The Bay Area went crazy for pandemic pets. What happens when we go back to work?

Pepper is a very good dog. He’s rambunctious, but knows how to chill. He’s also…

Pepper is a very good dog. He’s rambunctious, but knows how to chill. He’s also a border collie and Australian shepherd mix, so he’ll occasionally try to herd his adoptive parents, Lloyd Brown and Alex Brandenberg, when they’re in the kitchen. And during the pandemic, he’s been a nice distraction from the stresses of the world.

Brown and Brandenberg adopted Pepper last July, a few months into shelter-in-place. They’d just moved into a new building in Oakland and had been talking about adopting a dog for a while. The plan was not to get a very young dog, but they couldn’t resist when they saw the tiny spotted puppy in his blue striped shirt. “We’ve loved every moment since,” Brown says. “When I have moments of just being overwhelmed … he’ll just put his head on your lap, and that really helps.”

The middle of a pandemic, it turns out, was an ideal time to adopt a pet — and not just for Brown and Brandenberg. Suddenly, people had all the time in the world to devote to a pet, and it didn’t hurt that pets, in turn, offered their own special kind of emotional support. Shelters all around the Bay Area reported wait lists. Some adopters described the application process as though it were applying for admission to Harvard.

But now, as vaccinations open to nearly all ages and people begin, more and more, to live and work outside their home, pet owners are having to find ways to head off separation anxiety. Both for their pets and for themselves.

Pepper was adopted by partners Lloyd Brown and Alex Brandenburg during the coronavirus pandemic. He’ll be their focus as the Oakland couple segues out of working remotely.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Brown and Brandenberg have been slowly testing the waters. They’ll set up an iPad with Zoom on it so they can check in while they eat out, an improvised nanny cam to see how Pepper is doing in their absence. Right now, he tends to bark and whine a lot. (They bought some beers for the neighbors as a preemptive thank you as they work on it.)

So far, Brown and Brandenberg have been lucky. They’re both teachers, but only Brown has returned for in-person education. Eventually, though, they’ll have to sort out a long-term solution that includes a patchwork of caretakers (both have parents nearby) and tactics. “It’s like we’re sending him to kindergarten for the first time, only it’s us leaving,” Brown says.

Anecdotally, at least, post-pandemic pet care is on a lot of minds these days. Kristy Lai, a manager at Happy Hound, an Oakland day care for dogs, says they saw a significant increase in assessments beginning in February. One of the programs they usually saw reserved for older pets, the low-impact Lounge Around Town, has also started attracting puppies. “A lot of these dogs just haven’t been socialized around people” or other dogs, Lai says.

At Fog City Dogs, a day care in San Francisco, owner Scott Schrank says he had to go on a hiring binge in March after business started to boom. Numbers are still below pre-pandemic levels, but he sees a lot of people coming in for a trial run. “They love their dogs, they love that they have this new companion, but they’re also desperate to get out of the city, and I think people are realizing that’s a lot more difficult when you have a dog.”

Sarah Sharifi and her boyfriend adopted their black-and-tan,

Sarah Sharifi and her boyfriend adopted their black-and-tan, “57-flavored” pup Heinz six months ago. They, along with many new animal parents, are trying to work out what to do once they start heading back to in-person work.

Courtesy of Sarah Sharifi

The San Francisco SPCA get lots of questions from adopters about how to deal with separation anxiety, says Jennifer Scarlett, president of the SPCA. Some sort of anxiety is fairly common — about 25% of dogs show some distress.

Anxiety can look like a lot of different things — maybe a dog being overly excited when their human gets home, or the classic “tear up the room” behavior. For Heinz, the black-and-tan “57-flavored” pup Sarah Sharifi and her boyfriend adopted six months ago, it looks a lot like tearing up anything made of paper or made for feet.

Generally, though, Heinz is a lover and a deep thinker, she says. “He’s thoughtful and curious in a very quiet way,” Sharifi says. “Oftentimes on a walk, he’ll just sit down and spend five whole minutes looking around.”

At the moment, both Sharifi and her boyfriend are working from home (he’s a teacher; she’s in tech), but that won’t last forever. “I’m a little bit nervous about it,” she says. So they’ve been working on crate training Heinz ever since they brought him home, and they also have him signed up for a day care a couple times a week that basically consists of him running around an obstacle course all day. Once it’s back to the office for both of them, it’ll just be a game of schedule coordination.

Jules Kochis says her adopted cat, Millie, has been a godsend during her time working from home during the pandemic.

Jules Kochis says her adopted cat, Millie, has been a godsend during her time working from home during the pandemic.

Amy Osborne / Special to The Chronicle

Good habits “start right from the beginning,” Scarlett says. She advises “muffling” departure and arrival excitement, in part by not making it a big deal when you leave or come home. If there are certain cues that give away that you’re leaving, try to make them a little less obvious. Start with small trips, too, she says, and vary and build the lengths. As you work on this, it’s smart to leave something at home for them to chew on. “We’ve got to put ourselves in their paws,” Scarlett says.

This, of course, is not just a story about dogs.

Cats, for the record, can get anxiety, too. It’s always nice to have a neighbor or friend to check in on them, Scarlett says, or maybe even think about getting a second cat. “They too can suffer from being alone too much.”

Millie the tuxedo cat came into Jules Kochis’ life back in October. At first Kochis thought she might just foster a cat — she wasn’t sure if she was ready for the commitment. That all went out the door when she finally picked Millie up from the Oakland SPCA. Millie likes to cruise the backyard garden; she asks for attention when she wants it, and there’s a stray cat she likes to flirt with through Kochis’ window.

Millie, Jules Kochis' adopted pet, loves to roam her outdoor garden.

Millie, Jules Kochis’ adopted pet, loves to roam her outdoor garden.

Amy Osborne / Special to The Chronicle

Having Millie during the pandemic was a gift. She was a conversation starter during Zoom calls, and in between emails, Kochis could pet Millie, “just walk over to her and feel her existence,” she says. She’ll miss that when she heads back to in-person work. “It’s still kind of a dream.”