Novelist | Singer
Let’s face it. We’re all suffering from Covid hangover. Peak Covid time was tougher, but somehow it has derailed my sense of time. I can no longer remember how long ago things occurred within the past several years. Have you noticed that events are either pre-Covid or post-Covid? I’ll bet you’ve used that yourself to track times and events. We’re all still caught up in it or what it laid on us. A PANDEMIC. We had a pandemic. Something we naively considered unimaginable in these modern times. Pandemics are for history, a time in the past when medicine was not yet evolved. The gods are laughing.
Who was in your Covid bubble? For many, it was family. For my husband and me—each other. We held hands daily as we watched the results of the day’s lives lost on the screen. Prickly sensations would travel up my back. Were we next? How far would this go? It felt like Armageddon.
Jane and I have known each other from our writers’ group since 2011. We saw each other at writers’ group every other week, and beyond that, almost not at all. Maybe we’d see each other out and about in Gloucester, usually at some cultural event or art show opening. Covid cemented our friendship.
We both had old dogs before Covid. Jane had Rocky, a sturdy Westie/Scottish Terrier cross. I had Lila, a rescued Australian Shepherd with a stern personality for strangers, yet playful and fun with my husband Al and me. She came by that personality rightfully—the people who gave her away (which still blows my mind, considering the great dog I came to know) kept her in a crate wearing a shock collar for close to two years. She was smart and crafty and needed engagement and a job. And she could bark—oh boy.
Jane, Rocky, Lila and I walked together occasionally. The dogs were ambivalent toward each other, or maybe they were just old. Eventually Lila stopped being able to walk very far, and I went with Jane and Rocky. Then suddenly in January of 2020, Rocky developed a large tumor and poor Jane had to send him across the Rainbow Bridge. Shortly after, Covid raged across the country and left us isolated in our houses staring at our TV screens, reading books we weren’t particularly interested in, and choosing new hobbies that lost their appeal within weeks. Let’s be truthful—Covid was rough. I had an overwhelming feeling of panic that I fought day and night. We were scared to leave the house. I spoke to friends on the phone, stumbled through the steep learning curve of Zoom and Teams, and we all pretended we were patient and relaxed, when actually we were exhausted from stress, sleep deprivation and anxiety.
Jane was now alone and started looking into dog adoption as the grief of losing Rocky lessened. If you tried to rescue a dog during Covid, you’re familiar with that chaos. All the shelters in our area closed and the dogs went quickly to foster homes. People started adopting dogs at an unprecedented rate. Several months of on-line application went by with no success. Then during one trip to see a friend in Maine, Jane checked Uncle Henry’s magazine, an on-line market that has evolved from a farmers’ trading circular. And there it was—an ad for Westie puppies. She called and went the next day to pick up a cute little bug of a pup, only eight weeks old and hopelessly adorable. Jane named her Maisie. The healing had begun.
Summer passed. Jane and I walked Maisie, and Al and I sometimes dog sat when Jane went to Maine to her family house where dogs were not allowed. Lila got older and started to show signs of failing. Finally in September, we resigned ourselves and made the terrible decision to put Lila down. Grief crushed my heart for weeks, to the point of physical pain from the loss of my dear companion.
Winter began creeping in and Covid raged on, trampling cities and cutting thousands of peoples’ lives short. Finding joy was tough. Jane and I walked with Maisie. We became Covid bubble friends.
I made it about a month before I needed a dog in the house. Though Lila had slept most of her last year to the point that I checked to make sure she was still breathing, the dogless house seemed ghostly quiet.
I was nervous about getting a puppy, so I descended into the mire of on-line rescue services, because I firmly believe in rescue. The applications were tedious and lengthy, often requiring photos of the inside and outside of my home. A fenced-in yard was often mandatory. After at least a half hour, I would hit “submit,” and the application disappeared into cyberspace. Many never solicited an answer. When an answer magically arrived in my inbox after several weeks, it listed the name of the dog and almost nothing else. I had completed so many applications that I would have no idea which dog they meant. I soon started keeping a spreadsheet with the name of the dog, the breed, the rescue organization and contact information.
Rejection after rejection rolled in. I targeted herding dogs, mainly Heelers. There were plenty, as the dogs were arriving on a never-ending river flowing north from southern States. Rescue groups plucked the poor things from kill shelters, loaded them into vans and panel trucks and shipped them north, making multiple stops along an all-night run to anxious recipients hoping for a sweet companion to cuddle. The dogs were exhausted and stressed after their bouncy ride in a small cage. When they were pulled from the truck, hundreds of waiting eyes stared down at them in anticipation. Is this one mine? That is how I first met Skip.
He emerged from the van spooked and nervous. His photo had been cute and smiley. Everything in the description was positive—good with dogs, good with children. He had also been confined to an outdoor run for most of his three years. When we arrived home, he jumped on the sofa and claimed it. But he was also a good boy, good company, playful and bright. I thought we had a chance until he bit Al. What happened was understandable. He had been living in our house for a week and had claimed me as his own. Al tried to move him and he snapped and that was it. Returning him was not difficult, but it was a little sad. I knew Skip had potential, but now I didn’t trust him. A dog that has bitten will bite again.
