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Grab an extra harness and leash. Know how to keep dogs safe during the pandemic

Lindsay Rojas, 28, owner of Lindsay's Dog Walks, walks two golden retrievers on Keystone Avenue in Culver City.
Lindsay Rojas, 28, owner of Lindsay’s Dog Walks, strolls with Nikki and Gomez, golden retriever siblings, along Keystone Avenue in Culver City. During the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warn that canines should not interact with dogs outside their immediate family.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

It was past lunchtime and Nikki and Gomez, ebullient and eager, bounded out, more than ready for their daily treat. Lindsay Rojas, their Clorox-equipped dog walker, awaited, greeting them like old friends.

Rojas knows that routines are important in a pandemic, especially for observant animals “who sense that there’s something going on” but, akin to the golden retriever siblings, can’t quite put their paws on it.

“When I started wearing face masks, some of them were a little unsure, like ‘What’s this on your face, human?’” Rojas said. “A lot of dogs are acting differently right now because owners are home frequently.”

So the Culver City pet lover sticks to a schedule with her furry crew, tweaking here and there to raise the bar on safety.

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For her business, Lindsay’s Dog Walks, launched in 2018 , Rojas categorizes activity as “before and after” COVID-19.

Before the global pandemic, clients never bought a separate set of harness and leash for those outside the family to use with their dogs, and they never asked vets making house calls or walkers to fetch dogs from the backyard or to wait in the driveway for owners to bring their critters out. Now, moreover, pet parents feverishly mop floors, sanitize door knobs and leave out extra paper towels so visitors won’t reach for cloth towels.

Lindsay Rojas, 28, walks two golden retrievers in Culver City.
Lindsay Rojas walks golden retriever siblings Gomez, top, and Nikki, in Culver City. The dog walker says, when she is out with her charges, she tries to take advantage of programmed crosswalks where pedestrians don’t need to touch buttons.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“That extra protection is subtle but it counts,” Rojas said, adding that she wipes down harnesses and leashes with Clorox wipes following each walk.

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Her clients, among them frontline workers such as a pediatric disease specialist, remind her of how vital it is “to avoid going inside houses.” When Rojas is on the streets with her charges, she tries to take advantage of programmed crosswalks where pedestrians don’t need to touch buttons. “Germs pop up everywhere,” she said, “we carry more than we imagine.”

Other aficionados are finding ways that people can better protect their dogs in the age of the coronavirus.

Julie Castle, chief executive of Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest animal sanctuary, said that a golden rule is to steer clear of other people’s pets. “When you’re walking, keep your distance as you would with humans and refrain from petting other dogs.”

She suggests that owners review the basics of pet care during a pandemic, listed on the American Veterinary Medical Assn. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites. “To be totally safe, if you come down with the virus, avoid any direct contact with any pet in your household,” Castle said. And unlike in social media feeds where COVID-19 victims are photographed embracing their pets, “no snuggling or kissing,” she added.

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The first known U.S. case of a dog afflicted with the coronavirus unfolded in late April in North Carolina when Winston, a pug, tested positive in a Duke University School of Medicine study. CDC guidelines state that “there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Castle continues to worry about people who live alone with their creatures, advising them to make a pet preparedness plan, similar to an earthquake preparedness plan.

In situations where owners can’t drive their pets to urgent care facilities, Castle recommends using Vet Access 24/7, an app developed during Hurricane Harvey that connects patients to quick tele-consultations. “The silver lining that comes out of tragedy is that things inevitably speed up,” she said. “You’re forced to picture scenarios and keep planning ahead.”

Writer Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, born into a family with a Newfoundland “who was like a nanny to us,” said that “when patterns change in a dog’s life, what keeps them feeling safe is not being separated from their owners.”

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The author of the landmark “The Hidden Lives of Dogs” and the new “Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace” said she’s especially concerned about the elderly. “Work out who will take care of your pet if you pre-decease it. Sit down with your family and choose people you can trust in the short term and long term. You may need them to make promises to you now.”

Because of the intimacy between humans and animals, Thomas said that when “they’re at your side, on your bed, next to you in the car, they’re so close, we may not always be careful to take sanitary precautions. But we must.”

Bryson Berryman and his sister, Brittany, spent long weeks of quarantine designing and remodeling the entrance to Bark City, a dog boarding and daycare center near the sands of Huntington Beach. As a result, drop-offs and pickups are now contactless, rather than have people line up in a crowded lobby.

Bark City staff has been trained to socially distance during their shifts, which start with members having their temperatures taken. Most dogs spend daycare hours outdoors and one tip that Berryman would offer pet parents is to keep up with their mental health.

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“Your dog has not been socializing with people, other dogs, nor has it had a ‘regular’ day in a while. Make sure you fill those voids with treat puzzles, hide and seek games and walks with trick challenges,” he said. “Most people think they’ve got to run their dog for miles to ‘tire them out,’ when realistically, a half-hour spent working your pup’s mind is all you need to have a rested, right-minded dog at the end of the day.”

Dr. Danielle Bernal, a global veterinarian for Wellness Natural Pet Food, urges building your dog’s immunity with healthy foods. “It’s just like us eating more fruits and more vegetables — you can choose something that has high protein without high fat, boosted with antioxidants and probiotics.”

Continue giving canines treats such as apples, broccoli and carrots, she said. And pay attention to indoor life. As a mother of three boys, Bernal said play time and down time with their border collie Megs is allowing her kids “that essential friend that they can show empathy with, helping them through this crisis when we really don’t know what’s going on in the world. While they miss hanging out with school friends, this really helps their moods.”

She advises against putting masks on dogs, impeding their sense of smell, noting that the World Health Organization has stated that there’s no sign of transmission of the virus from a pet to a human.

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Michael Morrison, an attorney from Westchester, said he limits grocery store runs to reduce the exposure of Monty and Margo, siblings who are part Pekingnese, part toy poodle. “The more I go out, the more I might bring back,” he said, noting that “the supermarket is an aerosol environment.”

For owners of multiple pets, he suggests not forgetting to spray Lysol on individual leashes — and not taking one dog outside more than the others.

“Keep the balance,” he said. “Surviving this new life is as much about changing your behavior as controlling what you can control of the environment we all move in.”


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