New figures reveal that almost half of Northern Ireland's dog owners worry about leaving them when they return to work after lockdown. Linda Stewart hears how four people are tackling the dilemma.
‘I lost my job, now I’m going to start a dog walking business’
Sinead McGuckian (29), who lives in Killyleagh with her partner, was on furlough but has just learned that her job in sales and advertising no longer exists. She is launching new dog walking business Walk and Roll NI, which will allow her to spend more time with her one-year-old Jack Russell terriers Benni and Simba.
"I grew up on a farm and there's always been dogs around," she says. "Last year, after I came back from my holidays, I got a wee dog, Benni."
A few weeks later she took in Benni's litter mate Simba, after learning that his owner couldn't keep him any more for medical reasons.
"I thought he would be great company for Benni, especially when I was at work," she says.
"I was at work during the day and there was a lot of mess when I'd come home in the evening; they were only puppies as well."
Sinead says she has learned much more about her dogs' personalities since the start of lockdown.
"Simba did break his leg at the start of lockdown, which has been a hassle. He fell off the sofa when he was looking out of the window," she explains.
"To other people Benni would come across as quiet, shy and introverted. Simba is more nervous around new people, but once he settles and gets to know them he's 100%. He loves to explore and run, whereas Benni would be more of a wee lap dog.
"When Simba broke his leg you could tell Benni knew. He was able to go slower for him."
Sinead says she did notice a difference in the dogs after she was able to spend more of the day with them.
"Definitely, Simba has been a lot calmer, although whenever you leave the house without him he is very anxious. It's something I was worried about when I was going to be going back to work," she says.
"It's a matter of getting them a wee set routine and it's easier doing that when you're not at work - dogs just love routine."
Sinead had been furloughed from her work in sales and advertising at a media company, but now won't be returning to her old job.
"Basically, at lockdown I was furloughed for weeks, but last week I got a letter to say my job is no longer there, so I've decided to start my own business," she says.
"The idea of a dog walking business has always been in the back of my mind. I felt that for myself it would be really good, and it would be really good for the dogs. There's going to be a huge demand after this lockdown for dog walkers and pet visits."
Sinead says it's going to be good for her dogs to be able to spend much more time with them.
"When I was working it was hard to retain a set routine for them," she adds.
"Now they're getting constant stimulation, so when you're taking them out for walks they don't get as excited and I can train them better. They are a lot happier. Simba is a lot less anxious now that I am around."
‘When my hotel opens, Blue will be at reception greeting customers’
Melanie Harrison (48), from Armagh, has two children, Ben (14) and Jake (11). She is opening her new hotel, The Harrison, in Belfast in September, and had always dismissed having a dog. But her French bulldog Blue, aka Percy French, has become a fixture at the hotel and will be greeting the customers at reception once it's operational.
"I grew up on a farm with lots of dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, budgies - like a menagerie," she says. "We didn't make lots of fuss for them, but this dog is just the centre of attention.
"The kids had been asking me for a dog for years but I said no, because I knew it was going to be me looking after him."
However, during lockdown they found they had more time for a dog.
"The children have really loved the dog and it's prompted us to get out and walk and spend more family time together," she says.
"The good thing with the business is that there is always somebody around. We have to be there nearly 24/7 and if I am out the kids at least are there, so there is always going to be someone around.
"The main prerequisite for getting him was that he had to be friendly to people, and he really is. A friend came round for coffee the other day and he fell asleep over his legs."
Melanie says the dog has been going everywhere with her while she prepares to open the hotel.
"He's in with me as I am sweeping the floor and dealing with things and he's coming round in the car with me when I am getting paint. He's a bit of a well-known character already," she adds.
"When the hotel opens he'll be in reception greeting the customers. I've no choice, he's like a sticking plaster. Luckily he's very friendly and will enjoy all the attention."
‘I’ve trained Rufus as a red squirrel conservation dog’
Before lockdown Caroline Finlay (31), who is married to Neil (31), was leaving her six-year-old springer Rufus with her mum and dad every day while commuting to the north west from her home in Bangor for her work at the Loughs Agency.
Now working from home indefinitely, she has trained Rufus as Northern Ireland's first red squirrel conservation dog and is hoping to train him in more conservation work.
She had previously worked for Ulster Wildlife as a red squirrel officer and is now continuing to do red squirrel conservation work as an Ulster Wildlife volunteer.
