Everything I need to know about surviving a pandemic I learned from my dog

When life gives you a pandemic, don’t panic; the sun will come out later and you can still play ball. (RYAN LAWRENCE/The Sun)

The ground was muddy and drenched. The sky was gray and gloomy. The forecast wasn’t much better.

The unthinkable happened two weeks ago, rarer than seeing Halley’s Comet overhead at night: my dog, Linus, did not play ball before breakfast. 

A nearly 8-year-old Shepherd mix rescue pup, Linus is as addicted to playing ball as I am with my morning cup of coffee. Take it away and it’s pretty difficult to get through the rest of the day.

But like children, dogs are resilient. A few hours later, the sun broke through and, with one short whistle, Linus hurried down the stairs and was out the back door in a flash with one of his three dozen tennis balls in his mouth.

When the day began, it looked less than promising. But then it turned out fine. All along, the dog really didn’t seem to mind, even if his routine got turned upside down for one morning. 

It felt like a life lesson, straight from my enlightened canine companion. When life gives you a pandemic, don’t panic; things will return to normal.

Are dogs wiser than humans? Of course not. But according to a somewhat recent story on vox.com, regarding the mental capacity of dogs, the average canine’s intelligence is “roughly as sophisticated as a 2 ½-year-old baby” and dogs are apparently better at reading humans than chimps, too. 

But this isn’t a story set out to argue that my dog can ace the New York Times Sunday crossword or figure out long division. (As far as I know, he can’t do either of those.) But what Linus can do is live his dog life and provide me with daily reminders of how we all can get through COVID-19 isolation a little easier. 

Early dogs get the ball. I was never much of a morning person and having jobs with late-shift hours (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.) for most of my adult life hasn’t exactly helped me adjust. This is when I’m thankful to have a dog who is eager to embrace every day as soon he hears the birds chirping outside the bedroom window.

Linus has his routines and chief among them is his aforementioned morning ball chasing. We’re fortunate enough to have a nice chunk of open space that sits adjacent to the backyard and he takes full advantage with nearly a dozen sprints of roughly 60 yards to retrieve his beloved ball.

When he’s through, it’s time to eat. And then sleep. All before 9 a.m.

So get up, get motivated, and get your work finished so you can enjoy the rest of the day.

Get your exercise. It’s easy to sit at your desk or makeshift home offices all day. It’s difficult to get the regular physical activity we’d get during normal times if we barely have to leave our homes with offices closed.

(KATHRYN CHRISTOPHER/Special to The Sun)

But Linus makes sure he gets his running every morning. And with more people home throughout the rest of the day, he’s been getting more regular late afternoon or early evening walks, too.

While every other dog I’ve had in my life has been food motivated, Linus is ball motivated. And like actual working dogs that need physical activity because they have become so accustomed to it, he needs his regular exercise. It turns out that I do, too, and I’m thankful to have an excuse in him to get out and get active each day.

 

Make due with what you have. For the better half of two months, Linus had been biting at his pesky nails throughout the day and night. He was beginning to look like he was putting his best paw forward to audition for a community stage showing of “Edward Scissorhands” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

But then Linus got lucky just the other day when we saw a mobile grooming mini-bus in the neighbor’s driveway across the street. A few hours later, his nails were freshly cut and smoothly filed. 

Did I go through a similar spell without a haircut due to social distancing restrictions? You bet. Did I go through my days quietly during that spell without complaining? Sure didn’t.

Get your rest. Linus pretty much has his pick of the litter when it comes to furniture. Often when he’s through with his ball playing each morning, Linus hangs out by the couch that overlooks the front window to stay on neighborhood watch before retiring to the master bedroom (also known as the Executive Good Boy Suite) for much of the day. A dog’s life. 

But rest is important. Even if we’re not getting the same physical activity as we would during normal times, pandemics are kind of stressful, right? The mentally activity of keeping your survival skills sharp and your anxiety to a minimum can wear you down. So do like your dog does and get to bed early. Limit your late night screen time, read a book, and get a long, good night’s rest.

Be thankful and stay close to your loved ones. We’ve all done that thing in the last two months where we spend a bunch of money on an online grocery order and come away disappointed when one of the items we selected wasn’t delivered, right? Meanwhile there is Linus, who eats the same thing twice a day, every day.

And you know what Linus does nearly every day, too? After he’s finished eating, he winds his way through the house to find the human who gave him food and he licks their hand. I’d like to think it’s his showing of appreciation because he’s a pretty thoughtful pooch, really.

With everyone home all the time, I’ve also noticed he follows us around pretty regularly, whether I’m going upstairs to get a shower or going out front to fetch the mail. 

While we can’t necessarily follow our family and friends around, we can keep in contact with them more regularly, whether it’s texting, FaceTime, or the old-fashioned phone call. Make the call. Let them know you care, just as your faithful dog does in his own way each day. 

Linus and his best mate, Gracie. (RYAN LAWRENCE/The Sun)

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Dispatches from Home is a new weekly feature from Sun Newspapers. The smart and safe coronavirus epidemic isolations have surely left us all a little stir crazy. Each week, Ryan Lawrence will offer some ideas to keep you busy, entertained — or both.