Black Friday—or Buy Nothing Day, depending on your proclivities and beliefs—descended on our house this year with my eight-year-old son yelling with some friends on Discord while playing Minecraft (or possibly Among Us, or maybe it was Roblox, or perhaps they were alternating among the three?) and my mother, who moved in with us a few years back, on an animated Zoom call with her knitting group.
I tried to take a nap, but it was too loud to sleep. I tried playing my music through my headphones, but that made it even louder. This scenario has been the soundtrack of my 1,600-square-foot house for nine months now, especially since I lost my job in June. My mother has Zooms for her avocation (a deacon in the Episcopal church), for the many boards she is on and for her hobby (knitting). My son has school Zooms and spends as much of the rest of the time as possible talking to his friends online while gaming, the pandemic version of a play date.
Sometimes his friends’ parents and I relent and take two or three of them for a masked walk outside, or to play on the nearby school playground, so long as no one else is there. But we live in a Covid hotbed, and very little feels safe, particularly when we take into account family members in high-risk groups.
So it’s been very, very loud in my house for a very long time, and I am a person who spent most of her adult life living alone. Some days it gets so bad, I think I may lose my mind. Then I remember that, thankfully, I have a dog.
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Today I got up from the nap I gave up on, put my boots and a coat and a mask on, put my phone and some poop bags (because you never know) in my pocket, and said, “Sophie, do you want to go for a walk?”
And of course she wanted to go for a walk. She’s a dog. (When I ask her about walks, I often think of The Far Side cartoon wherein several dogs look up at the human getting their food and say, “Oh boy, dog food again!” She’s an anxious eater, but she’s always up for a walk). I clipped her leash on her collar and we headed out. I’d brought along water and a bowl with the idea that we might hop in the car to go for a hike, but she was intent on the neighborhood.
Sophie feels she has a lot of territory to cover every day and clearly, the eastern route needed tending. I prefer the other directions for their architectural interest and lack of proximity to fast food, but she loves a good walk to McDonald’s (and, for some reason, the P&G plant), even if I never take her in.
Sophie came to live with us back in May. Everyone said, “Oh, you got a pandemic dog!” and I’d explain—again—that we’d been looking for a dog for two years, off and on, because we needed a very specific dog for our unusual family. Sophie just happened to show up at exactly the right time.
Then people say, “Oh, what kind of dog did you get?” and I say, “A dog.” She’s a 40-pound black dog with a white patch on her chest; my son says that’s where she gets her powers. She has a plumy tail and pointed ears that flop over. She has a long nose and a thick double coat, and when I first met her in the backyard of her foster mom’s house, she came right over and leaned against my leg. The rescue listed her as a Flat-coated Retriever; the vet classifies her as “Lab/Retriever/mixed breed.” Most people who meet her think she’s at least part Border Collie.
We are an opinionated and stubborn family, a people given to arguments and negotiations and the holding of grudges (and a certain amount of good-natured teasing). They say dogs look like their people: I say they act like them. Sometimes, when Sophie’s mastered a new command, she’ll do it and then look at me inquisitively. “Look, I’m sitting. Don’t I get a treat? Look, I’m down. Where’s my treat? Look, came and you didn’t even call me! Treat!” Much the way I feel I deserve accolades every time I manage to fix a minor computer problem.
Sophie will stage a sit-down strike on a walk if I want to go one way and she wants to go another, and my son will spend two hours arguing with you rather than doing the simplest chore. But they both forget I’m the one who got arrested six days into a sit-in, and I can out-stubborn anyone, when I can remember not to lose my temper.
Sophie reminds me to be patient and persistent, calm and gentle. Her interactions with the household cats are endlessly entertaining. She snuggles up against me when I nap. And every day, when the world becomes too much, she reminds me that we need to go out for a walk.