that came with his favorite human deploying.

Personally, I was suffering too.  I felt anxious every time I opened my front door (thinking “what is it going to be this time?”) and worried about his health and safety.  I didn’t know what I’d do if I lost my beloved dogchild while my husband was deployed!

Nowadays, I crate Ziggy whenever I leave home.  He just cannot be trusted to roam free anymore.  At first I was reluctant to try crating him because I thought it might add to his anxiety, but it’s working out great.  While he used to HATE his crate, now Ziggy will go in it on command, so long as he gets a treat.  I always make sure to put his favorite toy with him (a squeaky devil, go figure) and try to come home on my lunch break to walk him and let him stretch his short little legs a bit.  I believe the crate gives him a “safe place” to remain calm and nap the day away, and he’s become much more well-adjusted after we implemented its use.

Ziggy is a needy only child, since my husband and I have not had little humans just yet, which may have exacerbated his reaction.  Also, we’re not sure of his social history, so perhaps he’s just more sensitive to abandonment.  Either way, using both a crate and a lot of patience has saved my sanity and probably Ziggy’s life – keeping him from eating batteries and chocolate and who knows what else!

Now all I have to do is worry about when my husband returns … not only how Ziggy will react, but also how I will react: what if I’m demoted from favorite human to second-favorite once again?  (Not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, I realize. But still.)

Please feel free to use the comments section to share how your pets reacted to a deployment or long absence.  What are some of the things you did to help them adjust?  What happens once your spouse gets back?

About Chrissy Vimini RD

Christina Vimini (aka Chrissy) is an Army wife, Coast Guard brat, puppy parent, pianist, Terps-enthusiast, and Registered Dietitian. Hailing from Maryland, she and her husband are currently located at Fort Bliss, TX where she works providing nutrition therapy and counseling at an El Paso medical center. Her philosophy is that you can eat anything...in moderation. Connect with her on Twitter @CVimRD or on her website at http://csvimini.com.

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