How a Dog Can Help You Cope With Isolation

In good times and in times of isolation, dogs are a (wo)man’s best friend.

By Jane Larkworthy
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For the past three years, my office has been my bed. It’s not super healthy for my back, much less my posture, but it’s so damned cozy. Supported by a few firm pillows, my laptop in, well, my lap, I conduct interviews and write my various pieces as MSNBC plays on mute. 

Every morning, Remy, our standard poodle, hops on the bed, first sinking into my husband’s recently abandoned pillows by my side before ultimately settling near my feet. Like most dogs, she vacillates between sleeping, looking out the window for squirrels, heading to the kitchen for the occasional lap of water, then sleeping some more. She’s well past the eager puppy stage, but, at 11, she’s defied the aging process with the exception of a few gray spots. She’s the Jane Fonda of poodles.

In late 2016, the magazine publishing world had been experiencing its own aging process, with far less success than Remy, and my position as beauty director of W fell victim to it. Having had a full-time job for more than 30 years, I was worried the transition would be a jagged one, but once I procured a few steady gigs, I stepped back and assessed my new situation. I would now be able to spend most of my days at home, with my dog. 

It wasn’t like I became a full-on hermit. There was always an event or meeting that required me to leave home, and while I may have resented it, I knew that putting on clothes and makeup and interacting with other people was practicing mental hygiene. Nevertheless, like a schoolgirl in the initial throes of infatuation, my own proverbial tail would wag at the prospect of rushing home to hang with Remy. “You wanna hang out?” became my new favorite question to pose as I removed my jacket, grabbed an iced tea from the fridge, and headed back to the bedroom. I’d ask this with the same inflections as “You wanna take a hike?” so, of course, she was into it.

When the Corona virus made its way into our sphere, we, like others equally fortunate, packed up our stuff and moved into our weekend home two-plus hours north of New York City. My husband has made our kitchen his workspace while I — big surprise — have moved into the guest room, my trusty officemate by my blanketed feet. She follows me downstairs when I refresh my coffee and appreciates being let outside to deliver a quick bark-out to our tiny village. Within minutes, she’s back at the door, ready to join me again. It’s a pretty similar schedule to our former one, except there are no events to head out to and even the mid-day visit from our dog walker is gone.

But here’s my dark secret: I’m not really missing our former life. I’m kind of in my element, because this lifestyle is the one I’ve been aiming for — the huge exception, of course, being the horrific reason we are living it, so I keep my smug mouth shut.

I'd never thought of myself as an introvert, but I kind of am. I’m often the first to crack a joke, but, in truth, it’s a coping mechanism, to deflect awkward moments. But one can only laugh for so long at my silly pun or dirty reference, then it’s back to that stifling awkward air, and that’s when I find an excuse to leave, which usually involves feeding or walking Remy. 

Now, we no longer need excuses. When Maureen Dowd recently interviewed Larry David about his sheltering in place situation for the New York Times, this line stuck with me:

“I will say the lack of invitations, OK, that’s been fantastic …You don’t have to make up any excuses.”

Sheltering in place has inspired many to become dog owners — for the comfort of routine and unconditional love.

Exactly. The great thing about dogs is, they don’t do excuses. When it’s raining, Remy doesn’t get why that means no hike. And after she’s removed a turkey carcass from the dinner table, she has no excuse with which to explain herself. Dogs also have no sense of time, apparently, so Remy would have no idea why she was being admonished seconds after doing something wrong, so we do our best to refrain. I’m not entirely convinced about the time thing, though; those contrite eyes tell me otherwise.

In fact, it was those mopey eyes that hooked us. When we first met her, she’d sneak an occasional glance, as if to say, “It’s ok if you don’t pick me, but it could be nice. And as you can see, I’m pretty chill…” 

We picked her.

I marvel at the explosive love I have for her. I joke with friends about how lucky I am that my magic dog will never die. Nothing makes me happier than canceled plans so I can l take her to the dog run. 

Sheltering in place has inspired many to become dog owners, including several friends who’d always resisted, citing space, not to mention lack of time. Well, at least for the time being, one of those excuses is gone, replaced by a new source of comfort, routine (dogs can’t walk themselves!) and unconditional love.

We live in a society that celebrates social butterflies (they don’t call it social media for nothing), but being an introvert has been an unexpected coping strategy for these times. I’m sure I’ll go back to hosting dinner parties when it’s safe to (after all, even for an introvert, they’re an efficient means for seeing many in one fell swoop), but my favorite part of the night will always be slipping into the kitchen to “check on dessert.” There Remy will be, moping on her bed, as if to say, “Why are these people here?” 

I’ll explain that this is something mommies and daddies do, and if she gave those people a chance, she might just get a nice ear rub out of it. 

I ponder this advice quite frequently these days myself. Being an introvert has its perks, but life is about balance, and I’m grateful for my friends. I just happen to be more grateful that my dog is also an introvert.

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