In a world where maintaining safe social distances is going to be the new normal for a while, there are a number of dog-related transactions between people that have been altered.
Covid-19 has changed things in the world of dogs
Veterinary hospitals are sending masked and gloved assistants out to parking lots to collect and return patients, and taking credit card payments over the phone from the parking lot; no clients enter the veterinary hospitals. I’m hearing about daycare providers and groomers who are building “airlock” entrances, where clients enter a small enclosure with their dogs, closing a gate behind them, take off their dogs’ collars or harnesses, open a gate and let the dog into another small enclosure; the dog is retrieved from the other side of the second enclosure by a staff member, who uses the facility’s own slip lead on the dog. In this way, the people never come into contact with each other.
Dog-training classes have moved to Zoom and other live-streaming platforms for the time being; when classes can take place in person again, the trainers I know plan to reduce their class sizes by half in order to maintain safer distances between students. This is a tough one, because it also effectively cuts the trainer’s income in half – but trainers I know who teach indoors say it’s going to be necessary in order to keep students farther apart.
Placing a litter of puppies while maintaining social distancing
My friend fostered a litter of 10 puppies for my local shelter recently (I played a backup role). When it came time for the puppies to meet prospective adopters, the shelter made appointments with interested people. My friend and I transported the pups to the back side of the shelter and placed them in an outdoor exercise area; the shelter staff met the prospective adopters outside. It took more than two weeks to get the whole litter placed – a lot longer than just allowing people to come to the shelter and meet the whole litter, but it controlled the interactions in a safe way.
After the litter of pups had spay/neuter surgery, I kept the three girls at my house and my friend kept the boys at hers; it’s too hard for the girls’ incisions to heal nicely when they are wrestling with that many siblings. And as it turned out, given the slow pace of the adoption appointments, I had one girl for more than two weeks. She quickly got dubbed “Woody Junior,” since she looked just like his Mini-Me. Her color and markings were so similar to Woody’s. I had to keep telling people that Woody has been neutered since he was her age! He’s not the dad!
A very special reunion with my favorite foster puppy ever
As it turned out, a very special family saw photos of this puppy, the last to be available for adoption, on the WDJ Instagram page (rather than on the shelter website). I was contacted by the family who adopted Odin, the foster puppy from the litter of “mange puppies” I fostered a year ago. Remember Odin? He was the one who injured his eye, and eventually, had to have it removed; I had him with me for about six or seven months. I was SO happy that they contacted me directly to ask if she was available. We set up a meeting date, and they drove from a good distance to meet her – again, outdoors, safe distances, etc.
When they arrived, I got to see Odin again! I thought I would cry like a baby when I saw him – my favorite foster ever, I very nearly kept him – but he was actually too busy with greeting his buddy Woody to bother very much with me. Woody was happy to see Odin – they greeted each other with excitement – but then Woody’s attention was almost immediately drawn away from Odin by Odin’s boy, Adam, who picked up Woody’s ball and threw it. Woody is a fetch addict; once started, he’s hard to stop. And boys seem to LOVE that. Soon, the three boys (Odin, Woody and Adam) were off playing fetch together, complete with Odin occasionally stealing the ball and needing to be chased down to get it back.
The rest of the family was able to meet and greet the pup while the boys romped, and after a fairly short visit, they loaded her in their car and took her home. Again, no tears; I was so happy to see them all together. They’ve done such a nice job with Odin, I know they will take good care of Woody’s little Mini-Me.
Guide Dogs of America’s drive-through puppy pick up experience
Given the slow pace of these 10 puppy placements, I laughed and laughed when I heard that one of WDJ’s contributors, Stephanie Colman, distributed 13 – THIRTEEN! – puppies to their new homes in a single afternoon. Stephanie is the puppy program coordinator for Guide Dogs of America (GDA), based in Sylmar, California.
GDA breeds, raises, and trains guide dogs for people who are blind and visually impaired, as well as PTSD dogs for military veterans, children with autism, and facility dogs. The dogs are trained through its service dog branch, Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs, a prison training program where carefully chosen inmates are taught how to successfully raise a puppy and teach more than 30 service dog behaviors. GDA places about 60 guide dogs per year. It costs more than $48,000 to breed, raise, and train each dog, and dogs are matched to clients throughout the U.S. and Canada at no cost to the clients.
An important part of Stephanie’s job is to recruit and “train” families who want to be puppy raisers for GDA’s guide dog program. The families receive their pups when they are about 8 weeks old, and they keep them until the pups are about 15 to 18 months old. Scheduling all those families to pick up their pups from GDA’s Sylmar campus is also part of Stephanie’s job, and it was made a little more challenging this year, given the need to maintain safe social distancing. So Stephanie conceived a “drive through puppy pick up” experience, successfully scheduling 13 different families to come to the GDA campus, where they were handed their foster puppy through the car window by a masked and gloved puppy technician. Three different local television news stations covered the event! Here is a link to one station’s coverage.
I’ll have to remember this next time I am involved with placing a large litter!
If you live in Southern California and are interested in being a puppy raising family, GDA is hosting a free, online information session on Saturday, May 16. To learn more, visit www.guidedogsofamerica.org or call the puppy department at 818-833-6447.