Companionship during lockdown

When La Trobe Business School's Jessica Arana Cardoso volunteered to become a puppy trainer, she had no idea that she would be doing it amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic. Now, Luna and Jessica are best friends.

With most of Victoria under strict ‘Stay at Home’ orders, working and studying from home has become the new normal for the La Trobe University community. In these trying times, staying connected and keeping a support network nearby has proven quite significant.

Administration Officer from La Trobe Business School (LBS), Jessica Arana Cardoso has had some rather charming company keeping her mind happy and healthy during lockdown, while also contributing to a greater good.

Meet Luna – a Black Labrador puppy who is in training to become an Assistance Dog for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) under the care and supervision of Jessica for a 12-month program.

As an eight-week-old puppy, Luna moved in with Jessica on 8 April 2020, just as the first lockdown in Melbourne began. This not only meant that they had to get to know each other, but they had to do it fast!

“During the first weeks she needed to feel comfortable around home. I started with toilet training and while doing that, discovered Luna is wheat intolerant - I never thought that was a thing with dogs. We changed her food three times until finally we found her favourite recipe - chicken and oats”.

As a puppy raiser, Jessica works with Occupational Therapists from Dogs for Life once a week to introduce Luna to new behaviours and monitor her temperament.

“On week 12 Luna received her vaccinations which allowed her to go for small walks outside, however due to the [COVID-19 restrictions] there were not many people or dogs outside for her to meet. On week 14 formal training began where Luna could meet her coaches and two other dogs the same age, for 45min where we would do some walking training and practice specific exercises like sitting before crossing the road or sitting for 10 seconds until the next command is giving.”

This training is part of the initiative between La Trobe University’s Anthrozoology Research Group – Dog Lab – and the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs of Australia (CSTDA) which is evaluating the puppy raising program.

"[Luna] has been really comfortable around shopping centres, coffee shops and public transport. She has learnt basic commands like SIT, COME, LET’S GO and DOWN. We are still practicing new commands like BRING".

With a second lockdown in place in Melbourne, Jessica and Luna are spending more time at home rather than at shopping centres and caf├ęs like they would prefer, but the training, friendship and support still continues.

“We have become best friends, it definitely helped me to fight isolation time”.

Luna and Jessica are sharing their journey together on Instagram with their new page @luna_latrobe.

To learn more about becoming a puppy raiser with La Trobe, you can read more here.