When I hear what has helped people to weather this pandemic, they often say “my pet.” Last April when we were sheltering in place, I really missed my Golden Retriever, Madison who died in July of 2017. How I loved that dog and the way she stayed by my side. She was truly my little “Brown-eyed Girl,” that song title of Van Morrison’s tune that we used to swing dance to at the Elk’s on Sunday nights.
She was our family’s second Golden–our first, Molly we got as a puppy when our boys were in kindergarten and first grade. I’d always wanted a dog like her. She was with us until she passed when our older son, Brooks was a freshman in college. After both dogs died, I couldn’t get another dog right away– afraid I would compare the two, still clinging to the memory of the dog I’d just lost. Since Madison died right after I retired from school nursing, my life in transition, I wanted to wait until things settled down before getting another dog. But things didn’t settle down, and with the upheaval from the divorce I felt I should wait on the dog decision.
I understand the love of a pet and the comfort they bring. When we got Madison, my nest was empty of my sons and my husband was away for long hours; she and I were close. We’d adopted her when she was six. I remember that she appeared depressed when she first came to our home. I’d try to get her to play with her pull toys and Madison showed no interest. Her eyes didn’t shine and her face didn’t have that typical Golden Retriever smile– that sunny disposition that had always drawn me to the breed. I knew she’d lost her former master and like people, she was in a time of grief.
After work, I’d come home and sit on the couch and watch television and pick up my knitting–probably one of the beginner scarves I was making. She’d sit close to me, and had her head down between her paws, looking dejected. I’d talk with her and stroke her head, but she didn’t wag her tail or move in any way– just kept stock still as if she was afraid to move.
One thing she did like, was riding shotgun in our Chevrolet truck. I’d take a load of recycles to the nearby center and Madison was happy to go with me. Afterwards, I’d drive her across Jordan Lake and she’d be sniffing the air through the window, a smile coming to her face. Madison seemed to like me singing to whatever was playing on the radio– or I just imagined she did!
Finally after she’d been with us about three months, she started to brighten up. She brought me her pull toy and was ready to play. She responded when I rubbed her and even showed more nerve in stealing the cat’s food.
Around that time, Mama was declining at Parkview– less aware of who we were, no longer proudly announcing when I joined her for dinner, “This is my daughter!” It was so hard to see her slowly become less of herself because of dementia.
One night when I returned from visiting Mama, I was especially sad– the reality of her illness and all the things we’d lost, pressing in on me. I sat on the couch and Madison joined me. I found myself hugging her and crying, my salty tears wetting the golden hair around her neck. I buried my nose in her coat and felt the comfort of my canine– the one who understood sadness.
That memory of Madison came to me last April when I was alone in my house, sheltered in place because of the pandemic. How I wished I could bury my face in her fur and find comfort there. How I’d loved her.
My sons ask me when I’ll get another dog. Brooks has suggested I should get a Golden puppy for my house; that way his sons, my sweet grandsons Baker and Parks, could enjoy the dog while Brooks and Emily wouldn’t have to train a puppy while training little boys. Even Baker is on the same page. When he saw that Golden Retriever video clip from the Chick-fil-A in Chapel Hill– the dog running up to fetch the order, Baker told me, “I want that dog.”
And I think to myself, “I want that dog, too.” I want the comfort and fun of a pet, the feel of dog fur and their bright eyes lovingly looking at their master. But for now, while my life continues in transition, I’ll put off getting another dog. For some folks the pandemic has been a perfect time for bringing home a new pet– with time to devote to the animal while working remotely. My younger son, Ross adopted a cat and has enjoyed having him around to enliven his apartment. While I’ve been more of the dog lover, we do have cat lovers in our family– and I know some of you are as well.
Whatever your choice in pets, whether it’s dogs, cats or some other creature, take comfort in the time to be near them while we’re forced to stay close to home. It won’t always be like this and too soon we’ll be pulled away– off to those activities we’ve missed and leaving our pets at home– sheltered in place.