What a Skittish Dog Can Teach You About a Pandemic
My dog Kimmy Kibbler is afraid of everything, e.g. crunchy leaves, her own shadow. And yet, here we are, surviving together.
My dog Kimmy Kibbler is a very skittish dog.
She has a long list of things just around the neighborhood that make her nervous, like children on scooters, soda cans rolling down the street, motorcycles, crunchy leaves, and that giant inflatable arm man that wiggles and sways at the car wash.
That’s not an exhaustive list.
When these things are in her view, she does this move where she spins on the leash at least three times, often four, tangling herself up in her own harness. She whines, and tugs at me to take her in the opposite direction. The fur on her back stands at attention. If I refuse to turn back, she looks behind her every few feet to make sure that whatever scared her isn’t following us.
I like to imagine that she’s trying to protect us, and that she assumes I’m just too daft to understand the danger of the situation I’ve put us in.
She’s perfectly content at home, her safe space.
Whenever we pass that threshold of our front door, relief washes over her as she collapses on the floor, panting heavily from the exertion of being that anxious for however many blocks she allowed on that walk.
When the pandemic started, we’d been going out a lot less, the two of us.
Her favorite activity, the dog park, was at one point something we’d do every other day. Despite her quirks, she loved meeting and playing with other dogs, although her thirst for attention was at times visibly annoying to the regulars there.
I assumed she’d have a hard time with the change to her routine.
Instead, it seemed as if she hadn’t noticed that anything was different about her place in the world. In fact, the streets were a little bit quieter. People weren’t going for as many joyrides on their motorcycles. She could watch the happenings outside from the comfort of the dining room window, blissful in the knowledge that nothing would be able to come in.
Her biggest nemesis, that giant inflatable arm man, had been put away for the time being, waiting for the time that people cared about getting car washes again.
Instead, with the indefinite shelter-in-place restrictions, I’m the skittish one.
I go for a jog, attempting to get some fresh air and keep moving so the days go by quicker, closer to a sense of normalcy, and feel that buildup of tension when I see someone in my view.
Do I run out into the street, or will they move aside so that I can pass?
At the grocery store, my body reacts when someone passes a little too close behind me, eyeing the dried pasta in front of us, unaware of my discomfort in that moment.
At home, I sit slumped at our dining room table. I try to will the motivation to do something more productive than think about the passing time or engage with subhumans who make light of the situation we’re in because they lack the empathy to care.
But whether I’m listless at home or returning from a challenging trip to pick up some of what are now essential items, there she is.
Whenever I feel that anxiety building, there she is.
She’s wagging her tail, climbing into my lap as far as she’s able — she’s a 60-some-pound dog — and giving me a kiss, often quite uncomfortably, right on the lips. Sometimes, when times are really dire, or at least she senses something’s up, she lays her head on my shoulder and gives me a hug.
It’s as if she’s telling me that it’ll be alright, and that it’s OK to feel a little unsure in this moment.
That’s when I realize it. The world is calmer for her, and she welcomes that.
But it isn’t for me, and she recognizes that.
At least that’s what I’d like to believe.