The Dog Days Of Coronavirus

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On April 21, 2020, the New York Post ran a story titled “Dogs could get extreme separation anxiety when quarantine ends, experts say.” That was four months ago. Back then, we expected the whole matter of Covid-19 to have been a memory by the summer.

We were wrong.

And the dogs of the world rejoice. (For those asking, cats don’t care. If anything, our physical proximity tends to grate on them.)

It’s almost as if this master/pet thing has been turned on its head. The dog is now king of the castle. We humans, mere subjects to his beck and call, perform as trained servants, heeding his every desire.

There’s a reason why writers often speak with a touch of lamentable envy when they refer to “a dog’s life.” It’s a life of ease, a life of contentment, a life humans can only wish they had.

As we swim through the muggy summer air of the Dog Days of August, we might imagine these extended Dog Days of Coronavirus.

(Incidentally, the original source of the term “Dog Days” comes from ancient times and refers to the reappearance of the star Sirius – the “Dog Star” – in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest star. Ironically, we more commonly associate it with the winter months, when it shines brilliantly just below and to the left of Orion’s feet. Yet, to get to that prominent place in the frigid nights of January, it must first rise in the pre-dawn hours of summer. That event marks the beginning of the Dog Days. Sirius, by the way, lies in the constellation Canis Major, Latin for “Big Dog.”)

Wally is no different than any other dog. Except, maybe, he can talk. He hasn’t talked for some time, however, perhaps because he’s got nothing to say. I mean, why bother talking when you’re completely satisfied with life.

Don’t get me wrong. Barking and talking are two separate things all together. Barking is a form of play. It’s instinct. It’s just something dogs do. Sometimes with purpose. Sometimes for no reasons whatsoever.

But forget about the barking. It’s not at all about the barking. It’s about the bonding. These months together have only strengthened the bond that already existed.

We only think of this bond from the point of view of the pet. “For most dogs, the attachment they feel towards their owner is fundamental to their well-being,” says John Bradshaw Ph.D. in an article he wrote nearly ten years ago (“The Bond Between Pet and Owner,” Psychology Today, November 19, 2012).

But the bond between a dog and his master works both ways. This is because dogs can talk to us as well as listen to us. Bradshaw explains dogs have “a unique sensitivity towards human body language, gaze and gesture.” This helps them understand us more so than other pets. It’s what builds the mutual bond.

It used to be, on weekends, Wally wallowed in Nirvana. His humans stayed at home (for the most part) and even when they went out for Church, to run an errand, or to visit someone, the separation was short, sometimes shorter than a nap.

Now, everyday is a weekend. Everyone – except his one and true master, Betsy – is working from home. Funny. This reaffirms his earlier understanding that Betsy is the master of us all. Everyone else – me, Peter, Cesidia, and Catarina – are his peers.

If not his servants.

When Wally wants to go out, we take him out. When Wally wants to eat, we give him food (although less people food than before). When Wally wants a belly rub, we give him a belly rub. When Wally wants to bark, he barks no matter how much we insist he stop.

So, the dog is the master.

And that comforts us humans. For the needs of the dog now represent the pleasant baseline of life. They have become a routine we can rely on, something we can effortlessly perform. More important, we can derive immediate satisfaction from them, knowing and seeing the intended recipient gleefully accept what we offer.

Perhaps, then, we are living the Dog Days ourselves. Maybe we just don’t realize it.

What happens next?

Eventually, the day will come when we return to an activity level approximately what we’ve done in the past. We will leave the home more frequently and for longer periods of time.

With this in mind, the New York Times attempted to rewrite the topic addressed earlier by its metropolitan rival (see “How to Help Your Pet With Post-Quarantine Separation Anxiety,” August 8, 2020). Unfortunately, this article fails to differentiate between dogs and cats in the manner that the Psychology Today article explains. It also makes the same mistake as it merely repeats the prejudicial point of view.

This equation – this bond – contains two balanced sides.

Yes, our dog may pine away, alone, waiting for our return.

But what about us?