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 the Author

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 moderation. Connect with her on Twitter @CVimRD or on her website at
  • Guest

    We got our German Shepherd primarily as a companion for both of us, but also so I wouldn’t be alone when my fiance deployed. Shepherds typically bond strongly with one person, but we planned ahead and got her when we both would be around for a long period of time. So far she seems to love us equally. I hope she doesn’t develop separation anxiety in the future – she’s used to my fiance going to work, but I’m with her a good 90% of the time. I’m the trainer, feeder, walker, and driver to the dog park in most cases. We have a crate for her too – it’s the best thing for dogs in my opinion. We have a sheet over it so it feels more like a “den” (and it looks nicer, too). I can rest easily knowing the house isn’t being destroyed while we’re both out. Though when my fiance deploys, she will definitely be sleeping in bed with me!

  • Maya Brown

    Your story sounds very familar. My husband and I adopted a Humane Society dog about 2 months before he left. I pleaded with that this was not the best as far as timing, but he was insistant and was in love with Monty.
    Like you this was my husband’s dog and made it known who his favorite human was. This changed very quickly though when my husband left for a year long deployment and soon Monty became my constant shawdow. He as well suffered with seperation anxiety. He chewed up two of my favorite expensive heels. Pooped and peed in the house. I got a dog walker and he became a crate dog while I was a work. He doesn’t chew my shoes any more but I still occasionlly find a shoe or two in his bed. Even now that my husband has been home for close to 6 months he won’t even let me go to the bathroom without making his presence know and at least halfway following me. It will be interesting to hear if you remain your dogs favorite person once your husbnd returns. My Monty still thinks I am the best. Love him to death but he caused me anxiety for several months after my husband deployed.

  • sabrinacking

    To date, I have had an iguana, two bearded dragons and a packman frog…meaning, my husband wanted these pets which then meant I, who hates reptiles, became the responsible party for these pets. About four years ago I finally said “no”. No he can not have any more pets until he retires….lol.

  • Sarah

    I have more problems with my shepherd when he comes back from deployment than when he leaves. He has been back for over a year and she still FREAKS out if he leaves the house, even if it is on the porch where she can see him, and will lie on the floor staring at the door waiting for him to come home from work. He is leaving again in a few weeks and I am afraid this time when he doesn’t come back at night she will start becoming a handful. Our trainer and vet both said play, play play and more play to tire her out will help. Also, I started taking both our dogs to day care together a few times a month so she knows she always has her dog brother to be there and I will always pick her up and come home at night.

  • Col John

    Relax and enjoy your pet. Being relaxed will help you both. I am disabled and my wife brought home a toy poodle to keep me company while she takes care of her Mom who lives with us now. Little Anni quickly latched on to my wife. She has taken her Mom back to her home for a month’s visit and now Anni has taken to me. I know that things will go back to her being no.1 when she returns. I will take her love and affection when offered to me. It helped that I take her most places that I go, and I am no1 while out and it reverts back to my wife when we walk in the door. RELAX AND ENJOY!

  • Would you believe I’m more worried about the composting guinea pigs than the dog?
    My spouse left a few weeks after we first got the pigs (I wanted furry creatures for the kids to cuddle since the first deployment after the dog had died didn’t go well, and our landlord wouldn’t allow a new dog after putting in hardwood floors) so he never really bonded with the pigs. But after he’d been home a while he started to share his morning grapes with them, and now they run to the end of the cage and stand on tippy piggy toes straining for their morning grapes! I spoil my spouse buying him grapes out of season, but after he’s gone, it’s back to whatever fruits are local and seasonal and the grape party will end.

    • Chrissy Vimini

      Too cute! Morning grape parties! Love it.

  • Sarah A