What do we do after, to quote a line from the play Hamilton, “The world turned upside down”? I rarely write about current events, but it just feels wrong to not acknowledge the profound effects of the Covid-19 global pandemic. I have several fun topics for posts in the hopper for the near future (how to pick a new dog, how to handle a dog who plays rough, for example), but, like you, our lives here on the farm have been upended by what I am calling “the new abnormal”. But it’s not all bad. Surely there is a silver lining here for dog and cat lovers–surely we can make lemonade as much as possible? That’s what I want to focus on today: How can we pet owners take advantage of the cancellation of so much of the rest of our lives?
I should preface this post by saying that everyone has to make their own choices about how to behave, but Jim and I are playing it cautious and canceling almost everything that would take us off the farm. We are convinced of the seriousness of this disease, and that stopping “community spread” and “flattening the curve” is the most responsible thing to do. That’s before there a lot of cases in one’s own locality. As a good friend of mine said, “Be more cautious than you think you need to be.” We are all swamped with information about the pandemic and how to handle it, so I’m just going to link to one excellent source for data nerds like me, and leave it at that.
But I do want to brainstorm with you about making “social distancing” and “social isolation” as painless as possible. This morning I sat down with a cup of tea, my favorite pen and notebook and wrote a list of things that I am able to do now that my schedule is cleared. I’d love to hear yours.
Before I start a list, I want to say how grateful I am that “social isolation” isn’t isolation at all for those of us with pets. Here’s to them, and all the comfort, love and oxytocin that they provide us–one of the world’s best ways to strengthen our immune system. (FYI, I am aware of no credible information that dogs or cats can get Covid-19, but they could carry viral particles from one human to another, so be careful there.)
Here’s my list then; which will no doubt be revised and added to in the days to come:
– Cook rice and freeze for when dogs have diarrhea. (Following the usual veterinary advice: First fast, then feed easy to digest foods. I usually use rice with a little chicken broth in it.) I leave a good amount of cooked rice in the freezer for a sitter when I’m gone–it paid off big time when we were in Kenya and the poor sitter had to deal with an outbreak of yuck.
Note, True Story: While I was typing this, Tootsie began whining. “Just a minute, Toots” I said, wanting to finish the paragraph. And then she spewed diarrhea all over the dining room floor. The floor is now mopped, Tootsie has had a bath and received metronidazole, the vet is called, and the already cooked rice is out of the freezer. Words fail here.
Toots requests that Tall Two-Leg Female start paying more attention to her rather than writing about paying more attention to your dogs.
– Catch up on training videos. So many great places to go! I’ll be watching some of the herding videos from The MacRae Way Academy. Friend and kick ass trainer Laura Monaco Torelli has a vast range of free training videos which I’ll catch up on, as does Emily Larlham of Kikopup on Youtube. The Learning Center on my website also has articles and videos on training. Maybe pick one aspect of training you’d like to delve into, and go from there? What are your other favorite sites?
– Train new trick. (Cat lovers too! Cats are great at doing tricks!) This is my all time favorite way to deal with cabin fever for both me and my dogs. I love that tricks feel so light and fun–a good reminder of how easy it is to fall into angst if some kind of “obedience” exercise isn’t going well. So: Define every thing as a fun trick, teach a new one or improve a cue that needs a little spiffing up, and have a ball doing it. My “new trick” agenda is easy–nothing like a new dog to write it’s own list. Skip and I are working on so many things, including Turn Your Head to Me When I Give Another Dog a Treat (a “Leave It” equivalent without a word being spoken), Back Up When I Touch The Door Handle, Stop and Stand Still Even When Running Outside, Stand Quietly For Muddy Paw Cleaning, Walk on a Leash Politely When Going Out to Work Sheep, Keep All Paws on the Ground When Being Petted, Look at Me When You See a Cat, Go to a Mat in the Kitchen when I say Relax, and, drumroll please, Do Just About Anything Besides Stare Obsessively Out the Window Looking for a Cat. And that’s not even the list related to working sheep. (Which is going well by the way, although we have our challenges.) So yeah, I’m good for a list on what to work on! What about you?
This is a huge victory! Skip is chewing on his Kong rather than obsessively looking at the window in case a cat shows up. More on this in a separate blog. (Nothing like a new dog to give a person a lot to write about.)
