In a year filled with unprecedented tumult and loss, it also became a year of unexpected gratitude and hope. Against the tragic backdrop of a pandemic and political and personal calamity 2020 will be remembered by me as the year I saved my dog’s life as well as the year he saved mine.
During COVID when grief, loss, and isolation are a part of our everyday lives our beloved dogs have become more imperative in our lives than ever. As a 65-year-old woman, mine has for me.
2020 was an annus horribilis if ever the was one. A series of tragedies at the start of the year played havoc with my life. My husband’s undiagnosed cognitive deficits had resulted in financial devastation and the loss of our beloved home on Long Island, N.Y. Then the coronavirus struck. In this cacophony of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, my 10-year-old yellow Lab Stanley was my reliable source of love and continuity.
Without children of my own, Stanley had always held a pampered place of privilege in my home and in my heart. Now with a house in foreclosure, sheltering in place in a shelter that was uncertain, Stanley became my rock.
When my long-term therapist fled the COVID ravaged city for the safety of the Berkshires easing into semi-retirement I was left to my own devices. In more ways than one, my quirky Labrador Retriever morphed into my therapy dog. I was exhausted emotionally but he helped me from becoming totally depleted.
His playfulness eased tension in a house rife with it, bringing great bursts of laughter. His steadiness offered reliability in a world where that seemed in short supply. As my husband’s mind retreated into a secluded world of his own, my loneliness was palpable, exasperated by the isolation imposed by COVID. With a husband shut down emotionally, I longed for a tangible connection with another during the quarantine. Stanley’s physical companionship became even more vital.
A ray of unexpected light appeared as a result of the pandemic. A COVID moratorium on foreclosures was granted. The pause button was pressed for the next several months offering a safety net for the time being. Relief and gratitude helped turn my house from a place of pandemonium to a temporary place of relative calm.
Calamity and Calm
Then came the morning this spring when without any warning I discovered my beloved pet paralyzed on the kitchen floor. I had just lost my home. I could not bear to also lose my dog.
Only 36 hours earlier Stanley had been rollicking at the beach at our first pandemic outing.
Like all of us, my sequestered dog had been suffering from acute COVID cabin fever. Although he loved his pack, his interactions with his own kind had screeched to a halt during the coronavirus.
Finally, on a warm Saturday the first week of May a tentative first visit to our local Long Island beach proved healing to our whole family. It was euphoric to breathe in the clean fresh air and to watch my water-loving Labrador Retriever romp in his element. The simple joy of a fresh stick to chew on, some sand to roll in and some bracing water to swim in were all it took to make him blissful. Watching him interact with other dogs made me envious.
There were no 6-foot rules for them as they gleefully played with one another.
That Monday, I awoke to find Stanley whimpering, laying helpless unable to move. A paralysis had struck with a swiftness that was breathtaking. In a world defined by shutdown my poor immobilized dog cruelly mimicked that condition
Rushing him to his vet we remained in our car as the masked and gloved vet technicians took Stanley away on a stretcher. My heart was in my throat. After an hour, the vet walked outside to speak with us in the parking lot where we were waiting. This normally sensitive doctor who was likely stressed operating under difficult COVID circumstances abruptly brought up the 3 words no dog owner ever wants to hear.
Putting him down.
With a 4 day deadline.
Hearing that spoken through a muffled N95 mask six feet away seated in a deserted parking lot felt surreal. Sadly, I knew I could not count on my husband to help make any decisions. My dog had saved me during COVID, now it was my turn to save him. Determined, I rigorously researched every option available during the restrictions of the pandemic until I found one of a handful of neurosurgeons who could help.
She gave us hope when I had none.
Like all hospitals the Veterinarian Infirmary we eventually took Stanley to followed strict COVID-19 protocols and we were not allowed to enter the building. As we waited outside, I noticed a large canvas tent set up on the expansive lawn. Later I would learn that was where they brought pets and their owners together for one last time to say goodbye before the animal was put down.
For pets and their family, there was the loving ability to look each other in the eye, hold one another and softly say farewell. Something, sadly deprived to most families who lost loved ones during this crisis. We were one of the lucky ones who would never have the need to enter that tent.
We got Stanley back and so much more.
I got a summer of swimming together every afternoon in my turquoise backyard pool with a dog who should not have been here in a home I was to have lost months earlier.
The unexpected happiness during a crisis was incalculable. Gratefully he still keeps me emotionally afloat when I feel like I’m drowning. Stanley is my come-back kid. Never give up, even when teetering on the edge of despair.
You can get back in the swim of things.
An important lesson I learned during COVID. Something to keep in mind for the coming year.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2020.