Thinking Outside the Crate With COVID-19 and Its Ominous Path

By January 22, 2021 No Comments
[PHOTO: From L-R, certified Assistance Dog trainer Dana Wheeler, apprentice Assistance Dog trainer Kaylynn Shaw, and corporate partner and former raiser Kela Meredith]


CENTRAL POINT, OR – As news broke in China about the Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) in the early days of 2020 it seemed so distant and inconsequential to those in America.  Then COVID cases began to appear elsewhere including in the United States, and Americans began to take more notice.

Trainers Kaylynn and Dana masked up and social distancing while working their dogs at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (OR).

In February 2020, the leadership team at Dogs for Better Lives (DBL) also took notice, as many businesses and nonprofits became further concerned and more cases were showing up locally, including in Oregon.

Abiding by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines and following protocols set out by the Oregon Governor, DBL continued to establish protocols and procedures to move the organization forward. In March 2020 DBL established a dedicated COVID-19 page on the website, as a resource to staff, clients, volunteers, and the public.

“From the very beginning our leadership team took the threat of COVID-19 very seriously. We immediately took action to ensure the health and safety of our staff and dogs were safeguarded to the best of our abilities,” stated operations director, Trish Welch. “Throughout the pandemic we have remained agile, flexible, and are making the best of a very difficult situation.”

For nearly a year, DBL has been carefully dealing with and navigating around COVID-19’s path, as it has certainly impacted the way the organization does business, across all departments, including how the organization acquires and places dogs nationally.

Beginning in March 2020, DBL moved most staff off its Southern Oregon campus, providing them with all necessary resources to work remote. Fortunately, the national nonprofit already had much of the strategy, technology, and equipment in place to establish this overnight.

Puppy raisers on campus, masked up and social distancing (L-R), Gabrielle with Edge, Laurie with Eloise and Grace with Eliot.

Working with dogs, many of DBL’s programmatic staff continue to stay on campus, caring for and training the dogs, while practicing social distancing, continuously cleaning hands, and wearing masks, among other best CDC practices.

“External outreach and communications with the public is very limited, though I have been able to give presentations and participate in community meetings via conference video,” stated regional field representative Laura Encinas.  “It certainly has been difficult but we at DBL will persevere.”

Laura continues to work with her local puppy raisers in central California, though only through virtual calls and outdoor classes where they can socially distance.  Animal shelters are open by appointment only, restrict time allotted to evaluate dogs, and many have a limited number of dogs available. The short supply of dogs at the shelters is primarily due to more people working remote, now having more time, therefore adopting dogs in mass numbers throughout the COVID pandemic.

“Working through the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly been challenging, but our team was quick to adapt and rose up to meet that challenge,” stated puppy program coordinator, Hannah Crane. “Implementing safety protocols have allowed those of us who need to continue working on campus to do so, while others work from the safety of their home. Those same protocols have helped us to continue to have puppy classes both virtually and in person.”

Donation of personal protection equipment (PPE) from Jackson County, including hand sanitizer, wipes, and bleach.

Hannah is further encouraged by how the management team has kept staff up to date on local restrictions and guidelines, found alternative methods of communicating with colleagues, clients, and volunteers, as well as continuing to provide excellent care to the dogs in training.

During unprecedented times, unprecedented steps are required, while done in a thoughtful manner that puts staff and dogs first. The organization realizes that they are far from out of this pandemic and that some of the procedures implemented most likely will continue to be a part of our updated road map moving forward indefinitely.

To learn more about DBL’s COVOD-19 plan, visit our website here.

[Read full news release as PDF here]

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