"My work is based in Derry and before lockdown I was driving up to work every week and staying with my parents and then every weekend I would come home to north Down," she says.
"Rufus has been very happy with the lockdown. I've been working from home since March and have been self-isolating from the start because I was ill at the start of the lockdown. I didn't leave the house for a good month and the dog loved it.
"I've had him since he was two. He's a rescue dog; we think he was a gun dog at one stage but the owner became very ill and couldn't look after him any more.
"He was very, very nervous when he first got him and was terrified of everything. He was terrified of cars, he was terrified of other dogs, and every time he met a new person he was scared - springers are nervous wrecks.
"We did everything to build up his confidence, including dog agility, caddy cross, and then he did really well doing nose games and scent work."
Caroline had heard about a dog that Lancashire Wildlife Trust used to search for squirrels killed by squirrel pox and was keen to train Rufus.
"We have a couple of areas in Northern Ireland where squirrel pox has killed a massive proportion of the population very, very quickly - within two weeks it can kill 90% of the red squirrel population," she says.
"We'd started training before lockdown, but because I was working full-time and travelling up and down we never got to the stage where he was going to be properly ready."
After lockdown began Caroline began training Rufus during her lunch break and soon found that the extra time accelerated his development as a conservation dog.
She trained him using special balls and pieces of rubber scented with samples from a squirrel that was found frozen to death a few winters ago and is kept in the bottom of the freezer.
"Once he's trained with those, you can put them with any smell. It's squirrel at the moment, but it could be bat caracases at wind turbines, or scat searches for pine marten. Eventually, he could help with a whole range of conservation projects," Caroline says.
Rufus is the first dog to have been trained by Caroline's group, Conservation Detection Dogs NI, but several others are now undergoing training and will become an emergency team to detect squirrel pox outbreaks.
"He has absolutely loved it. He loves getting the mental stimulation that he's getting now during the day and he's sleeping like a log, which is absolutely great," Caroline explains.
"Springers like having work to do and he's really enjoying having a purpose.
"I'm now hoping that every weekend we can start monitoring woodlands that have had squirrel pox before, starting with Moss Glen in the north west, then the Glens of Antrim and the Mournes.
"It looks like I'll be working from home for the foreseeable future so he'll be a lot happier."
‘I’ve asked if I can work from home to be with Abby while she has surgery on her knee’
Taryn Bailie (49), from Bangor, has requested to work from home while her dog undergoes knee surgery. She lives with her children Chloe (16) and Jack (14), and two chocolate lab sisters, Elsa and Abby.
She is currently on furlough from her role at an estate agent, but is keen to return part-time.
"I've always had dogs. Elsa is nearly three and Abby is her sister, she was one in May," she says.
"I knew something wasn't right with Abby (right). She was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia in January and was on pain relief and having hydrotherapy, but I knew there was something else. She wasn't responding as she should be."
Taryn took Abby back to the vet in April for further X-rays and she was diagnosed with bilateral patellar luxation, while both the kneecaps in her hind legs kept popping out.
"She was quite lame and you could actually see the kneecap coming out and in. She's on a lot of medication for it and is still in a lot of pain," she says.
The plan was for Abby to undergo surgery on her left leg on June 25 and to have further surgery on her right leg once she recovered.
"She's still quite lame in the leg and not responding as well as she should. As well as that, she doesn't have the support of her right leg because the knee is constantly popping out and in," Taryn adds.
"She should be using the leg more and I just don't know what I'm going to do next with her, but either way I need to be here.
"I'm sleeping downstairs with her, she can't be left alone. We're doing our best for her but it's really hard to watch." Despite the pain Abby is in, Taryn says it's clear that the dogs have enjoyed having everyone at home during lockdown.
"They're both loving it," she says. "The first week or two they found it a bit strange because they weren't sleeping for half the day any more. But they got over it and now they're like shadows, following us everywhere.
"We enjoyed being with them too, but I wish it had been under happier circumstances so Abby could have enjoyed us being here."
Taryn says she has asked if she can work from home for a while.
"The kids are great, but it's a big responsibility and it would be a lot for them to manage. There's quite a lot of running back and forward to the vet with her, so she really needs me there," she says.
Survey highlights owners’ separation fears
A survey of 2,000 dog owners by raw pet food brand Natural Instinct found: