Alyssa lives in Arizona and works in Utah. During shelter-in-place, she continued to cross state borders, necessarily, to take care of a community of dogs without homes in "Dog Town" with her colleagues. She lives in Arizona with her eight dogs. Her daily routine of service kept her busy during these uncertain times.
I aimed to investigate the changes brought about by the COVID situation and how it affects the animals in our care as well as the animals in our homes. I live in a small town and work for a very large organization that spans across the country, but has a lot of small town ideals. A lot of people consider the place that I work to be it’s own bubble of identity, symbolism and there is definitely a set of belief systems that apply to the people that work at Best Friends, but do not apply to the people that live in the small town of Kanab. The interviews were done in person while we all practiced social distancing and wore appropriate Personal Protective Equipment. In my research, I asked my co-workers: How has the new quarantine and COVID affected the work, home and animal life for each person. How have things changed, does anyone want the changes to stay in effect?
Of my colleagues who agreed, I interviewed them, either in person, practicing social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment, or over chat on the Internet. A lot of times I asked the questions while we were doing other things, such as walking dogs or cleaning buildings, and I took notes or recordings of their answers.
Questions for Informants
1. What struggles have you encountered with the limited in person veterinary care available for your person animals?
2. Have you had any personal plans affected or canceled due to the pandemic, if so have you cancelled your PTO or are you planning to keep it and do a vacation at home?
3. With the quarantine, what have you been doing with the extra time you have been spending at home?
4. Are you having issues with the limitation on the number of caregivers allowed in veterinary appointments, especially those where the end result has to let that animal go?
5. What is your biggest fear regarding Covid-19?
6. Are you afraid of the possibility of spreading COVID to your pets if you were to test positive?
7. Are there extra safety precautions that you are taking to protect your pets (at home and at work) from the virus?
8. What are some changes that you are hoping will remain in effect after the quarantine is lifted and the pandemic has passed? (There have been a lot of positive changes in animal welfare since the onset of the virus)
9. Have you personally taken on any fosters or have you adopted any animals? If so, from where?
10. What have you been encouraged to do to help animal welfare during the pandemic?
A Day in the Life:
The following are two ethnographic sensorial clips, one from myself and one about an informant.
As I arrive at work and get out of my car, shoes crunching on the gravel and my keys jingling in my hand, I can hear hummingbirds flitting around the feeder we have in one of the trees. I can smell sagebrush strongly and the cedar trees pollinating nearby makes me sneeze. The buildings are tan, in an attempt to blend into the building, everything looks organized and in order, the tan buildings shifting to dark brown fencing.
A few dogs bark, pleased at my arrival, others come up to the fence, tails wagging, and eyes soft. I walk into the kitchen and clang a stack of metal dog food bowls, immediately a cacophony of barking begins. Roughly thirty dogs bark, howl and jump up against their metal gates clanking along, the metal dog tags also jangling against their collars. Kibble falls into each bowl, smelling strongly like grains as I measure out each individual dogs breakfast, creating a tink tink tink noise, adding medications as I go along for each dog. Some dogs get probiotic and that smells sweet like syrup. I stack the bowls, again hitting metal on metal and exit the kitchen. The kitchen gate latch makes a loud clang as I open and close it. The noise of the dogs barking rises to a roar as I walk down the hallway, quickly sliding bowls into each run. Once the building is fed, there is an eerie silence, content dogs resting after their much-awaited breakfast. I am usually sore from the work from the previous day, my muscles aching as I get back into the swing of my routine.
