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The elderly people are bearing the highest risks during the COVID-19 pandemy. But sometimes the things they do are too important to just leave them behind during self-isolation. The COLLAR Company cynologist, Mikhail Alekseevich Kulko, tells about combining healthcare and the work of all his life. For more than twelve years he prepares canistherapy dogs for the work with disabled children. When the quarantine was announced he and the COLLAR Company CEO faced the question: how can they not risk either Mikhail’s health or the skills of the dog he works with?
Please, tell a few words about yourself
I’m 69. I work as a cynologist for a long time. I used to work with shepherd dogs, but for more than 12 years I work for COLLAR Company. I train the second dog here: the first one was Nika and now it’s Lilu, she is cane corso too. We work with her in the rehabilitation child centre “Rebirth”.
How did you start to work with therapy dogs?
It happened in 2011 and started as an accident. When Yuriy Sinitsa (COLLAR Company’s CEO) and Nika came to the school for the disabled children we saw that the dog feels free amongst the kids and they are showing a great interest. Then, together with the psychologist, we decided to start the first test therapy group for the kids with autism. At first Yuriy brought Nika there by himself, then he asked me to do that. When Nika was eight, she passed away. We started to train the new dog, Lilu, and she was taught as a therapy dog from the beginning. When she was 7 months old, we started our work in the “Rebirth” centre.
How you and the Company management settled everything down at the beginning of the quarantine?
When the quarantine started, I was asked to stay at home because of my age. But Lilu needed constant trainings, I should keep her both physically fit and a skilled therapy dog. I said that I could take Lilu home. It was the common decision of Yuriy and me. I have the full salary now, I can also take the dog food and everything I need from the COLLAR Company warehouse. I may ask to drive me to work and back, without any contacts with strangers. But we don’t go to work with her as we used to.
Did Lilu took that changes well?
I have never took her home for so long before. Cane corso are family dogs, they love people more than places. Before the quarantine I saw Lilu eight hours a day, but now we are together 24/7, we’re almost inseparable. Even if I need to go for a while and ask my wife to look after Lilu, she just lies near the door and waits until I come back.
What about you and these changes?
There are some minor difficulties. When I come to work I work there and then return home. But now I have to keep my house clean. A big dog means lots of shedding, I have to clean it regularly, mop the floor after each feeding. Lilu now needs attention all day long. But mostly my routine is the same.
The dog should train constantly. If we skip training just for one week she may forget something. So now we polish old skills, get new ones and do sports to be fit. Now Lilu has a good chance to socialize. She is mostly a suburban dog, but now she lives in the city. She is very curious about it, everything is new for her. I teach her like a child: “Look, here’s red light, we should stay. Now it’s green, we can go”. She starts to understand.
In COLLAR Company she used to come to everyone to get pet. In the “Rebirth” centre kids love and hug her too. But in the city she can’t behave that way: she’s a huge dog, people feel uncomfortable about it. Now she has learned not to make acquaintances with everyone. She doesn’t come closer to other people or dogs without permission.
Could you please tell about your work in “Rebirth” centre?
It is a hard and exhausting work. Sometimes I have a terrible headache when I come home. Sometimes Lilu gets tired too and we have to walk for an extra hour, running, biting sticks and venting stress.
But the main thing is that we see the result. We constantly ask parents who come with their kids for a few weeks. They are very impressed, the kids change. The parents also change, they regain their hope.
We had a case: the kid aged 4 didn’t talk. We taught him dog commands and he ordered Nika to come to him, loud and clear. His mother was shocked, she thought that her son was mute. The dog is a great motivator. The kids want to give her commands, to work with her and this makes them to be more attentive and work harder.
We have sets of exercises for kids with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy. Seeing that they work is wonderful.
Do you have any advice for the quarantined pet owners?
The main advice is: if your walks have become shorter, make them more intense. The exercises are essential for the lively, young and physically strong dogs. I see that some owners walk their dogs for 15 minutes only and don’t pay enough attention. The dog wants to stop, to sniff something or to examine something and people are just dragging it along.
You can walk the dog for 15 minutes, but you have to pay her every bit of your attention, all the time. When I and Lilu go for a walk, I take a full bage of fintess tools and toys: PULLER, Pitchdog, Liker. We drag them back and forth, I throw them for her to catch and bring them bag. You may use a single stick to play with your dog so good that it will come home happy, exhausted and sleepy.
I see that small dogs are treated more like babies. Their owners buy them lots of toys and fitness tools. The big dogs are rarely as lucky as the small ones. Sometimes the big dog owners even try to provoke Lilu. “Let them fight”, they say. I tell them that any dog can become a beast without love. But also, any dog who was loved and cared for will be like Lily, no matter what size and breed it is. Lots of cynologists use both positive and negative reinforcements. But love only can make the dog obedient too, it will be happy to obey you because it loves you.
During the quarantine I do my best to avoid both other people and dogs. Quarantine is quarantine. People are used to gather, let their dog play together and socialize. That’s not right. Now it’s the time when pet owners should provide a full emotional load for their dogs. So if you can, walk your dog longer, for 30-40 minutes, but not with other dogs.
What if quarantine will be continued?
We will be together with Lilu until it ends. Who else will train her? I can’t just let her lay around and be pet. Now I work with Lilu only. I had a job offer from capital with decent salary, but I said that I have my job and I can’t betray COLLAR Company, kids and Lilu. I made my decision and I’m going to work further.
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