Pets and Reintegration


The last few weeks have been full of talk about homecoming and reintegration within my husband's unit. We've received multiple emails about upcoming events that we need to attend, as well as the recent events that we have been to in regards to the upcoming "welcome home." To say there is excitement in the air would be a gross understatement. Of course, we do not have a real homecoming date and most likely won't for quite a while, just the thought of homecoming is enough to get us excited and busy preparing for it on the homefront. It seems like in the last few weeks/months of a deployment there is so much to do and think about, from the projects I still want to complete to wondering what life will be like when we are all back together. I'm excited and nervous at the same time! I feel like I've though of every possible detail that I need to find information about or to take care of before my husband comes home and for the days afterwards. There can't be anything left. My mind is on overload!

But there was one detail that I had not thought of at all...that is until two different people brought up this topic at two completely different events - our pets and reintegration. I admit that this is probably a small detail compared to all of the other things that I will need to concern myself with once my husband comes home. How our dog reacts to my husband being home was one of the farthest thoughts from my mind, but for those of us who consider our pets as a part of the family this is another important detail to think about.

We have had our dog longer than we have had children. She is certainly a member of our family, she's just a little bit furrier than the rest of us. When my husband left for this deployment (as well as when he has gone away for training and drill weekends) she reacted to his absence in a very human way...she moped. Whenever we would come home for the first few weeks, she would run around barking and looking for him. When she finally realized that he was not with us, she would go into the backyard and lay down. If a dog could pout, she was the queen of pouting. This behavior settled down after a while, but she still had to make sure everyone else in the family came home. At night she is always found sleeping next to my bed or by our son's bed. It's like she has to know that everyone is still here. My husband was the person who loved to play and rough house with our dog and I can definitely tell she misses their play. She will bring her stuffed monkey to me wanting to play, only to give up and walk away when I don't get it right. She definitely misses her dad...

When I heard these two mentions about our pets and reintegration, I started to wonder what I was supposed to do. There's no way to prepare a dog and let them know their "parent" is coming home, so what is there to actually do? As typical for me, I took to the internet to find some answers, only to come up empty. I'm sure the lack of resources on this is because it is not one that you can do much for! There was not much information given at our reintegration events about how to help our pets, but what was said was good advice..."just be aware". Very simple, but very good. Be aware that our pets are affected by our soldiers return, just like they were affected by their absence. Pets may not be used to having this extra person in the house, or having their routine changed. Just like with kids, they may try to push boundaries or "act out." Give them time to adjust, just like the rest of the family needs time to get used to being back together again. Just by being aware of this, we can help our pets have a smooth reintegration as well.

While I realize that worrying about how our pets react to homecoming is not a big deal compared to worrying about how the humans will all fit back into place, it is another piece to the deployment and reintegration puzzle. Some of my favorite homecoming videos are those of a Soldier being greeted by their dogs. If you ever doubted that an animal has emotions and feelings, watch one of those videos and you'll see the excitement and love for their owners. The dogs looked like they were trying to hug their owners and some sounded as if they were crying with joy. Even after a long deployment, these dogs remembered their owners and gave them just about as warm a welcome home as any human could.

If you have pets, how have they reacted to your SO or family member coming home after a long absence? How did you reintroduce your pet and your servicemember?

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