July 6, 2020

Dear WAGS Members,

Since my last letter, so much has happened behind the scenes in WAGS! I am so proud to be your president in this uncertain time. Our organization has done more these past four months to stay safe, stay healthy, and stay engaged than any other pet therapy program I am aware of. Members have:

  • stepped up to help on committees
  • learned how to participate in virtual meetings via Zoom
  • kept up continuing education with our own WAGS videos and other webinars
  • made masks
  • and participated in fun activities such as the photo contest

Many of you have heard that our Governor has opened hospitals, libraries, summer camps, and given the “OK” for  assisted living facilities to open this week, with senior living and skilled nursing facilities opening on July 15th.  Members of the COVID Committee and the Evaluators Committee have diligently kept up with the latest news; the latest CDC Guidelines for staying healthy at home and staying healthy at work; and the very latest, The Guidance for Handlers of Service and Therapy Animals, which can be viewed at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/animals/service-therapy-animals.html. We want to be ready so that when we give the green light to return to visiting, we are doing everything possible to ensure that we return to visiting safely. We have struggled with balancing the rights and liberties of our membership with the responsibility of safeguarding health and the fiscal viability of WAGS as an organization.

When visiting resumes, it will be quite different than it was before March 11th.  We sent a survey to our membership. I implore you to PLEASE complete it.  The survey asks whether or not you will want to visit when facilities open for WAGS.  A large portion of our membership is in the “high risk” group because of age, underlying health conditions, or both.  However, we also realize that we have a large portion of our membership who do not fall within the “high risk” group and might feel comfortable returning to visit whenever that time arrives.  We ask you to complete the survey based on what you know and feel right now given the information you have at hand. Some may be ready to visit immediately, some may want to wait to see if there is a second wave of the virus, and some may want to wait until there is a vaccine. There is no right or wrong answer…just tell us what is best for you, your family, and your pet.  This survey will allow us to determine a course for the future, so please take time to complete it (there are only 9 questions). Click to go to survey.

As organizations, non-profits, clubs, businesses, and schools begin to reopen, many are requiring some sort of release of liability. We have struggled with requiring this of our membership; however, the bottom line is that our insurance will not cover incidents of COVID if they can be traced to our membership. A lawsuit brought against WAGS would bankrupt us and end our organization. WAGS as an organization has a duty and responsibility to keep each member and their family safe and healthy. Therefore, before any visiting or face to face WAGS activities resume, all members will be required to sign a General Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims, Covid-19 Acknowledgement and Agreement. The waiver will be sent out via email, it will also be available on the website, and if necessary, it will be sent via snail mail with a return envelope included. Each member who chooses to participate in WAGS events or therapy visits also has the responsibility to stay home when their temperature is over 100.4, have any symptoms of Covid-19, currently have a positive test for Covid-19, or have travelled to high-risk areas and if so—notify anyone who they have been in contact with and self-quarantine.

The Evaluator’s Committee has met via Zoom and by email and we are working together to begin meetups at various times and outdoor locations around the city. There will be a Sign-Up Genius for the meetups, as attendance will be limited to ensure social distancing. Masks will also be required. These events, hosted by evaluators or trainers, are a way to see WAGS friends, get your dogs reacquainted, have some fun, and do a bit of training as well as to have someone you can ask for assistance if you are having a particular issue with your pet. The signed waiver will be required to participate in any of the meetups.

The Evaluator’s Committee has a plan for those whose certifications expired on June 30th or will expire on September 30th or December 31st.  After much debate and consideration, the evaluators feel comfortable giving a one-year temporary extension for the 47 teams expiring this year, provided the teams can meet the requirements we will review at the next Membership meeting on July 11 at 10 am by Zoom. Dottie will also contact members to discuss these opportunities to teams set to expire this year.  We are currently developing this plan but wish to reassure the members set to expire.

We are asking our team leaders to contact their facilities to review their COVID guidelines and determine a resumption of visiting. We want to ensure the safety of our teams AND our clients. The facilities will need to share the burden to keep our members safe. We also want to familiarize them with the CDC Guidelines for Handlers of Service and Therapy Dogs.  All team leaders should contact their facilities and review their COVID reopening plans.

We realize that a few facilities have indicated that they are ready for WAGS to return to visiting.  We also recognize that there are members who are eager to return to visit facilities as soon as possible.  WAGS will remain furloughed for ALL visits to ALL facilities until we are comfortable with the new guidelines and know that it is safe for us to open up for visiting.  At the moment, the situation is so fluid and things are changing so rapidly, that we do not feel comfortable opening up for visits.  These decisions were not made lightly.  There have been countless hours spent in meetings, preparing surveys, following the news, contacting other therapy groups, and discussing all the pros and cons of what we would like to do vs what we need to do. You can help speed up the process by completing the survey, contacting your facility, contacting your team leader and notifying the facilities chairs (Roslynn and Larry Curtis, Diane Atherton, and Tami Harbolt) of what you know regarding your facility. We will be working to prepare videos and presentations to assist in training everyone on how visiting during these times will be different.

Someone sent me a message and in it was a quote that I believe best sums up what we are trying to do in the delicate balance ahead….”there is so much we don’t know... about what we don’t know.”  Because of that, all we can do is continue to forge ahead with what we do know to try to keep all our members, their families, and the community as safe as we possibly can with the tools we have available to us. We know you will abide by the decisions made by our elected Board and committee chairs. We are always open to your concerns and suggestions. We look forward to seeing you at the next Zoom Membership Meeting and we hope you are all healthy and secure in this uncertain time.

We will get through this together…..

Most sincerely,

Patti Finley

WAGS President

kywagsbmd@gmail.com