My dog has taught me the best way to get through the pandemic: live in the now

Don’t tell my husband, but I have a new love of my life. Since social distancing began in March, we spend pretty much every waking minute together, and every sleeping one, too. She’s black and grey and has a white chin; she weighs 22 pounds; she prances when she’s happy and puts her tail between her legs when she’s scared; and her name is Ramona, after the famous children’s book character, but also after Joey Ramone.

I never imagined becoming one of those dog-obsessed people who uses the moniker RamonasMom, but here I am: RamonasMom. We adopted Ramona last summer, and while I loved her from the beginning, the last six months have taken me from pleasantly engaged pet owner to unabashed, full-on Dog Parent. I’ve always worked from home, but pandemic has meant that Ramona and I are barely ever apart. We eat, sleep, work (I work), exercise, and play together, all day long. Whenever I do leave the house, she’s right by the door waiting for me to come back. She runs to grab a shoe or her stuffed taco to show me, and then jumps up and down, greeting me like I’m a soldier returning from war: “YOU’RE BACK! I HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL YOU!”

The list of why dogs are great goes on and on. They inspire you to interact with the world around you. They help with anxiety and depression. It is buoying to take care of another creature, to have a trusted friend. I knew all this going into dog ownership, but coronavirus has shed light on one of the less-heralded greatnesses of dogs: Ramona lives in the now. When you spend most of your time with a dog, that rubs off on you, too.

It’s so easy for me to fall into a spiral of negativity about the world and future, but Ramona doesn’t know and doesn’t, frankly, care about politics or pandemics. As long as I keep providing her food, water, and love, she’s all good. She has no concerns about the mundane things, either: failure, deadlines, or her Twitter following (she doesn’t even have an account!). Instead of zoning out with Netflix, she sits on a pile of pillows on the couch, gazing out the window, and she barks when she sees something interesting, even if it’s the exact same interesting that happened five minutes ago.

Spending time with her, I’m reminded that so much of what we consider a happy, successful life is largely made up in our own minds, and often the product of ego and lack of fulfillment in other ways. She wants an array of simple things, but they are joyful: walks in nature, naps in the afternoon, a delicious treat. It reminds me that humans need all those things, too, now more than ever.

Also, dogs are just fun. In the book The Other End of the Leash, the writer and animal behaviorist Dr Patricia McConnell notes that dogs and humans are among the few animals that demonstrate the need to play throughout their entire lives, even as adults. Humans may forget this, but dogs never do. When I’m pulling my hair out over the latest news story or wondering if there will ever be a vaccine, Ramona is there, shoving her nose under my arm, nudging me to pet her, or running in circles around the rug until I get up and chase her and then laugh so hard my ribs hurt. We’re more in tune with each other than ever, it seems. The other day, when I didn’t feel well, Ramona jumped up to cuddle with me on the couch. She touched my hand with her paw, and my heart basically melted into a puddle of goo.

People worry, what will happen to our poor dogs when we go back to “how things used to be” and leave them alone again for much of the day, but I think the real question is, what happens to us? Though, of course, a dog wouldn’t worry about that. A dog would just live the moments as they come.

Jen Doll is a freelance journalist and the author of the young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage and the memoir Save the Date

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