Walking the Dog in the Time of Corona
I don’t have a dog. Yet. Rather, I’m one of the fortunate humans who has the high pleasure of doing the funnest, coolest job on earth: being a dog walker. Sure, this job involves picking up a lot of poop, but you get used to it, and the perks are pretty sweet: hanging out with one of human’s best friends, getting exercise, being outdoors, and listening to music and dancing as we go. Not to mention, I get to learn from some of the wisest beings among us.
In a way, then, I have lots of dogs. Or I’ve had lots of dogs since I started this adventure. I’ve worked with all kinds of dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, tall dogs, short dogs. Old dogs, young dogs, quiet dogs, loud dogs. Mixed dogs, purebred dogs. Beachy dogs, country dogs, city dogs. Wolfy dogs and foxy dogs.
Since the Fall of 2018 when I began walking dogs, I wonder how many pieces of poop I’ve picked up. I wonder how many times I’ve starred in a doggy dream. I wonder how many cracks of my broken heart were filled with shimmery, sparkly light — mending me into a healthier human.
Dogs are healers. Turns out, as it is with all the best things, this job isn’t exactly as it seems — it’s better. I’m familiar with this feeling but it’s never been so clear. The line between the server and the served is blurred. It’s the strangest thing — I can’t tell who’s walking who anymore.
Mid-March, it all became real, fast. The morning I was supposed to travel south to dogsit for one of my oldest clients, she cancelled her flight, as well as my stay. I still traveled south to walk two other dogs I’d made plans to walk, and hers. Amazing woman that she is, she paid me for the work anyway. One of the many glimpses of love shown to me during this time. Humans are healers, too.
During the week I spent down south, one cancellation came in after another. One client is a teacher and wouldn’t be returning to school until mid-April (now, indefinitely). One client had to cancel travel plans so wouldn’t need me to sit in May. One had to cancel a day trip, so wouldn’t need me to walk the dog, while I was there in Orange County. And it went on like that.
As I returned home, I prepared to lose all my clients. It seemed inevitable. And I needed to feel despair just like I need to feel hope. It all belongs in the human experience.
I had one last dogsitting job at home. I fulfilled my commitment, then said goodbye to their pups and 19 year-old cat, indefinitely.
One dog friend remained. Biggie.
I kept showing up to walk him on our scheduled mornings, and kept communicating with his mom. I was scared she was going to cancel our walks, but I understood if she did, too.
My fear of losing my walks with Biggie was less about money, at that point. I’d already spiraled down that anxiety rabbit hole long enough, and was reaching resignation. It was more about joy.
In our short time together, Biggie and I have been through a lot. He’s taught me so much and given me so many laughs. There’s that but also, I just really like walking with him.
His mom and I came to a suitable agreement quickly. They would set up a safe station, complete with hand sanitizer and dog treats, for me to prepare for our walks. I would sanitize before and after our walks. And we humans would keep our physical distance, if we ever did run into each other. We already had a good routine kind of like this going before, so not much changed.
Since then, me and Biggie have gotten to see what the world looks like outside, every Monday through Thursday from about 8:30–9:30am, PST.
In the last three weeks, there have been cold, rainy days and hot, sunny days. There have been mornings still and quiet, and mornings pulsing with life and sound. The earth has turned greener with the blossoming of leaves on trees.
Early on, we visited our usual park and not another human could be seen. It was a cool, cloudy day and the green of the grass had that enchanted quality to it.
We walked slowly through an empty church-school parking lot and were about to cross a service street to get to the park. That’s when I noticed a white figure standing across the grassy field — a Great Egret. Probably one of my spirit animals.
I had never seen one at this particular park. Anytime I do see one around town, I typically just watch it, quietly.
I laughed as I realized the moral dilemma I was in. Through our time together, it has become possible for me to let Biggie off the leash, when the moment has seemed appropriate. He is an incredibly smart, well-trained, sweet dog. An empty park was prime time for letting him free. But I’d seen Biggie chase other creatures before so I knew if he caught sight of the bird, he might run for it.
Here we stood, the three of us — Bird, Biggie, and Me. I felt confident in all of us to shine our best.
I let him off leash. After peeing on a nearby tree, he spotted the bird and took off like lightning. The bird flew away and Biggie chased him clear across the park, but never could catch him. Later, we came back to where we’d started and the egret had returned to where it started, seemingly unbothered by our presence. Biggie, still off leash, simply looked at the bird this time. I smiled at us.
Three weeks later, the sun was shining bright. As we walked this morning, I saw other humans on our way to the park, running, cycling, walking. As we left the park, a car passed us by and a woman waved as her dogs barked out the window. We had just met them yesterday, from a safe, physical distance.
We turned the corner and kept walking. Soon, there was a couple running on the other side of the street, waving at us, too. As we crossed through a crosswalk, someone waved at us from inside their car. In fact, I’ve never given or received so many waves on a dog walk as I did today. And there were relatively so few humans out and about.
Was it because Biggie is a super cute old man dog who looks kind of like a fox? Was it because I was rocking out to 80’s music and dance-walking my way along the sidewalk? Was it because me and Biggie clearly like going for walks together?
Maybe. I’m sure these things contributed to the waves in their own ways. I get the sense there was more to it, though.
Walking Biggie in the time of Corona has shown me so much. It has reaffirmed my love for my work. It has given me glimpses of the kindness of others. It has made me sit with all the complexities of emotion we are dealing with in this time, and allowed me to more fully accept it as a wild and wonderful kaleidoscope, instead of something to fear.
More than anything, walking the dog in the time of Corona has given me so much hope for humanity. It has reminded me how much humans love to be connected to one another. And how beautiful it is when we are.
Thank you to Biggie’s mom who gave me permission to share about our adventures.