You see that doggo up there? That's my buddy, Leela. My mom and I adopted her from the Temple Animal Shelter when she was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. She was a little runt, and they weren't sure how good her chances of living were.

Well, my mom and I bottle fed her and helped her exercise and gain confidence, and four years later she's a ball of energy who loves long walks.

You may have seen several headlines lately claiming that humans who walk their dogs are more likely to contract COVID-19. I've seen it in my newsfeed and on Twitter, and I'm going to assume it's been all over the 24-hour news cycle networks too. (I rarely watch TV anymore, so I wouldn't know for sure.)

The headlines have been inspired by a paper published by the Journal of Environmental Research, in which University of Granada researchers presented the results of a survey they conducted in Spain. According to their data, people who walk their dogs are 78% more likely to come down with COVID-19.

Yeah....here's the thing.

I'm responsible for the care of my mother, who almost died of pneumonia back in 2015. She was in the ICU in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator for weeks while the doctors blasted her lungs with the strongest antibiotics available. Her lungs took an absolute beating, and thanks to great care from her doctors and lots of physical therapy, she can now walk around the house again. That was a titanic struggle at first. She's still on an oxygen concentrator 24 hours a day, but she can walk around in her home without me practically carrying her. Big win.

Needless to say, I've been extremely protective of her during this pandemic, which I take very seriously.

I also take our dog for a walk every day. Most days it's just around the block, but sometimes we walk along Pepper Creek Trail or I take her to Wilson Park so we can see the ducks.

What I don't do is let random people pet her, or let her lick their hands. We don't go near other people or their pets, and I watch my dog (instead of my phone) so she doesn't lick or eat anything weird or that may have been touched by several people or other animals.

What a lot of news sites aren't saying is that the survey didn't come to any sort of determination of whether or not dogs play a direct role in spreading the virus, and that it also reported that working onsite at your workplace also ups your risk of infection by 76%. Since COVID-19 is spread primarily by infected droplets people expel when they breathe, talk, sneeze or cough, that makes sense. Whether you're walking your dog or working in your office, if you're around a lot of people (and especially if one or both of you isn't wearing a mask), yeah, you're exposing yourself and putting yourself at increased risk.

I imagine a number of people they surveyed walk their dogs along crowded streets or socialize with other people while they're out and about with their furry friend.

From the beginning of this pandemic, one of the basic things we've been told we can do to help slow the spread and avoid infection is practice physical distancing. Give people their space, make sure they give you your space, and don't let strangers or people outside your household rub their grimy mitts all over the dog you're going to be sitting on the couch petting later.

Seems simple enough to me.

I got an interesting email Wednesday afternoon from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. They're not happy about all those sensationalized headlines either.

“We at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council are concerned that statements made in a new study regarding the risk of COVID-19 contagion and dog walking could be misinterpreted and cause the public to unnecessarily limit or cease their interactions with pets," wrote Gwyn Donohue, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the PIJAC. "It is essential to note that the activity that was reported in the study to increase the risk of contagion was walking a dog outdoors, NOT interacting with the animal itself. The only correlation to a greater risk of infection that could reasonably have been drawn, given the limited information collected, was leaving the home and therefore being exposed to a greater number of potentially infected individuals."

Donohue points out that scientific authorities with the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintain that that there's no evidence to suggest that our pets play any significant role in the transmission of COVID-19, and that there's no justification for denying them walks and affection.

"We urge the public to follow CDC guidelines available at cdc.gov/covid19 regarding interacting with people and pets both within and outside your household, and to consult a veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pets’ health," Donohue wrote.

Walk your dog. Wear your mask. Keep a safe distance from other people and pets. It's that simple.

Be mindful, and you and your doggo will be just fine.

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