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Health and safety protocols for Guide Dog Handlers in managing COVID-19
Your Guide Dog will play a vital role in supporting you during the new mandatory requirements for containing the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
However, if you contract COVID-19, develop symptoms, or have been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, there are important steps you must take to protect yourself and others. This may include during hospitalisation, self-isolation, or in quarantine.
The Federal Government announced on Sunday, 29 March 2020, new rules to limit social contact to one person outside of your immediate family either within your home, or in public places. This means you can still go for a walk with your dog and family members and/or one non-family contact, provided you follow the required social distancing recommendations and any specific State or Territory laws with regards to these new measures.
Our veterinarians have provided the following advice to help you manage your dog and your health while these COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
How should I be interacting with my dog in these times?
Normal interactions with your own dog, including good hygiene practices such as hand washing prior to and after petting, should be continued. It is best in all situations to not kiss your dog or share food or utensils.
Although it is highly unlikely, there is the risk that your dog can act as a fomite (surface) for the spread of disease. For this reason, you should extend your social distancing measures to include your pet. It is OK to go for walks, but do not allow other people to pet your dog. When you come home you can wash your dog’s feet in soap and water, just as you wash your hands.
Can my dog catch COVID-19?
There is no evidence of dogs contracting COVID-19 but, as stated above, they can carry the virus or parts of the virus on their coats, nose or mouth. It is therefore critical that any social distancing practices apply to your dog as much as they apply to you.
What can I do now to be prepared in case I cannot care for my dog?
It is best that you contact your family members or close contacts to discuss possible care for your dog in the event that you require hospitalisation or need to be in quarantine. If you do not have any family or close contacts you can call upon, please contact your local Guide Dog staff member to discuss alternative arrangements.
You should prepare an emergency kit including a minimum of two weeks’ food, medications, notes around health concerns and contact details for your dog’s veterinarian.
What if I am diagnosed with COVID-19?
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 you will need to be careful not to transmit the virus to others. This will include the person that is going to take your dog should you require care. To reduce the risk of passing on the virus you will need to:
- Reduce interaction with your dog as much as possible.
- If available to you, have another household member perform the daily tasks such as feeding and playing with your dog.
- Do not cough on or near your dog.
Should your dog be cared for someone outside your household if you are unwell, they can institute a procedure to limit their risk of contact with yourself or any potential virus on the dog. This will involve:
- Wearing personal protective equipment such as a face mask, gloves and goggles
- Taking your dog from the backyard without contact with yourself using their own lead and collar.
- Washing the dog in your front yard with liquid soap. Lather this on for at least 10 minutes, over the entire body and head but avoiding the eyes and ear canals, then rinse off well.
- Washing the lead and collar
If the person caring for your dog is concerned about possible transmission of COVID-19, contact your veterinarian. They may be able to perform the pick-up and bathing or quarantine your dog for a few days between housing if necessary.
What if I develop symptoms or come in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 carrier?
If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 it is important to seek medical advice immediately and to follow the guidelines at www.health.gov.au. If you have been near someone confirmed with COVID-19 you need also to follow the health department’s guidelines.
Commonly asked questions and up to date information regarding COVID-19 and pets can be found at the following links:
- World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) / this is their current press release.
- World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
- The Centre for Disease Control (CDC)
An important safety message for all Guide Dog Handlers using taxis and ride share services for travel
Some important changes have been made to normal procedures for Guide Dog Handlers using taxis and ride share services such as Uber to further minimise risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most important change is that all Guide Dog Handlers are being asked to travel in the back seat of the vehicle on the recommendation of the Federal Government, the Taxi Industry, the Ride Share Services sector and Guide Dogs Australia. Guide dogs are now required to sit at the handler’s feet in the back footwell.
This change requires a different approach to entering a taxi or ride share service. Under normal circumstances, Guide Dog Handlers are trained to use the front seat but with new social distancing regulations in place this is no longer advised.
Guide Dog Handlers should ask taxi and ride share services’ drivers to move the front passenger’s seat as far forward as possible to provide room for the dog.
There is no change in advice on exiting the vehicle in that the Guide Dog Handler should exit the taxi/ride share service with their dog as per the normal procedure.
Below are the new recommended steps for Guide Dog Handlers entering and exiting taxis and ride share services:
- When approaching a taxi or ride share service vehicle, do as you would normally do by locating the front passenger door. Then, while facing the vehicle, move one metre to your right and locate the back passenger door.
- Ask the driver to move the front passenger seat as far forward as possible.
- Remove your Guide Dog’s harness so that it does not become caught under the front seat. This is also a more comfortable way for you and your guide dog to travel.
- Place your dog on a long lead and have your dog wait while you position yourself on the back seat.
- Ask your dog to sit at your feet in the back footwell. Make sure the dog’s tail is inside the vehicle before closing the back door.
- When exiting the vehicle with your dog do so as per normal procedure.
- Re-harness your dog and proceed to your destination.
At all times it is essential to keep you and your dog at a safe distance from others to minimise the risk of coming into contact with potential COVID-19 carriers.
Guide Dogs is closely following the recommendations of the relevant government authorities in relation to the containment of the COVID – 19 virus within the community.
We acknowledge that these are challenging times.
Be assured, the health and wellbeing of our Clients, workforce and dogs remains our priority.
We are activating our plan to ensure we have continuity of care to those most in need, in line with the restrictions currently in place.
If you need support immediately, please contact our Customer Service team on 1800 804 805 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, please ensure you stay informed on the latest advice from authorities.
Guide Dogs will continue to provide you with regular updates as the situation unfolds.