QUARATINE DOG by Sara Courtney
Down and out with man's best friend
So you got a dog. Not just any dog. A quarantine dog. A dog to shelter in place with. A dog to socially distance with. A dog to talk to in real life. After all, you can’t hug a Zoom call.
In the beginning, it went smoothly. You and your dog were a team. He gave you a reason to go outside. He nudged you with a wet nose when it was breaktime from your newly christened (already crammed) dining room office. He is the only reason you have somewhere to be every day, at the dog’s version of an office cooler: the red fire hydrant.
He dutifully ate your kids socks because there was no homework. You and your dog became a pandemic-fighting, homeschool-teaching, loneliness-busting duo. You are Jerry Maguire, and your dog completes you.
Then come the quirks: He follows you everywhere. He whines when you go. He greets some dogs with a wag and others with a BARK. “Sorry!” you yell at your neighbor with the yippy chihuahua. “He’s just social distancing!”
The day comes – and it will come – when you go from sheltering in place with your dog, to being stuck in the house with him.
First, some background: my dog bounced in and out of shelters (“high-kill shelters from the South,” they told me when I picked her up). She greeted me with a BARK. TAKE ME HOME. BARK. So I did. She is so pretty drivers holler “Beautiful dog!”
She is also terrible. She steals food. She declares WWIII when the poor mailwoman comes by. She only likes one dog on this entire planet, and that dog lives in Boston, so most of her walks are spent embarrassing me with a loud BARK whenever we encounter a neighborhood dog. She has her own corner spot on the couch, which happens also to be my husband’s. When he sits there, she stands in front of him and BARK BARK BARK until he moves in exasperation.
I hired a trainer – expensive, but effective. My dog learned calm greeting, polite leash manners, a strong recall. (“A good recall can save your dog’s life,” our trainer told us solemnly.)
And so it was that day not too long ago when, perhaps from too much cabin fever, she slipped out the side door of our house and into the great wide open. She bounded up the street, she skipped down the street. This Great Dane/greyhound mix galloped with an unbridled joy and mischievousness while I called her. I chased her. I yelled at her. I pretended to spot a squirrel and walked the other way, beckoning her to join.
Then my dog dashed up the hill to the corner, looked left, then right, then back at me. I could see her deciding, and in that moment, I thought of her old recall. “Mattie!” I hollered. “NOW!” And at the sound of the word now, she tilted her head, considering. Yes, she would come home. She wanted home. And back she bounded, down the hill and onto her spot on the couch.
So when the time comes that your dog’s personality makes the leap from quirky to irritating, get a kind trainer and take the long view. You got your dog when the world boarded up its doors and your friends became faces on a screen. You can’t social distance from your dog. And after all, isn’t that the point?
Sara Courtney lives in Maplewood with her exasperated husband, three small bored children, and gorgeously stubborn dog, Mattie.