By Dr. Ben McClelland
The Internet carries a myriad of stories about dogs and the pandemic: Researchers are seeking to learn if dogs can detect Covid-19 in humans. “Advice” articles suggest what some sick owners should do if they need to give up or rehome pets. Walking dogs is a concern in some communities with strict stay-at-home policies. And, of course, a number of veterinarians and dog trainers discuss the relative wisdom of whether someone should get a new pet during the pandemic. Issues such as “socialization” and “stress transfer” are common topics. As one article reported, “Companion animals can also absorb stress and negative energy from their owners. People who are overwhelmed with the overall trauma from the pandemic, from job loss to worries over getting sick, can pass on that energy to their pets,” making them more susceptible to illness (Grega, “Pets and Pandemic”).
This article recounts how some of us—and our dogs—have been affected by the social restrictions of the Covid 19 pandemic. Following are contributions, in their own words, by Tom Smith, me, Bess Bruton, and Sammye Pisani.
Wildrose Oxford, Tom Smith
Some Wildrose pack members have experienced changes in routine with their dogs, as well. At Wildrose Oxford, Tom Smith discusses changes in business operations:
“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all on different levels. Here at Wildrose Oxford we suspended all tours and non-essential visits and changed how puppy picking is conducted.
“Wildrose Oxford’s normal puppy picking included a tour, demonstrations and about 2.5 hours of classroom instruction. During these trying times to prevent the spread of Covid-19 the kennel staff implemented several changes: 1) Masks are required to be worn by clients and staff during the puppy picking process; 2) Each client is assigned a time to pick their puppy based on deposit order; 3) The checkout and paperwork process was moved outdoors and included the availability of plenty of hand sanitizer; 4) We enlisted a puppy delivery person for people who were concerned about traveling to get their puppy.
“While the puppy picking days were non-standard the staff tried to make sure each client felt welcome and received all the valuable information they needed to get their pup started the Wildrose Way while also implementing policies to keep the spread of Covid-19 at bay.
“Luckily the daily routines for trainers and dogs didn’t change with the quarantine restrictions. All staff continued with the training, puppy rearing and facilities work. Most staff members live very close to the kennel and practiced self-quarantine at the kennel, staying very focused on developing the next generation of Gentleman’s Gundogs.”
Ben McClelland and the Mac Pack
My own routine with the Mack Pac (WR Eider, WR Mac, WR Scout, WR Eve, WR Knight) was disrupted for several weeks. Typically, several days a week I train the dogs on the premises of Wildrose Oxford, including participating in Group Work Wednesdays, when several trainers and client dogs carry out training scenarios together, such as an upland walkup exercise or water retrieves while shooting clays from a levee. This spring, preparing for the Handlers Workshops, I was working Eve and Knight quite regularly. Then, participating in the four days of Handlers Workshops offered us varied training activities with numerous other pack members and their dogs.
And then the pandemic stopped it all.
Not only did the pandemic make the kennel premises off limits, but it also sent my family into isolation for nearly three weeks. My wife, Susan, and our twenty-five-year-old daughter, Kellie, toured New York City during Spring Break. Concern about the spread of Covid-19 ratcheted up during their visit. Theaters on Broadway went dark on their last night in the city. Upon returning from the trip on Friday, the 13thof March, Kellie felt ill and returned to her Olive Branch apartment. Susan returned home with me. When Kellie’s Covid-19 test returned a positive result, Susan went to Kellie’s apartment and cared for her while they stayed in isolation for 17 days. Susan stayed away from Kellie as much as possible, while still feeding her, giving her meds, washing dishes, doing laundry, and generally caring for her. Kellie had four very difficult days when a secondary infection set in her lungs. She felt as if a heavy weight was on her chest. Breathing was difficult. She used an oximeter to test the level of oxygenated hemoglobin in her blood. With additional medication she rallied.
On Wednesday, the week after the handlers Workshops, the dogs and I traveled to Wildrose Oxford, intending to participate in Group Work. When I arrived, I parked near the EarthRoamer building and before beginning training, I made a “Happy Birthday” video for my son’s upcoming big day. As a joke, I gave my greetings through a bandana mask. The joke, however, was on me as I soon learned that quarantine policies went into effect for the trainers. So the Mac Pack dogs trained separately on a back section of the grounds. Afterwards we loaded up and drove away from the kennel, not to return for several weeks.
About three weeks ago Kellie and Susan both tested negative and came to our Oxford home. Susan‘s mother, Shirley, is also here staying with us. We have all been here in relative seclusion for the last couple of weeks. Last week at Susan’s regular doctor’s check up she told the doctor this story. Finding it difficult believe that Susan had never felt any symptoms, the doctor had Susan tested for antibodies. The result of her test—somewhat surprisingly—came back negative.
