COVID-19 And Service Dogs
On Wednesday, February 19, 2020 I was in Canada for a beautiful hike with my service dog, Mollie and a Canadian friend. We are both retired engineers that had worked extensively in China. Naturally our conversation turned to the coronavirus outbreak that was occurring in China and had been identified in a few, mostly elderly patients in Seattle.
We were both working internationally throughout SARS, H1N1 and MERS. As we hiked, we shared stories and experiences of living through previous international illnesses as our dogs zoomied about, swam in an alpine lake and face sledded in what snow they could find. That was it. A simple topic of conversation for two people with shared careers and shared experiences.
On Friday, February 21st, Mollie and I did our weekly Costco shopping. We used the self- checkout. A big accomplishment for me. I had never been to a Costco prior to handler training in January 2018. Costco is now a part of my new normal of accessing many public places since being matched with Mollie.
Wednesday, February 26th I woke up feeling run down. Maybe I was hiking too much. Maybe the cold wet winter weather of the PNW was getting to me.
I continued our two-year-old routine, even though I felt run down. 4 am wake up. 12 step meetings. Grocery shopping. Therapy appointments. Library visits. Our evening visits to the local park for Mollie’s daily energy release.
Sunday, March 1st, I was planning a hike for Mollie and me to my favorite winter place, Mt Baker. I woke with a fever. We did not go hiking. The entire day I went from being chilled to breaking out in a sweat. I thought, “this must be something more than being run down. Maybe a bad cold or a flu.”
I spent the day in bed. By that evening, Mollie needed her energy release. Regardless if I wanted to sleep all day, Mollie needed a routine. She loves to work. She loves to practice her skills. Regardless of how I felt, Mollie needed attention. I live by myself. I enjoy life as an extreme introvert. There isn’t anyone else that can step in on a super short notice.
Throughout the next week, I was battling a fever and a headache. I stayed home, out of public, watching the local news as Seattle became what some believe as the United States epicenter for Covid19.
Mollie does not do well sitting in the house all day. Especially, days at a time. As with most service dogs, Mollie was trained to work and wants to work. I spent that week focused on Mollie. I made sure she stayed on a routine, entertained and exercised. With the exception of potty breaks in the backyard, we stayed in the house. We played the “vest” game daily. We ran through all of her commands daily. I worked on teaching her new tasks. Anything to keep her mind and her body exercised with the limited amount of physical energy that I had available.
I purchased two cases of Red Barn stuffed peanut butter femur bones. The only chew toy that I know will give her entertainment and me a slight respite.
By the weekend, my breathing became more difficult. It was the weekend. My doctor’s office was closed. “I am never sick”, I thought to myself. “I must have a flu.”
At the same time, Covid19 was becoming the only topic discussed in Seattle. It was spreading quickly and relentlessly. Earlier in the week, Amazon and Microsoft corporate offices along with many other Seattle businesses had closed and asked all employees to work from home. Seattle was slowly shutting down. A week and a half before the rest of the nation.
Still, at that point, me having Covid19 never crossed my mind. I am a proud, self-proclaimed introverted loner. There is no way I was exposed. I did not want to overrun the medical system with my simple illness.
I knew how to handle something the rest of Seattle was struggling with; a city-wide quarantine. Staying home, ordering food through apps and hiring all other public needs out, was something I was a pro at prior to Mollie.
Meanwhile, Mollie still needed her daily routine of mental and physical exercise. The CDC was recommending that household animals either stay full time with the sick person or to stay with people without symptoms. Not to go back and forth.
Although there are no known cases of canines with Covid19, it is too early in the pandemic to understand if dogs can carry the virus between humans. I was not going to bother someone else and turn Mollie over full time. I pushed through to make sure she had what she needed.
When I finally called my doctor, the Seattle medical system was overrun. Covid19 tests were limited to those critically hospitalized. ER visits needed to be scheduled. Doctor visits were done virtually. I was told if my breathing became worse to either schedule an ER visit or to call 911 so that I could be brought in through a controlled process via ambulance.
Even though my breathing was improving, I still had a fever. A fellow LASD handler in the area helped me find a testing location.
I was finally tested early Saturday morning. Two and a half weeks after first feeling run down. By late Monday afternoon, I found that I had tested positive for Covid19. Ironically, my fever broke Saturday night. I had turned the corner before I received test results. I was on the mend.
Now I sit and wait to pass the current standard of two negative tests prior to re-entering the public. This may change as testing is still limited and conditions of the virus is changing minute by minute.
I now feel well enough to get outside. Mollie and I are doing our evening walk in the local park. The City of Seattle has been under a quarantine for over two weeks now. People respect distance. Dogs are all leashed at the park. There is an eerie calm as we walk in the park. People are adjusting to their new normal as Mollie and I work our way back into our routine.
I share my experience because I wish I was better prepared being a service dog handler in the face of a sudden illness. Here is what I have learned and what I wish I had done differently. All items LASD recommends at handler training. It was something I had planned to get done and never got around to it.
1. I will have a plan of who will take care of Mollie if we need to be separated if I am suddenly sick.
2. I will have that person work with Mollie to make sure they know her commands prior to ever needing them.
3. I will have Mollie’s daily routine written down so that someone else can keep her physically and mentally stimulated.
4. I will have two weeks of an extra supply of her meds and food as shipping times have now been extended due to the pandemic.
Covid19 is unique and I will soon be immune. I do need to ask myself if I am prepared for other potential issues. For example, the PNW is a risk area for earthquakes, forest fires and flooding. Having a service dog is much more complex than having a pet. Am I prepared as a service dog handler for these types of situations? Something I need to contemplate and make plans. As crummy as I felt at times, I felt worse that Mollie may not have had the best of care during my illness due to my lack of planning.