Opinion: Unconditional Love From Dogs Gives Americans Joy During Tough Times

OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

With very real threats to our health, our economy, and our liberty, the Chinese coronavirus has taken its toll on Americans. At worst, people have gotten horribly sick. At best, there’s been plenty of boredom. Some have fought through the pandemic doldrums to get some things done like cleaning, house projects, or just catching up with family. But nothing about this has been ideal. These trying times have certainly had ups and downs. But, one major positive through all of this, has been more quality time with our dogs! Americans love their pups, and in times like these, our fuzzy friends are doing a lot to help us all get through this difficult period.

For me, Rex is already spoiled. Found on a highway in poor shape, six years ago, he’s been the king of the castle ever since. He’s known as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in these parts. He sleeps in a king-size bed. He’s even a little Internet famous after writing a letter to one of the Palin family dogs a few years back. Rex certainly gets his share of love and family time. The little, black, handsome mutt is my right-hand man. That said, it has been really enjoyable to be with him even more. Extra walks, extra playtime, and extra snuggling has absolutely made my time at home more fun. In this new work setting Rex is there for all the writing, announcing, recording, coaching, ball playing, and school work. It’s great.

I am not alone in this assessment. Americans from all walks of life are leaning on their dogs during these weirdest of times.

Aimée Fischbeck is an administrative assistant in New Jersey. The mom of two is also a full-time spoiler of Chewie the Samoyed. This fluffy fellow with an impressive smile is now spoiling the Fischbeck family. “We have gone from being super busy every day and night to having a lot of free time,” Fischbeck said. “The week before my son and I were at the high school play until ten every night, then suddenly- nothing. My daughter came home and is doing the rest of her first year of college from the dining room- my son does online high school from his room- my husband works in the family room, while I work all over.” Chewie kind of oversees the whole deal.

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“He forces me to get up early, get outside, and walk several miles,” said Fischbeck. “Otherwise, I think I would sleep in every day and definitely not go out as much. He makes me smile and give unconditional love. He is so sweet and cute and he is always happy to see me. Sometimes we take three or four walks a day. When I return, I always feel better. The exercise, the fresh air, and seeing others walking their dogs, watching kids learning to ride their bikes, seeing interesting nature, like hawks, or seeing a sunset you would have missed because you were inside. Chewie also gives us something to talk about and takes our minds off the serious things.”

Just like us, dogs know something is different nowadays. “He knows we are home all the time,” said Fischbeck. “We recently all went for a drive to get take out and he was confused as to why we were all leaving. Although, I think he is a little annoyed we interfere with his midday naps! And he has started wanting extra walks earlier in the day.”

Chewie isn’t the only Jersey Boy who’s been center stage during quarantine time. Bailey the Cockapoo has come up big too, albeit in a much smaller body. The little guy is the star of the Epp home. That’s saying something. Candice Epp and her husband are both very successful professionals. Their two boys are super athletes and all-around great kids. But Bailey has everyone wrapped around his paw. Candice Epp especially dotes over this dog. “The quarantine has affected us in the obvious ways of our family all being isolated and staying home,” she said. “My husband and I are both working from home and our two boys are both taking school online. All activities have ceased. I went from rushing home from my job at Merrill Lynch to either workout, make dinner and/or rush to evening sports activities, always on the go, to semi-lockdown mode. It’s actually been a nice change to stop all the running and rushing and realizing that everything we have that is important is right in front of us. Family, shelter, food, and our most loving family member, our four-year-old Cockapoo, Bailey.

 

Bailey is loving every minute of it.

“Every day that I used to go into the office, I always felt bad leaving Bailey,” Epp said. “Every day, in the office, I always said it would be so nice to have Bailey in the office at my desk. He is so loving and calming. Having more time with Bailey is something I always wanted. His life on this Earth is short lived but teaches us so many things. All you need is love! Unconditional love! I work in an office upstairs and my husband works in an office on our main floor. Bailey has a bed by both of our desks and takes turns resting by us all day. Just his company makes working that much less stressful.”

 

Bailey is also the leader of family exercise. “Getting out for daily walks is so important and gets us out of the house as a group. I am not sure if Bailey truly knows something is different, but I know that he is so happy to have his family at home at all times. That is all he ever wants. I know in general, Bailey has brought our family together from the moment we set our eyes on him. Having him during this stressful change in our lives only exemplifies how much calm and happiness he brings to our family just by his presence by our side. It is incredible.”

