My dog Baxter doesn’t concern himself with pandemics. He’s oblivious to the changing landscape of masks, vaccines, stimulus checks, or social distancing.
In fact, I’m pretty sure if he was able to talk, he’d tell us the last year has been the best year ever.
Baxter is a 7 year-old German Shepherd/Yellow Lab mix. When we adopted him, his golden fur was baby soft and he had one ear that stood straight up and another ear that stuck out to the side, making him look like he was questioning everything around him.
Starting in March, my husband, myself, and our two teenagers living at home have been, well, home more. School moved to a remote format. My high schooler and middle schooler attend school from our couch or from our dining room table. I work from home most days. My husband’s teaching job has vacillated between hybrid and remote. All our evening obligations, the ones that kept us running, forcing us to eat sandwiches in the car, water or coffee in thermal cups with tightly fitting lids so they didn’t spill on the interior of our vehicle—they all vanished. Sometimes we go days without seeing humans outside our little family unit.
On the flipside, Baxter went from his routine of welcoming us back from our busy lives, tail wagging, tongue lolling — with equal excitement whether we’d been gone for hours or minutes — to having us barely leave the house at all.
I wonder what Baxter thought about this. I wondered if at first he was annoyed, that we were suddenly around all the time: causing a commotion when he was used to at least 6 hours a day of uninterrupted quiet, allowing him to sleep on the couch, or bark with reckless abandon to scare away the squirrels who visited our garden. Now, we were helping ourselves to his couch real estate, and his ferocious barks were generally frowned upon. They interrupted our Zoom calls, after all.
If we annoyed him, he didn’t let on. In fact, overall, I’d say Baxter has had a pretty good year. Baxter went on a 10-day camping trip with our family over the summer. He surprised us (and himself) by learning he is a fantastic swimmer. We discovered this when he saw our kids swimming in Lake Michigan. He took it upon himself to “rescue” them, not seeming to give it a moment’s thought that he’d never jumped in a lake before.
If I were to characterize Baxter’s place in the family before the pandemic, I’d describe him as “beloved family dog.” He’s a classic good boy. Now, however? I’d describe him as “essential.” Stroking his velvety ears when he rests his head on your lap is 100% effective in lowering stress levels. Watching my daughter do yoga in the living room over Zoom while her dog tries to lick her face is guaranteed to get a few smiles out of everyone. Baxter’s intense eagerness to perform all the tricks he knows for a tiny dog treat is something that makes me laugh every time. Asking him to simply “sit” gets you a sit-shake-jump-roll over combo. A true overachiever.
In these early days of 2021, I’m still recovering from this past year. We all are. It’s been a year of change, loss, and disappointment, with an unhealthy dose of fear thrown in. But my dog, my goofy dog with ears that stick out in all directions depending on his mood, has been the purest, most uncomplicated thing in my life. He looks up at me with absolute love in his deep brown eyes as I read a few chapters before I drift off to sleep at night. He’s there wagging his tail the first thing when I wake up. He pulls me along at the end of his leash and gets me outside, moving forward, especially on the days I really don’t want to.
How do I thank him for all he’s done to keep our family going when everything else feels like it’s been standing still? I’d like to give him the world, when all he really wants is a belly rub, a treat, and a “good boy.”
Originally published Jan. 11, 2021 at MyHuntleyNews.