Wrinkles Doesn’t Fully Understand Social Distancing but He Doesn’t Like It; He’s Onto Something
Note: I usually write serious pieces. While this piece has a serious message about loneliness, I wanted to write and share something a tad lighter. Thus, here is a story with photos about a dog — a funny looking loveable dog. I get the gravity of the situation we are in with COVID-19. But, we can use a wee bit of levity now and again.
Wrinkles is a dog. He’s very sociable and adores being with other four-legged creatures. Sure, he likes his two legged parents but dogs are his preferred species. Wrinkles used to greet other dogs in the street on his many daily perambulations and assuming these creatures were friendly, he’d play. His dog walker came on days when I was away and would take him on play dates. Cosmo is one of his favorite friends. When he went to “doggy play school,” he had a crush on Lola, and Irma had a crush on him.
When he wasn’t playing with his dog friends, he “went to work” at Orange Theory, an exercise studio in our neighborhood. He’d go in and greet those exercising as well as those working there, including tearing paper under the desks. His picture sits on their side table. Folks know him (and his name) when they see him walking outside. He loves his trips to the office.
But now, he heads to the door and no one is there. There’s a lock on the outside of the door. At first he thought he was just too early or too late for work but after a couple days, he kept looking at me as if to say: I can’t get to my job. I can’t do my work. I miss my workplace.
Now, with limited exception, businesses are closed. And, the two-legged dog owners not only keep themselves distant from each other, they keep their dogs distance from other people and their dogs. Social distancing has many impacts.
Wrinkles looks up to me for an explanation each time this happens (multiple times a day) and seems to be asking why he can’t engage with any dog or human (other than me) now. I try to explain that if I get dangerous germs on him and he gets them on another dog and that dog owner pets his dog, that owner might get my bad germs. Or, other people may not pet him because he carries my germs and they don’t want those. After my explanation,he just looks up with his hangdog basset eyes as if to say, Really?
Now I think Wrinkles is a particularly smart boy despite studies that suggest that basset hounds are lacking in brainpower. So, I tried drawing the various virus transmission pathway through the placement of sticks on the sidewalk. He looked down, thought the sticks were for chewing and my visual diagram obsolesced. Quickly. So much for visual learning.
Now, the ways COVID-19 can be transmitted is still the subject of some scientific inquiry, particularly from person to animal and visa versa. But whether and how the transmission happens from dog to human, it has left Wrinkles lonely and uncertain. He is not alone. I am sure other dogs are lonely. So are people.
One of the known prices of quarantine or sheltering in place for people is loneliness. And, loneliness is a known side effect of trauma, which this pandemic is for many. Now, pets help humans deal with loneliness, and conversely humans help pets to be sure. But, let’s not underestimate the impact of loneliness caused by our recent confinement.
In a poignant piece by Robin Wright in The New Yorker, the author notes that when you cannot hug or touch or connect, “life feels shallower…” The author’s right. It is as if joy flew out the window. The usual antidotes to loneliness — communication and connection — are truncated. And even if there are creative solutions, our brains seem paralyzed by the isolation; in a sense, we isolate not just our bodies but our brains too. As a result, we don’t pursue all the creative ways we could be engaging. We get, in a word, stuck inside. Literally and figuratively.
Bottom line: Wrinkles feels lonely. So do I. And while we take care of each other, this is a hard time for humans and animals to acknowledge fully the impact of the pandemic on our lives. It’s real; about that we can be sure.