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2020 - The Year That Never Was

I wonder if like me you could wish you could go back to 31 December 2019 and just start the year again? Certainly in my lifetime I've never experienced anything quite like this. Initially we were full of hope that it was nothing more than a flu problem and that we'd all get ill for a couple of days and everyone would be back to normal within the month. Wow - that was back in March - it's now May and although restrictions are easing slightly the pressure it has put everyone under is a worrying combination of anxiety, fear and simply the unknown. When people started to die people soon realised that this wasn't a bout of flu and I think for me that was probably when things started to get serious.

We were confident at the beginning, we would be OK, dogs still need help don't they? Closing the kennel to the public wasn't really a big deal for us, we work on an appointment system anyway so we'd just rule out the appointment calendar and carry on as usual, but then things got serious. A meeting was held - you know when things are serious because a meeting is held  - and we inititally agreed to restrict contact with the public and issued all our volunteers with guidance as to how they should undertake a visit to someone's home. Some volunteers understandibly didn't want to have to go anywhere so we drew up a list and figured we had it covered. Then Lockdown!

In light of the fact that the majority of people are idiots and thought nothing of flocking to beauty spots in the nice weather, our government had very little choice but to lock everyone down. Never in my life time have I experienced a forced lock down and for the first week it was absolutely no problem but as we began to realise that there couldn't be any dog movement, no fund raisers and no travel the reality dawned that without those the charity could not survive. I'm not ashamed to say that there was one major wobble at that point as I could see the last 20 years of my life going down the drain.

It was time to get serious, the government introduced a Furlough scheme and looking into that we realised that the only one that could be put on the scheme was Carrie (kennel maid), to furlough the rest of us would mean that none of us could do any work (not even voluntary) and that was unrealistic as someone had to keep things moving ready for when the lockdown was lifted. So the rest of us agreed to go on reduced hours - in fact one hour a day. I was very greateful for the nice weather, it had been many many years since I was responsible for the kennel but swapping my admin hat for kennel duties was actually quite a nice change. The office phone was on for an hour each day, Georgia continued to speak to people that wanted to rehome their dogs and Lana continued to find homes for those already in the system ready for when they could start moving again. But then in the second week in I totally lost it, realising I was missing my family, my grandkids, my parents - my dad has dementia and convinced he wouldn't know who I was by the end of it still plays very heavily on my mind. I began to throw myself into the only hobby I have outside the rescue which is my garden, but was also completely aware that all those jobs I had to do in the office were not getting done. Mentally things really began to slide, mental health problems are going to be one of the worst legacies of this virus in my opinion as people suddendly found they couldn't get up. They stopped caring if their roots were showing (it was probably around that time that I shaved my hair off) and certainly for me (and those that know me will understand the significance) no make up! For me to keep up with my mental health issues I have to have routine, with no routine the rest just fell away - there just didn't seem to be a reason to get out of bed. Contact with the kids was on a screen and seeing them through a window made it worse - the near but oh so far feeling that just reminded you that you couldn't hug them even if you wanted to.

As the weeks went by it was clear no one was coping - and yet once a day the general public grabbed their one hour outside with both hands. People who never did anything outside suddendly decided it was their right, their entitlement and they were going to go out simply because they could. Dogs that had never been on long walks were now out with several members of the household at several times throughout the day and it really shocked me as to how little people understood how this affected their dogs as well.

Before long that hour a day the phone was spent talking to people who's dogs had begun to display low level aggressive behaviour. Look at this from your dog's point of view - why are you even home!!! I think this was probably worse in families with children who suddendly were there, loud and annoying and as far as your dog was concerned they simply did not cope with that - bulldogs hate change on any level and this wasn't just like a normal half term holiday - everyone was there, bickering - trying to work, trying to home school. The tention within the home certainly didn't go un-noticed by many many bulldogs. Equally there will be series of severe behaviour problems as people begin to go back to work, especially those dogs that enjoyed having their families home or have now got used to the company as these dogs will almost definately begin to suffer anxiety when they are back on their own again.

I was horrified at some of the advice - "Get a Dog" was a very real statement that was put out there, the number of people who suddendly wanted to adopt or in particular foster whilst they were home - and as nice as it was for them to offer - where does that leave the individual dog when your life goes back to normal? Thankfully dogs coming in was not an issue for us and the ones we had were OK to stay where they were and initially I was pleasently suprised at the number of dog owners who understood that when you can't get rid of your dog - you don't want to - I'd like to see that attitude carried over to the "New Normal" please.

But as the weeks went along the rehome request began to build again, people were getting fed up with waiting. Another meeting was held (gotta love a meeting) and we decided that in line with guidelines that had been released by DEFRA we would start taking emergencies and reopen the home from home service on the understanding that the dogs wouldn't move until the travel regulations were fully lifted.

There are massive restrictions as to what we can and can't do but if nothing else it meant we could have our jobs back!

So the dreaded "Risk Assessment" - although there's only myself and Carrie here we had to put measures in place to ensure we didn't infect each other. Full PPE arrived, a porta loo, walkie talkies and strict social distancing, it's actually quite horrible to be working alongside someone you can't go near. Diary entries now generated a "Letter of Authority to Travel". There were guidelines circulated as to how to deal with a new arrival and although at present we are still not letting any of the dogs go to their new homes we are hoping there will be some revised DEFRA guidance in the next few days which could allow some less restricted movement.

So I am now back at my desk and Carrie is back with her babies (they love her more than me - she has a pocket full of gravy bones) - and even though both of us are not totally on full hours, it's a worry trying to work out when and if this will ever end? People I love have gone through some heart breaking situations alone, people have lost their dogs, family members and people they respect. Not being able to be with them in their final hours and minutes is soul destroying and again - mentally people may not ever fully recover from what they have had to cope with alone. The worry about finances and how to pay the bills is a huge reality for so many that going back to a risky environment is some peoples only option if they are going to get things paid that month.

The media has had a huge role to play in the negative aspect of all of this. So much emphasis has been put on preventing people from getting it at all, when in reality we are all going to get it sooner or later - it's the need to stagger the affected people which is important. Reporting on the deaths rather than the number of people that have recovered makes the whole situation appear much darker than it actually is and I honestly think that more should be made of the fact that this is simply to protect the NHS - it isn't a guarantee that you personally, will never suffer the Corona Virus - because at some point in your life you almost definately will!

Our Supporters though have been absolutely amazing - on line events, virual fund raisers and some very generous donations has seen us through what is hopefully the worse and as much as we all want to get back to normal - do we? What will be the new normal? Still working all the hours of the day and stressing about stuff, or will there be a more relaxed attitude to work and family? That I guess, remains to be seen and of course this is just my own personal take on the events of the last few months. In reality the entire year is written off - so maybe - just maybe we could go back to midnight on 31 December 2019 and this time around do things slightly differently?

Tania Holmes 19 May 2020

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