In what seems like the blink of an eye the COVID-19 pandemic changed the whole world, and has hit the dog service industry particularly hard. There certainly are a lot of things on the downside, but I am finding some very nice things on the upside too. They just require some searching and creativity.
Like so many pet service providers, clients have cancelled my pet sitting appointments since they are sequestered at home and not traveling, and my in-home training and behavior services had to stop in order to prevent the spread of infection.
What I miss most about that is the lack of tactile interaction with the dogs I worked with. It gave me great satisfaction and joy being able to help so many dogs, watching their transformation, and celebrating with their families.
Client dogs who became my buddies, like Pete and Rocket, used to share my life several days a week. Now I must peruse their photographs and videos, remembering how things used to be.
Other things have fundamentally changed, such as what used to be a simple trip to the grocery store to buy meat and cheese for those high value training treats. Now I only shop for my family, with a carefully written list organized by aisle, so I can pass through the store as quickly as possible.
My first such grocery run was quite surreal.
In addition to my precisely crafted shopping list, I carried an arsenal of personal protective gear in my car. I arrived in the parking lot and rehearsed in my mind the exact actions I would take upon exiting my car, step-by-step. It was much like the tactical planning I applied during my law enforcement days when I was about to enter a dangerous environment.
Then I geared up, donning an N-95 mask and surgical gloves. I stuffed a spray bottle of alcohol in my back pocket, put extra gloves in another pocket in case of a tear, and added a couple of alcohol wipe pads for good measure. An envelope held a cash supply so I would not have to handle my wallet.
It was like entering the set of a science fiction movie, but it was real. It also felt very uncomfortable the first time. Today when I went to the store it felt very strange not wearing any PPE as I drove my car. Gearing up in the parking lot actually gave me a sense of comfort.
Buddha and Gandhi, my black Labradors, remained in the car. They always rode with me when I went into town to run errands, and I try to maintain as much of a grip on normalcy as possible under the circumstances.
Then I entered the store, sprayed a shopping cart with alcohol and waited…for it to disinfect. I pulled out my list, passed through the automatic doors and entered what felt like a game of Pac Man. I was Pac Man, going deliberately through the aisles gobbling up stuff on my list, tossing them into the cart. Then I saw another shopper, looked about and picked my escape route. The other shopper did likewise. It reminded me of how my Pac Man character had to avoid the ghosts in the maze.
Finally, I made it to the checkout, maintained social distancing, handed over cash so I could avoid handling the credit card machine…and made a hasty escape.
Returning to my car, Buddha and Gandhi greeted me with big toothy grins. Perhaps they were delighted that I was piling so many bags of food in the car with them, but I prefer to believe they were happy to see me. We returned home with enough food to last another couple of weeks.
And now for the upside of staying home during a pandemic.
I enjoy staying home. It took 25 years of hard work to develop our countryside homestead and I always wanted to enjoy some final years in retirement, with my beloved pets. It just required a global pandemic to make it so.
We all want to feel as though we have some control over our lives, even if “control” is an illusion. After all, we cannot control a pandemic which started on the far side of the globe, but we can do some very positive things.
I began keeping a regular, predictable daily schedule, and eating more healthy home cooked meals. My dogs now get at least three walks along our trails and I enjoy seeing how joyful it is for them to sniff and explore along the way. There is also more time for petting, playing, training games and belly rubs. Buddha and Gandhi are visibly more relaxed, content and smiling more than ever.
The pandemic has enabled us to bond even more closely than before.
After several years of “not having enough time” in my schedule for past exercise routines, I resumed my former regimen. Daily exercise has given me more structure, more energy, and I just feel better. It is also a pretty powerful counterbalance to the stresses of the current crisis.
I also have time to actually play and recreate. Woohoo! My computer had become a tool that I only used for work, but now I have time each day to just have fun and escape into fantasy worlds.
Another upside of self-quarantine is the opportunity to finally work on my homestead to-do list. A 25-acre property requires considerable upkeep and maintenance. I always enjoyed working outside and fixing things, and when my dog business was in full swing it was stressful not being able to do what needed to be done at home.
Now I can.
Finally, I found the motivation and time to streamline my business and come up with ways to help clients in a virtual way. At some point when medical experts determine that it is safe to return to face-to-face services, I may wish to carry on in the new manner.
But I suspect the siren song of putting my hands on client’s dogs would be too hard to resist.
I understand that the pandemic has caused widespread stress, suffering and death and do not mean to minimize that in any way. What I am suggesting is that we also have new opportunities. You and I may have some different down and up sides to this situation, and some that we share in common. So let’s concentrate on controlling the things we can, and use our sharp minds to find creative opportunities in this strange new world.
© Daniel H. Antolec