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Corona Virus: Advice and guidance for assistance dog owners and visually impaired people

Please note: The guidelines below do not supercede any specific advice given to you by your medical team. Seeing Dogs cannot advise on Corona Virus symptoms. If you are concerned, please call your GP or the NHS non-emergency helpline on 111 for further advice.

In a time of great uncertainty and concern, Seeing Dogs hopes that the below will be of some help to our working partnerships and other assistance dog owners, and visually impaired people in general. These guidelines will cover every-day precautions as well as how to cope during this difficult lockdown period, especially if you are required to self-isolate.

Dog owners

Do

  • Discourage the public from stroking your dog. Even if you would usually allow people to interact with your dog, we would discourage this at the present time. Corona Virus can survive outside the body for long periods. Currently, this is suggested to be around 3 days, but as research continues, this figure may change. Your dog’s coat is a perfect surface to harbour the virus, and anyone stroking the dog may inadvertently transfer virus to its coat. Although the dog itself cannot contract Coronavirus, you or the next person who strokes the dog may pick it up from its coat.
  • Provide regular bathing for your dog using dog shampoo if possible, and if your dog doesn’t have a health condition that prevents bathing. Although bathing should not be done daily, if you are required to take your dog into heavily populated areas, or have many public interactions, please consider this as a tool to have in your kit to keep you both safe. Note: If you cannot bathe your dog, please do not panic. This is an extra precaution , not a requirement.
  • Try to work your dog at quieter times of day as much as possible. Please also consider free running your dog at quiet times of day, and/or somewhere other than the local dog park. A heavily populated area with lots of people and dogs will put you at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Don’t

  • Please do not use hand sanitiser on your dog’s skin or coat. Even though it effectively kills the virus, it should not be used on dogs. The alcohol in hand sanitiser breaks down the fats and oils that keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy and waterproof.

Self-isolation/Lock Down.

Do

  • Please take this very seriously. Self-isolation means complete isolation to the best of your ability. If you carry the virus, you need to minimise spread as much as possible. As the virus survives outside the body for some time, any surface or environment you or your dog come in contact with could potentially contain viral material.
  • Have a plan in place for keeping your dog entertained if you are self-isolating. You and your dog should remain indoors at all times except when taking the dog for a toilet break. There are many methods of relieving a dog’s need for exercise. These include toys, mental stimulation through challenging games or learning a new skill through training, sniffing, etc. If unsure how to manage this, please speak to your GDMI for ideas. It is important to have plans in place so that, if asked to remain indoors at all times, you are ready to manage the situation.
  • Nominate someone who is able to care for your dog in the unfortunate event that you are hospitalised. It is an inescapable fact that some people will be required to stay in hospital to be given assistance to recover from Corona. Your dog will not be able to stay in hospital with you, as you may not be well enough to toilet or care for your dog, and overburdened health care staff will not have time to help.
  • Ensure you have enough dog food in stock to last for approximately 2 weeks. You will be confined to your home, and dog food may not be available with short lead times if your suppliers are struggling to meet demand. By ensuring you have 2 weeks’ worth in stock at all times, not only will you be ready to isolate with no notice, but this should also give you sufficient time to order replacement food without running out. Changing a dog’s food suddenly may lead to stomach upsets, which may be difficult to deal with.

Don’t

  • If you’re self-isolating, don’t be tempted to walk your dog, even at night or at quiet times. If you are staying at home so as not to spread or contract the virus, it could be transferred between you and your dog and the environment no matter the time of day. The virus is carried in droplets, meaning it is easily air born and easy for you or others to catch.
  • Don’t ask friends or family members to walk the dog on your behalf, as this would increase the risk of the virus being contracted and spread. You could, however, arrange for your dog to live with someone else until your isolation period is ended.

Visually Impaired People and Social Distancing

Do

  • Wash your hands with soap and water where possible, as this is the preferred method for removing the virus from skin. There are many resources online that explain how to wash hands thoroughly and completely, and it is suggested that you read and familiarise yourself with these.
  • Carry hand sanitiser if you have any. Unfortunately, due to the nature of being visually impaired, you will be in contact with many more surfaces and people than those who do not have the visual impairment. Hand sanitiser of approximately 60% alcohol is recommended for neutralising Corona. Carrying this will enable you to frequently cleanse your hands as they come into contact with frequently touched surfaces if soap and water is not available.
  • Keep in mind that people are being encouraged to cough or sneeze into their elbows. Often, when being guided, you will come in contact with an elbow crease, which may carry an increased viral load. It is recommended to wear disposable gloves when outside and throw them away before you reenter your home, and to wash or sanitise hands where possible after being guided.
  • Use your dog or cane to follow rather than being guided where possible. Please only do this if you feel safe doing so. This reduces the need for body contact. It also allows you to maintain a 2 metre distance from your guide, which is one of the guidelines required for social distancing.
  • Ensure you have plans in place to enable you to shop and receive medications if you have to self-isolate. If you rely on the help of others to assist with shopping or medication collection, they will not be able to help you directly if you are in isolation, nor should they be asked to. Although they could bring items and leave them outside your door, they should not physically interact with you, or enter the area in which you are self-isolating. Please have contingency plans in place, such as online delivery, for shopping. Although Seeing Dogs does not recommend a specific supermarket, if you can’t use the internet you can call Sainsburys on 0800 9178557, option 1 to arrange a delivery. Delivery slots need to be booked well in advance as they are being snapped up as soon as they come online.

Don’t

  • Don’t rub your eyes or touch your nose, mouth or face unless you have recently cleansed your hands and can cleanse them again afterwards. Although this is general advice, it applies spicifically to the VI community as many have eyes which are irritable or painful. The virus can be contracted through contact with your eye.
  • Avoid using public transport unless absolutely necessary. If you do have to use it, try to aim for quieter times. One of the most effective ways to spread Corona is through a cough or sneeze. If you are in an enclosed space with many other people the risks increase exponentially, and travelling at quieter times will reduce the risk. Don’t forget to wash or sanitise your hands after touching any surface that others may have touched.

We wish you and your families well during these worrying times. If you are a seeing dog handler and need advice, please get in touch and we will try to help as best we can. Stay well.

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