social distancing with pets
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Stephanie BrownPet Parenting / Pet Stories

Lessons My Dog Taught Me During Social Distancing

Social distancing is beginning to take its toll on us all, it seems. For me, the anxiety is occasionally overwhelming. My phone is on a tripod on my desk for video calls so I can continue to work on the two laptops that sit in front of me while I chat. I’m constantly up and down from the desk, in and out of the office. Both kids are home attempting “distance learning.” Dishes are piling up in the sink. The running grocery list scheduled for delivery in 10 days is stuck to the fridge, and already growing despite a large delivery three days ago. And, seriously, why are there leaves on the living room rug?

social distancing with pets

Papa Dawg. Photo Courtesy of Dr. Katy Nelson.

As I’ve lamented to friends on recent Zoom calls, it feels like we’re all in survival mode right now. We’re constantly doing, doing, doing, to cope with the uncertainty of the outside world. Cleaning this. Rearranging that. Finally organizing something else. Hoping that perhaps if we can control our world within these four walls, we can feel better about the lack of control we have over what’s occurring on the other side of them.

And then I look over and see his portrait hanging on the wall, a precious gift sent to me after he passed away in January of 2019. My heart dog. My boy. My partner in crime. My Papa Dawg.

Papa never met a human or dog that he wasn’t completely convinced was destined to be his new best friend. He never woke up in a bad mood. He never turned down a walk. He was simply the happiest, sweetest and most gentle soul I’ve ever been blessed to know. He inspired my New Year’s resolutions for the entire 12 years of his life. He viewed the world through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. My goal was always to be more like him—to fully experience the “joie de vivre” of the everyday.

Suddenly, I realize that in his absence I never made any resolutions for 2020. This year started with a bang and then screeched to a halt. It was the holiday season, then I started a new job, then suddenly the “COVIDpocalypse” was upon us. My stress level jumps again. How will my family remember this time? Have I done enough to keep them safe? Will they forget everything they learned in school? Should I be organizing closets instead of forcing them outside a few times a day? How will I feel when once again they step on that big yellow bus and ride away from me? Tears spring to my eyes and I feel the panic rising even more.

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Eddie (with the underbite) and Mookie (lounging).

Then, I look over next to my desk. To the chair I had to pull close and put a pad on so my super-needy, little rescue dog Eddie could snuggle close to me while I work. Behind me is the extra-large crate with the door open so the newest rescue Mookie (adopted a month after Papa’s passing) can alternate between squeaking toys loudly during important calls and snoring upside down throughout the day.

I start to think, perhaps there’s no time like the present to make those resolutions? COVID resolutions ... is that a thing? Is it too late to try and learn from these sweet boys like I did from my Papa? He always inspired me to be more joyful, to live in the present, and to experience the joy in movement. I seem to have lost that in recent times. Perhaps my current pups can not only remind me of that, but to let go of what I can’t control.

They can’t control the fact that my husband and I have to work all day, or that their favorite kiddos have to focus on “distance learning.” All they can control is their reaction. They can get as close as possible to remind us throughout the day how much they love us. They can patiently wait for their humans to be done with work and be ready for walks or snuggles at any moment. They can find fun ways to entertain themselves, whether it’s a quick zoomie session through the house or finding the loudest squeaky toy you own to play with whenever Mom gets on a call.

So, I’ve decided to make my resolutions now. My "COVID Resolutions," inspired by my pups still with me, and my old man who crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

  1. Never miss an opportunity to show someone how much you love them. Follow them around the house, snuggle up to them the moment they sit down, and perhaps try shoving your head in their lap to get their attention. We’re all stressed and scared, so give them all the comfort and love that you can!
  2. Enjoy every meal like it’s the best one you’ve ever eaten. Since none of us have anything on our calendars anymore, there’s no need to rush through mealtime! Take time to smell, taste, crunch, and sigh when something is delicious. And don’t worry if it gets all over your face.
  3. Snuggle like you mean it. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal and totally invade someone’s personal space. Trust me, they’ll love it when it’s done from the heart.
  4. Experience the joy of movement, even if you look completely awkward. Dance, run, spin in circles, jump, leap, climb—whatever you want—and do it like no one is watching! Enjoy how it feels to let loose and put your ego aside.
  5. Wag your tail when you’re happy. If you’re happy and you know it clap your paws, show your teeth, wag your entire body and spin in circles—you might be surprised how often your enthusiasm is contagious.
  6. Be patient with humans—some just don’t know better. Humans make bad decisions, much like dogs who get into the trash. Be patient with them. Everyone is fighting their own battle.
  7. Nap with abandon. When your eyelids get heavy, why not just close them? Sleep with your mouth open. Snore. Twitch. Run and growl and bark in your sleep. Just let it alllllllll go. And wake up with a smile on your face, ready to face the day!
  8. And when something rains on your parade, shake it off. Don’t let everything get you down. Life can be hard. No doubt, sometimes things just absolutely suck. But that doesn’t mean life sucks. Or that the whole world is crazy. Take the time to put the situation into perspective and then move on—life is too short to waste on negativity!

George Eliot, the pen name for Victorian-era novelist Mary Ann Evans, once said: "We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment." Instead of looking for approval from other people, or being so darn hard on ourselves, maybe we all can just strive to be the person our dogs think we are. And perhaps we can all make a goal to be more like them—not only now while our world is on pause, but going forward even after we press the proverbial play button again.

What lessons have you learned from your pets?

Read more:

What It’s Like to Foster a Pet During the Pandemic

Video: Pets Bring Us Together

Vet Q&A: Dr. Zay Satchu and Dr. Katy Nelson Discuss COVID-19 Effects on Vet Clinics

By: Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM
Dr. Katy Nelson is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA, and Chewy’s resident veterinarian. A proud mom to six (two humans, two dogs and two birds), a lover of travel, and a dedicated animal rescue advocate, Dr. Nelson still carves out time for family, friends and numerous charitable organizations in the D.C. area and beyond. 

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