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  • Writer's picturePeggy Spear

Pet Projects

You know how it starts. An early nudge in the morning, a sweet lick on your ear. You cuddle closer. Boy, his chest is hairy. It must be age.

Then suddenly, a very rough tongue starts licking your entire face, and two furry paws clamp across your chest. It’s not romance, but the very enthusiastic wake up routine of your dog.

At least that’s how my mornings begin. I realize my husband is up already and getting ready for work. So much for romance. But I also realize I couldn’t be loved more by this not-so-little creature, who will continue to lick my face until I force her to stop.

She is part of a duo of four-legged friends – I refuse to call them Fur Babies – who have literally saved me at least four times in my life. No, they didn’t drag me from a burning house – yet – or attacked a vicious Amazon deliveryman (not that they exist), but Posey and Lola have been there for me at the darkest hours of my life.

We got Posey just days after we lost Woody, the most handsome and faithful pitbull-lab mix anyone could ever imagine. He was the dog that my kids grew up with, the one that greeted them when they returned from school, would hold the leash when we went jogging, and slept at my feet when I worked. Woody almost didn’t make it. He was an incorrigible puppy, and liked to leave presents for us in the dining room and Daddy’s shoes. My husband threatened to return him to the Oakland SPCA. Luckily, he was overruled by me and three little kids.

Of course, my husband was comparing him to Ginny – short for Virginia Woolf – a wolf/malamute mix who was our first dog and was with us the night we got engaged 33 years ago. She graciously welcomed the audacity of us brining three small additions to the household with a wolf’s sense of pack mentality. When the kids played outside, Ginny would circle around to protect them. She died in our arms at age 13.

I’d like to think both Ginny and Woody paw-picked Posey and Lola for me. Posey came from Craig’s List; Lola came to us temporarily – she was a golden retriever puppy my son got his senior year in college. But she’s not a golden retriever: she’s a mix of about six other breeds. She spent her first six months living in a fraternity house. She’s afraid of brooms. When my son moved to an apartment after graduation, they didn’t accept pets. “Mom, what am I going to do?” Well, what did he think would happen?

We agreed to become temporary caretakers of a six-month old puppy, just as Posey was growing out of her puppy years. That was five years ago and there’s no way I’m letting her go.

Posey was my dog, a brindle shepherd mix who was quite incorrigible herself. She ate shoes, backpacks and books. She even ate a Kindle – I guess she got tired of books. She was not happy with the addition of Lola, especially when Lola took over the bed.

But that was the fall my youngest went away to college, and I was an empty nester. They were there for me. They were there for me when I got fired from my first full-time job in 10 years. They were there for me when I had a major anxiety/panic episode and had to leave my next job. And they’ve been with me now throughout the COVID pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is little evidence that companion animals like pets can spread the coronavirus or that pets can become sick from the coronavirus. “So while you are social distancing from other humans, you can give your furry friend a hug without fear. In fact, research suggests that pets help mental health, so relying on your pet during the coronavirus could be what gets you through this difficult time,” it says.

HelpGuide agrees: “Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.”

My two have. They’re odd, bark incessantly at trucks that drive down our street, like to chase little dogs (but are actually scared of them) and they wake me up earlier than I need to wake up. And Lola wedges herself between my husband and me during the night, so it’s like he’s sleeping miles away. But we manage, the same way we did when we had little kids wedged between us. My husband grumbles, but he basks in the adoration of the two dogs when he returns from work.

As for me, they are my best friends, and they protect me from the suburban horrors of a package being delivered or the Shih Tzu on a leash at the dog park. And they protect me from going too crazy in these uncertain times.

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