Water rushes over the metal bowls, hot to my skin as I begin to scrub them and stack them to dry on the countertop. I sit down with our kitchen dog cowboy, who has dementia and falls a lot; he knocks over his bowl from the evening prior, clanging it around the kitchen. I start petting his face, which is soft like velvet. I can feel like old teeth and he vigorously rubs his face in my hands. I get him settling into his blankets and get his IV bag. I hang it on a screw a couple feet above us and quickly poke the needle into his skin. He whimpers slightly and then gives a heavy sigh as the fluids drip rapidly down the line and into his skin. I keep my hand around the needle as the fluids go under his skin; a warm bubble is created, expanding under his skin. He gets fluids every other day, and this is his routine. He lies there for a few minutes, deeply breathing in and out. I exit the kitchen, clanging the gate as I go, and stand outside for a few minutes. The hummingbirds buzzing back and forth and the early birds chirping loudly as they flit about. It is cold in the morning; I shiver a bit and grab a sweatshirt from my car to put on. I grab my cup of coffee from my car; it is warm in my hands and wafts up sweet smells from the cup. I take sip, it flows into my mouth easily the dark roast is strong and delicious. I can smell cigarettes from my coworker as she smokes, it makes me wheeze a bit with my chronic lung issues, and so I keep my distance. I walk back into the building and pick up a leash, which feels course in my hand, metal clip cold from hanging on the gate all night. And plan to take my first dog of the day out for their enrichment. As I grab a leash, the entire building erupts with barking, each dog excited at the chance that they would be first to go out. As so the day begins.
She pulls up to Dog town Headquarters, shivering as she experiences the chill in the air on this day. She can see her breath and chuckles a bit at its formation in the air. She walks into the building; it smells strongly of cleaner from the day before. A few dogs that live in the offices bark as she gets in. She walks into her office to see Cornflake, her office dog, wagging his partial tail as she says hello to him. He has a skin infection and smells very strongly of yeast, he bumps his cone around the office trying to get leashed up to go potty. She walks him into the parking lot; people are pulling up to get to work, their cars crunching gravel as they go. Cornflake goes to the bathroom and they both hurry to go back into the warmth inside. Once inside, she makes her coffee, its aroma is strong and she sips its warmth and it tastes like a dark roast. She sighs and takes out her computer, clanking on the keys and getting her schedule ready for the day. She turns on her radio, which is cool and plastic, people chattering away on the radio channel. Coworkers get in for the day and they begin to talk and make plans for the day. She begins her work, hearing everyone in headquarters and on the radio, is overwhelming at times. The phone rings, adding to the chatter, she picks up the smooth handle and someone begins talking about needing to surrender their dog, she is sympathetic and sets a time for them to come up with their dog. She feels confident about her ability to accept the animal and give it the home it deserves. We are all considered essential personnel so we need to be at work every day, practicing social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment when we are near other people and especially those who come to surrender or adopt animals.
Responses to questions, summed up:
Within this list of questions, I got a lot of similar answers from the staff. People have discussed that they have actually been able to be seen more readily than previously with the use of telemedicine for veterinary care. Only one person had to be referred to an outside vet in a different town.
Every single person that I interviewed had to cancel plans and cancelled their PTO. Most people have been reading more or doing easy projects during the self-quarantine periods. Some people have decided to do house projects. For the questions about letting animals go, a lot of interviewees liked the change of being able to euthanize their animals in cars or in open spaces as it was more relaxing than doing it in the clinic.
Fears of the interviews were that they would get sick or that a family member would get sick with COVID and they wouldn’t be able to be with them due to travelling restrictions. No one was afraid of getting his or her animals sick. Most of the Best Frienders have opted to use personal protective equipment, sanitizer, gloves, masks when out in public spaces to protect themselves and others from getting sick. If you do feel sick at work, you automatically have to stay home for two weeks and self-quarantine.
Positive outcomes from the pandemic have been a positive feedback about schedule changes, and that was from every person I interviewed. About half the people I interviewed have either taken in foster animals or have adopted animals locally or from other rescue groups or shelters. One big thing that everyone I have interviewed was involved in was helping to create masks for the Navajo reservation and sending out animal supplies to help them during this pandemic. They were hit pretty hard by the COVID-19, and we are relatively local to them so it was very important to our community to help them.
With the COVID limitations, the sanctuary has been closed to volunteers and visitors. This has opened up a lot of time for the animals to have one on one time with their caregivers. Thankfully, the adoptions team has thought of innovative ways to continue to get the animals adopted. We are doing virtual meet and greets through online platforms, where the adopters can see the animals over the computer and can ask questions to the caregivers. If they agree to adopt the animal, they make arrangements to come to the sanctuary where we meet with them in a neutral area and practice social distancing while having them meet the animal, the leashes we have are 6 feet long, so that is a good way to practice.
Many visitors and volunteers have described walking through Dog Town as a healing and balancing place. I feel honored to work there every day and help heal the animals in my care.