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Beating these dog days of COVID

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The post was going around on social media over the weekend, a long, sad pronouncement on how the struggle in these days of COVID-19 and cold and discontent is taking a toll on our desires to socialize and to smile.

“It’s not you. It’s everyone. We are spent. We have nothing left to say,” one verse read. “We are tired of saying ‘I miss you’ and ‘I can’t wait for this to end.’ So we mostly say nothing, put our heads down and get through each day.”

Chako is never far away from his human during the pandemic, and that’s a good thing. (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)


I ignored the dour post at first. Lord knows the news of the day is gloomy enough without the need for a meme telling me so.

Then a Facebook friend tagged me in one of them, as if she believed it would speak to me — or perhaps she hoped it would speak for her.

Maybe a little of both.

I get it. We’ve been in such a long, dark tunnel for so long now, and finally we can see a faint light at the end of it. But there is still so much to get through — the loss of the 500,000 souls to this vicious virus, the broken businesses, broke citizens, beleaguered families. Very few, if any, of us have not been touched by loss.

“You’re not imagining it,” the post reads. “This is a state of being like no other we have ever known because we are all going through it together but so very far apart.”

I haven’t felt very far apart, lonely or alone, though, which makes me awfully lucky. Maybe it’s been easier because being a writer has always been a solitary business. Or maybe mountain living is good practice for a pandemic lifestyle.

Or maybe it’s my dog.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak recently wrote about the role dogs are playing as companions through the darkness, keeping us happier, healthier and sane. They give us unconditional love, an undemanding connection, comfort and cuddles. They don’t judge us harshly, even when we are unkind.

The dogs, Dvorak wrote, will save us.

Statistics appear to bear this out. A study last year found “animal ownership seemed to mitigate some of the detrimental psychological effects of COVID-19 lockdown.”

Eighty-seven percent of participants in the study said their animal — which, yes, includes cats — helps them cope emotionally with the pandemic; 94% said their animal has positive effects on their family. And a whopping 95% said they couldn’t imagine being without their animal.

That’s true for Chako, my cinnamon-colored sausage of a pit bull who arrived during my darkest days nearly four years ago.

Those of you who follow me here or on social media know the story of how friends of my son, who died in 2017 of a heroin overdose, kept thrusting this puppy onto my lap in a devious plan to get me to keep that pup. He was the runt of the litter, with golden eyes, a Nike swoosh-like mark on his scruff and the saddest little face.

Maybe that sadness was my own.

I had not wanted another dog — we already had several, including Maggie and Sally, my son’s dogs, and Aja, a beefy pit bull my daughter rescued from jerks who had abandoned him because he was too sweet to be the fighter they wanted.

My heart was too damaged with such unexpected loss to let in anybody, including a dog.

But Chako wiggled his way in anyway. As they say, it’s hard to know who rescued who.

I’ve often thought that dogs like Chako are among the only creatures to benefit from COVID-19 because the humans they adore are home with them so much. As I write this, Chako is curled at my bare feet.

Social media is brightened by photos of pooches donning perky sweaters or showing off their canine canines in the #smilingdogchallenge. Millions of people follow Skye and Copper on TikTok, Jiffpom on Instagram.

Even if you’re not thrilled about the family in the White House, it’s still nice to see Champ and Major romping about the grounds there after four dogless years.

“It’s a sign of a return to civility,” one person tweeted.

Of the many columns I have written during the pandemic, the ones that have brought the nicest comments are those that featured dogs.

There was Maya, the jumbo fur ball rescued from the Sandias by a group of hikers in June.

In August, we went with the High Desert Therapy Dogs group on one of its window visits at an assisted living home, locked down because of COVID-19.

In October, neighbors near 98th Street cheered when the mop-like Dash was finally rescued after months of effort by the patient folks at Pawsitive Life Rescue of New Mexico.

And in November we met Nizhoni, the dog with a crooked smile who just needed nourishment, multiple surgeries and love for people to realize that he was the handsomest dog in the world.

Each of those columns had happy endings and hopeful beginnings at a time when happy and hope are hard to come by.

“Hang in there my friend,” that dour meme concludes. “When the mood strikes, send out all those messages and don’t feel you have to apologize for being quiet. This is hard.”

For many of us, the hard and the quiet are made more manageable because of our dogs.

Some day, we will reach the end of this pandemic, this crisis, this tunnel. We will break free of our cocoons and go back to work, back to school, back to real life.

And when we do, may we be lucky enough to be more like our furry friends who stood by us through it all, less judgmental, less demanding, more accepting, more connecting, happier, healthier and sane.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.