Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
I love seeing first day of school photographs on Facebook. The pictures remind me of my own two children when, as little kids, they were eager to pose in brand new shorts or a favorite dress. When they grew into preteens, smiles faded to smirks and, with older high schoolers, I was lucky to snap a quick photo before they jumped behind the wheel of the car to drive themselves. Now in albums, my favorite first day shots are those where our family dogs lean into the children. Our kids’ smiles are genuine and broad, showing their happiness that the pups were included in the send off.
This fall, our back to school photo tradition changed. No longer do we have a child to line up in front of fading summer roses or at the school bus stop. Instead, we watched our youngest say a tearful goodbye to her dog, Moose, before she left home to move into her freshman dorm. For our family and others with college kids, witnessing the final hugs between a young adult and her childhood pal is painful. New college students realize that they’ll no longer share a home with their confidant, their playmate and study buddy. They may worry about the health of an aging dog and wonder about his life expectancy.
And as for the dogs left behind? It’s common for pets to exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety as their human companions prepare to leave home and depart, as well as in the case of the sudden absence of a resident family member. Dogs with separation anxiety may become depressed and disruptive when left alone.
While I miss our daughter terribly and am trying not to fret about her well-being on campus, I also want to be vigilant about Moose in case he becomes anxious and sad. Warning signs include pacing, whining or barking, chewing furniture or other items, attempting to escape or “having an accident” inside the home. The ASPCA provides a list of tips for helping pets overcome separation anxiety.
Although I no longer have kids under roof to parent, my “mothering” responsibilities for our pups goes on. From the vantage of my empty nest, I have never been more grateful for the presence of our dogs!