Next was Waltz, a rescued 5-year-old Russian street dog that looked like a Golden Retriever. Inside the house, Waltz was a saint. He chose a spot behind the sofa to retreat into a dark, safe den. Outside the house, he became an instant fighter, and picked a fierce brawl with every dog he met. The scars peppering his face told the whole story. I took him every frosty morning to the dog park in Stage Fort Park where I let him run in the “Bad Dog” section so he was isolated from other dogs. Waltz attacked the fence trying to get to any dog on the other side. It wasn’t going to work. We passed him onto a young man with some property in central Massachusetts where he could run and thrive.
We were again without a dog. That very night, I searched Uncle Henry’s magazine and found an ad for Australian Shepherd puppies expected in several weeks. I sent an email to the breeder, who answered immediately. Danielle took my deposit, the last of five, unsure of the size of the litter. We settled down to await the birth day. The wait was excruciating, but on January 29, the news came. Danielle’s bitch had four puppies, one female and three males, all tri-colored. As one of the applicants wanted only a merle female, we were promised the last one, male #3. The leftover pup.
We sat every night and talked about our new dog.
“What should we name him?” I asked.
“Sailor,” came the instant response.
Al’s first dog had been Sailor, a female Belgian Shepherd that his dad brought home when Al was a year old. The next two months passed as slow as a pregnant turtle. March 29, we drove to Shapleigh, Maine to meet our new family member. “Cute” does little to describe our new boy. He scampered through the yard with his one remaining sibling as we chatted with the breeder. Then we paid the balance and jumped into the car for the long ride home.
Sailor was nervous. He had probably never been in a car, and he was with strangers in an unfamiliar environment. He drooled so heavily that my shirt was soon soaked as I cradled him in my lap. Jane came over with Maisie, now almost one year old. The two dogs became acquainted, Maisie establishing dominance immediately—a situation that would never change even though Sailor outgrew her within several weeks.
Our first night was interesting. We had a small crate in a pen for him where he could see everything. He played and slept at turns, and at bedtime, I closed his crate and we crept to the bedroom. We lay quietly in the dark, hoping for the best, when a small whimper drifted down the hall. The whimper escalated quickly into an all-out howl of abandonment. I couldn’t let him feel so alone in a new place. I brought him to bed with us, and he soon fell asleep. Several times during the night, he started to cry, and I got up and took him outside, where he squatted to pee. I knew he might have an accident in bed, but we had to take that chance.
I took two weeks of vacation from work and spent every minute with Sailor, carting him outside every hour to pee, then walking away to teach him to follow me. Most puppies will follow you endlessly until they are old enough to recognize independence. We gave him toys including a supposedly indestructible Go Dog chicken. He lost no time dismantling this toy and any other that we gave him, but never touched anything that was ours. He never bit us when we played. I could tell this was going to be an exceptional dog.
Both Jane and I had dogs now and walked every single day. Covid raged on. I was working from home and spending every minute with my new puppy. But as the sun shifted into the western sky, I grew restless. Every day ended with The Walk.
We played and walked and Sailor grew like a weed. His legs and body lengthened out of proportion with his weight, and for a time he resembled a spider monkey. He was athletic and lanky, and loved to jump and run. He and Maisie adored each other and became best friends.
Summer of 2021 began to bring relief from Covid, and people emerged masked and toting hand sanitizer in every car and purse. The anxiety continued. Vaccinations became available, but difficult to schedule. We tested and masked. Jane and I walked the dogs and Sailor grew taller and lankier. We went out on the boat to escape land and cool off. The boat was the perfect Covid refuge, separated from all other people except for our Covid bubble. Sometime that summer, it came to me how important my relationship with Jane had become. She was the only person I saw every day. “The Walk” became so much a part of our days that it felt odd to go without it.
Winter came on. We continued our daily walk with the dogs, training them for recall and obedience. Good Harbor Beach became a refuge and socialization for the dogs. Spring broke early with warmer temps gracing our Groundhog Day routine.
Then came the fateful day that the young man in our downstairs unit suddenly passed away. We were now neighborless in our two-unit condo. We waited for word on the sale of the condo, asking the family gently if we could have some influence on who might live downstairs. The owners prior to the young man had been nightmares. We needed a good neighbor to share our space.
That is when Jane announced that she needed to move into a house more befitting her life-situation. She had owned an old Gloucester house on Plum Street for 37 years, with steep, scary basement stairs and only a second-floor bathroom. She needed single-floor accommodation.
The family of the young man understood our situation. They had heard stories about our former co-owners. We all met and discussed and it was decided that they would proceed without an agent. They negotiated and Jane listed her house “for sale by owner.” We held our collective breath. The summer came and went with many trips out to the boat and everyday walks with our dogs.
In October, both sales went through without a hitch. Soon we had new downstairs occupants—our dear friends Jane and Maisie.
It is magical the way good things often come from bad circumstances. There is nothing much more important than good neighbors who are also friends. We now live very compatibly—planning, gardening and co-parenting our inseparable dogs. I marvel at the smooth transition we all experienced after several chaotic years of pandemic. We are safe and happy. Sailor and Maisie bounce up and down the stairs to visit each other whenever they please, and we have instant dog-sitters when the need arises.
Covid was horrible. Many people died or became chronically ill. Everyone endured isolation and fear for a very long time. There were almost no positives—but I found one. Covid brought Jane, me and our beloved dogs together. A former familiar face has become a dear, trusted friend. We now share our house in a communal cooperative that is beneficial to all. If Covid hadn’t swept through our world, would all this have happened? I guess we’ll never know. But one thing is certain. This afternoon, Jane, Maisie, Sailor and I will embark on our daily walk, a routine that embraces a deeper meaning.
Life is good.