During this period of isolation I was on the periphery of the Kellie and Susan’s stressful experience, traveling to Olive Branch only a couple of times to deliver groceries. Nevertheless, stuck at home I had to invent a new training regimen with the dogs—limited by available time and places to work. I attempted to be versatile in using the few acres of our home place in designing varied training activities. The dogs never showed boredom. Indeed, their energy levels were high, so I had to take more time at the beginning of each period to work them down a bit. I also resorted to taking more powerwalks, two dogs at a time, at local trails and parks. Still, I fretted over the limits that bound us in.
During this time I also did an inordinate amount of landscape gardening, more than ever before, despite my old-man aches and pains. This, at least, gave plenty of opportunities to get the dogs out of the kennel to practice steadiness on place wherever I was digging and planting. I would improvise, having them “on place” in the bed of the Ranger, on the porch, in the middle of the lawn, in the landscape bed, and in pine stand.
Finally, this past Wednesday I was invited to resume Group Work at Wildrose. How wonderful to return to training with the group! The dogs were exuberant to get into the action. As we handlers exchanged socially distant greetings, training activities seemed to return to normal.
At home, as well, we are resuming life with more vigor, even as we continue being careful to observe social guidelines. We have put in two raised-bed gardens, looking forward to growing fresh veggies. Also, a little chicken coop just arrived from Pennsylvania Amish country. Soon we will get day-old chicks and become backyard chicken gardeners. Since neither Susan nor I have had feathered friends since childhood, this will indeed be an interesting experience.
And I am just beginning to ponder the role the dogs will play in this scene. No doubt there will be plenty of opportunities for steadiness in the face of live birds. Let’s hope there’s no fowl play!
Bess Bruton and Wildrose Irie
In Texas Bess Bruton and Wildrose Irie had to adapt to the new normal, as she explains:
“The powers at be are starting to let non-essential stores open, here in College Station, TX, though some are staying closed…because they don’t feel it is safe yet.
“Life with Wildrose Irie on lock down….first…she has gained at least 3 pounds, even though we are fortunate to live outside of town on 5 acres…mostly heavily wooded with thick yaupon.
But we go out 3 or 4 times a day for retrieves. I try to mix up the work, to stave off boredom.
“We love to hike…but the hiking trails around have been closed.
We have managed to slip away a couple weekends for fishing. Thanks to the adventure dog program…she is awesome in the boat.
“Normally we would be traveling a lot. She is the very best traveler. Though being homebound has had its advantages….a pair of roadrunners are making a nest in a post oak tree in our yard. Along with the whippoorwills, morning doves, and cardinals…watching them has been fun. And good work on steadiness.
“I think we have been more fortunate than others…the times we have seen other people, Irie has been a wonderful therapy dog…getting lots of petting…and being appreciated for her wonderful, kind, loving way. We hope everyone is healthy, safe, and finding something positive with the change. The pause may be good…to reset life, values, goals.”
Sammye Pisani, Wildrose Valentina and Wildrose Rambler,
“Wildrose Valentina and Wildrose Rambler, Mike, and I began our quarantine at our camp house in Springfield, Louisiana, on March 14, 2020, immediately upon returning from the Wildrose Handler’s Workshop. Our primary residence is in New Orleans, and we opted to stay out of the hotbed of COVID-19.
“If we had chosen to stay in the city, I don’t think life for our Wildrose girls, Valentina (Deke x Molly-yellow) and Rambler (Taz x Ivy), would have been much different. Daily walks, obedience lessons throughout the day, age-appropriate lessons in the park a few times a week (Valentina is seven years old, and Rambler will be one year old on May 29), and, for anyone who knows me, LOADS of loving.
“Instead, the girls’ lives did change, as did our lives. Mike and I dove right into projects that were long overdue at the camp house, most of them outdoors. After a morning walk and lesson, Valentina and Rambler would “load up” onto either their Kuranda beds or MoMarsh stands to oversee our work and observe the nature surrounding us…dragonflies abounding, squirrels munching on goodies, and Egrets and Great Herons flying in and landing on our lawn at the water’s edge. Sometimes they would supervise (channeling Claiborne the Supervisor) a dump truck delivering a load of dirt or sand, and at other times, the crew digging holes, driving piles, and leveling our house. The girls had countless experiences that they otherwise would not have had it not been for COVID-19…they learned to be “steady” during all of them, especially important for young Miss Rambler.
“Last, let’s not forget the many boat rides we have enjoyed with the girls. Rambler had her very first retrieves off the boat during this time, proving to be oh-so eager and fearless, jumping off the boat as if she was shot out of a cannon from the very first time. Valentina, the seasoned pro, not only showed Rambler the ropes of how to launch and retrieve but also, more importantly, how to ride and chill out while the “ducks” (Dokkens) went “do-do” (Cajun for “go to sleep”).
“The one thing I guarantee that will remain the same no matter where we are, COVID-19 or not, is the infinite love Mike and I feel for Valentina and Rambler, and the overwhelming joy they bring to us. Next adventure…Montana, here we come!
Kelcie Grega, “Pets and pandemic: How does life in quarantine affect dogs and cats?” Las Vegas Sun