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Lizzie Owen Guest Blog: Wellness in Lockdown and Assistance Dogs

  • Posted on Jun 29, 2020

Towards the end of February, when I realised the seriousness of the Coronavirus pandemic, I started to worry about how I’d look after my Assistance Dog in different scenarios. How would I cope looking after and meeting her needs in a lockdown situation? What if I got sick – not just if I became unfortunate enough to contract COVID19, but also if I had a fracture, or severe chest infection (I get quite a few due to my kyphoscoliosis and chest ‘deformity’ – although I hate that word!)? What if my dog needed veterinary treatment?

Demi is my third Assistance Dog from Dogs for Good (formerly Dogs for the Disabled).  She’s a small black Lab, and we’ve been together for two years. Before Demi there was Frodo – a big, goofy, yellow Lab.  My first Assistance Dog was Bella – a small Golden Retriever. She was a very gentle little girl, but quite sensitive.  If you’ve been to a BBS Conference, you’ve probably seen me with one of my dogs!

I’m extremely fortunate in that I’m able to live independently – I do not have any carers/PAs. I live in a privately rented mid-terrace bungalow and have my own, secure, outdoor space for Demi to ‘toilet’ in.

Lockdown Plans and Preparation

As lockdown approached, I needed to make sure I had enough food for Demi for at least a month. Dogs for Good have an arrangement with Crown Pet Foods whereby we can buy our dog food (in Demi’s case, Royal Canin High Fibre) at cost and it’s delivered to our door. I also needed to get some medication for Demi from our veterinary surgery. Fortunately, my sister was able to pick this up for us and leave it in our porch. When you have an Assistance Dog from an ADUK organisation, you sign a contract to say that you’ll give the dog preventative worm and flea treatment as advised by the Charity, take the dog for vet checks every six-months and annual boosters (among other things). Typically, Demi was due for her boosters during lockdown. Again, my sister came to our rescue – she picked her up from our house (Demi went absolutely loopy as she’d not seen her for about 12 weeks!) and took her to the vets for me.

The Importance of Routine

As we’re constantly told by medics, routine is good for our mental health. Having a dog gives my day routine and structure – I have to get up to feed, toilet, exercise and groom her. Demi thrives on routine. She likes to know when to expect walks, exercise and adventures in the big wide World! Being a Labrador, food is EXTREMELY important to her – she likes to know when her breakfast and dinner will be ‘served’! Obviously, when we have appointments, meetings or are away, the timings of these things have to change – she does adapt well to these changes, and ‘steps-up’ to the challenge.

I like routine, too. I have quite significant mental health issues – it feels like a lot of my time is spent ‘managing’ symptoms. Having a routine of getting up, taking medication, eating and going to bed helps to keep me stable.

Having a dog helps me to keep this routine – it is my job to keep her safe, happy and healthy. To be her advocate in this alien World.

Preventing Boredom

Demi is a ridiculously intelligent dog – cleverer than her two predecessors. I need to keep her brain occupied to prevent her from ‘zoning out’ – this would be bad for both of us! During lockdown, our activities have been restricted. As I’m shielding, we’ve not been in to any shops since the middle of March – we’ve just walked around the estate where we currently live, and using the same areas for off-lead exercise. At first, Demi LOVED this – ‘no Asda – yippee’! In the past month, she’s started to become a little restless – she’s taken to gently nudging my elbow at the dropped kerbs we’d use to go to Asda, or catch a bus somewhere!

To prevent Demi from getting bored, I’ve started to train a few more tasks. She is a good student, and quick learner. We’ve done some scent work – this is a good way to tire her out!  I’ve also joined some online training classes with reputable dog trainers that I know. This is just so that we have new ideas, and new challenges.

Keeping my mind occupied at this difficult time has been really important to me as it’s stopped me from thinking about the ‘dark things’.

Be Mindful

I know mindfulness seems to be the latest fad, but it can really help. I’ve been practising it for a number of years – with varying degrees of success!  When I’m walking Demi, it’s important that I’m focussed on her to ensure that she isn’t distracted by anything. When she’s off-lead, I love to watch how she runs around without a care in the World!  When I was partnered with Demi just over two years ago, she was a little body-sensitive – she wasn’t keen on being fussed. Now, she loves ‘cuddle-time’ with me. I sit on the floor with her – watch her breathe, feel her coat under my hand, take in any smells.

Although this time is scary, it’s been good to spend time with Demi without the pressures of the ‘real World’. We’ve been able to really get to know each other, and develop an even deeper bond – it’s been beautiful!

(Please Note: Any recommended Suppliers or Organisations referred to are in relation to Lizzie’s personal experiences and are not endorsed by the Brittle Bone Society.)