From the Garden State to the Sunshine State, dogs are loving the extra time with their human heroes. Debbie Strand is a hero in multiple ways. She’s a super woman to her long-haired Chihuahua and the owner/operator of a rehab center for women in Palm Beach, Florida. Lately, whatever Strand is doing, Señor is often by her side. “I am usually on site with the women that I help four to seven days a week and have barely been going there since my elderly parents need more help,” Stand said. “I have to be careful about bringing it to them. My mom is eighty-five and my father is ninety-six. They need a lot of support. My father’s dementia has progressed during this time and I think he’s confused by the news and thinks he has to evacuate for hurricane.” Tough, tough stuff. Señor has been a huge help.

“I am used to starting weekend travels with my boyfriend this time of year and he is very busy in an essential business during this time,” Strand said. “I have only seen him a few times during this shut down. As an alcoholic in recovery, isolation is our enemy and I am reaching out to friends and even signed up to deliver groceries to stay around people. I think the biggest thing Señor does for me is that he keeps me on schedule. This is another thing that’s very good for people in recovery and people in general. I really can’t stay up that late at night because there is no way that he’s not gonna have me up by seven. So he dictates the schedule and I follow along. It’s what’s best for both of us. He also keeps me eating on a schedule.” Good boy.

“I always hate that I have to leave for work for more than a few hours,” Strand said. “After he has a nap, he’s just an animal in a cage and I don’t like that. He’s my buddy, my best friend, my baby! The more time I spend with him, the more I can feel the connection between us and see how much he understands.”

American dogs definitely realize the time at home with their peeps has increased. It’s always been puzzling as to why some so-called ‘experts’ say dogs do not recognize time at all. Really? Run down to the grocery store and come back. Compare that welcome home reaction to the reaction of a dog whose human just came back from a tour of duty. You’ve seen those videos. they know.

“I’m pretty sure that he recognizes that I’m here a lot more often than not,” said Strand. “The more time I spend with him, the closer he physically stays with me and walks off the leash. It’s a pleasure.”

Not to be outdone by man’s best friend, our fine American felines are strutting their patriotism too. Cats are also playing an important role in citizen sanity. Rocco Aversa, a sales manager and former champion bodybuilder, loves his two tabby cats, Luciano and Capone.

“I’m still working, but my wife is laid off, so there is lots of downtime,” Aversa said. “The cats are always there to love. They cuddle and play and we take comfort in that.”

The extra time with the humans has led to some changes in behavior. It seems Luciano and Capone have become more needy since the virus struck. “They’re even growling at anyone who comes to the door like they’re dogs,” Aversa said.

Whether you’re a pooch like Rex, Chewie, Bailey, and Señor or a kitty like Luciano and Capone, there’s no doubt animals are helping Americans get through this very strange situation. No matter what lies ahead, the reliability, steadiness, and unconditional love of a pet will be there. That is comforting.

“That being said, it is a lot of work and responsibility and people should not get pets they won’t have time for when things return to normal,” Fischbeck warned. We all agree on that.

These pet lovers also agree that life would be a heck of a lot different if our pets weren’t around to help us through corona-cation.

“I definitely wouldn’t get outside as much and I think it’s so helpful to everyone to get exercise, fresh air, see others even from a distance, and see the beauty of nature- the spring trees are beautiful this year,” Fischbeck said. “Plus, my house isn’t that big – I love spending time with my family, but it’s nice to get out.”

Dogs can even teach people new tricks.

“As a family during this time, we have definitely seen the changes that we need to make in general,” Epp said. “Times like this force you to take a step back and look at the things that are important in life. Spending more time with your kids. Less running all the time. Teaching your kids important chores and responsibilities and finding ways to have fun with the simple things. Dogs live this way every day and don’t even try. Unconditional love. Bailey is a cuddle bug. Right now he is a shaggy dog who needs a major grooming, but we love him all the same. Almost time to take out the buzzer. He did have a shower at home! I would say that Bailey brings joy and love to this house.”

The pandemic and all that comes with it is hard enough, but without dogs? Unimaginable.

“It would be so different and difficult without him,” Strand said. “I went nine months without a dog once and it was depressing to not have someone to care for in a healthy way. I would stay up late and perhaps sleep in or need naps. He gives me a reason to take walks and to smile the second I open my eyes. There is also value to fall asleep every night with my hand on him and to feel him breathing. It calms me and I absorb his rhythm which is good because he never worries.”

Not worrying right about now is a welcomed idea.

“I would not be as entertained without them,” Aversa said of his cat paisanos. “They add an additional dynamic to home life and love that cannot be replaced.”

Especially now. It’s pretty much priceless.

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Follow Kevin Scholla on Twitter @kevinscholla