– Groom, and/or clean out pet supply shelves and cabinets. I try to be sure to groom the dogs at least on Sunday, but, of course, that kind of commitment, is, uh, flexible. But what a great opportunity to get a handle on what we have, what we need to order, what dog or cat needs her nails trimmed or their coats brushed. Or a bath cuz they just had diarrhea all over themselves. Just saying.
This is but one of five different places in the house where dog supplies are kept. Yup, I need to follow my own advice here . . . (Glinda, the Good Witch on the right, is an important part of my dog training procedures. She was given to me by some other trainers, and I have cherished her ever since. Her poor little hand was broken off, so she is awaiting repairs in the mud/supply room. Do wish her well.)
– Sort through dog photos, get enlargements if you can do it digitally. If not, at least get them organized so that you’re ready to take them in once you’re comfortable going into town. You can imagine that I have a ridiculous number of dog photographs, in a ridiculous number of places. Someday I’ll get them better organized. Will this be the “day”? Hmmm, no promises made here. But surely I can start the wall of family photographs that I’ve planned to do in “my free time” for the last four winters. Here’s a link to a review of the online photo enlargement/print businesses, and here’s a link to my favorite local camera store’s online services, at the Camera Company. So: Who are you going to get an enlargement of? I’m going to get one of Willie, my Silly Billy Willie Boy.
– Find pet-related note cards on line, order and write to friends. What is more special than getting a real note or letter in the mail nowadays? (You can guess my age because I just said “nowadays”. Who uses that word nowadays?) You can personalize a note card with your own dog, you can search Amazon for pet-related note cards, you can get funny cards about bored Border Collies, and you can order Gary Larson cartoon cards. (I don’t think there is a grad student in any biological field that doesn’t have a Gary Larson cartoon on their door.) The sky is the limit, right? Well, actually, our budgets are the limit, but hey, these are trying times.
Is this not the coolest card ever for a sheep and sheepdog owner? You can find them at www.myfavoritesheep.com.
– Virtual Field Trips: One last thought, for everyone of any age: How about taking some virtual field trips through museums around the country? Or, for my bird lover friends, checking in on live cams in bird nests around the world?
– Last but not Least by any means: Cuddle on the couch with your dog/cat/husband/partner/lover/stuffed animal and stare out the window or watch nature shows on TV. I’m not kidding here. (Especially about the stuffed animal–I took one on book tour for the Education of Will and it was a god’s send.). I reread the list above the day after writing it, and realized that’s it’s a typical Trisha Type A list. And that after writing it, I didn’t to do anything, but walk the dogs, help a friend with a ram who needed care, work the doges on sheep, clean an area in the kitchen (cleaning feels great!) and cuddle on the couch with my dogs/husband-lover-friend all the rest of the evening. I did not suck my thumb, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I think we should post photos of ourselves doing so with the title “The One Time It’s OK to Touch Your Face”.
What I’m saying here is that this is traumatic for all of us, and sometimes what we need to do is acknowledge how much we are losing, how strange and unchartered are the waters we treading in, and that sometimes it’s okay to get what we need, even that does mean binge watching The British Baking Show for the third time. (Just saying.)
I’m sure you all have lots of other great ideas. Along with some of the above, I’ll be doing lots of cooking (poor me), lots of work with the BCs on sheep (poor me), and lots of contact with dear friends through the phone, letters and on line. You?
I do want to say one more thing: I am so sorry for all of you who are struggling financially because of this global nightmare. Folks with small businesses that rely on in-person transactions are truly hurting. Jim and I have agreed to do all we can to support them, by buying gift certificates from local restaurants, ordering on line when possible, and refusing refunds from things we’ve already paid for that had to be cancelled. If you can possibly afford it, please help local dog groomers, vet clinics, restaurants, etc etc. If you are the one struggling, I hope that those around you can turn out to help–don’t be shy about asking for it.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Life goes on as usual for the dogs. Maggie and Skip play hard twice a day, but it goes best if Skip has a toy in his mouth. They love to play tug, and he’s absolutely fine when she tries to take it out of his mouth (lots of chase games associated with that–Maggie is brilliant at figuring out how she can best get a hold of it when it’s in his mouth), but he can be a jerk (mouthy, body slamming) if he doesn’t have a toy on his mouth. We have other words for him when he’s being a jerk, but I’ll spare your tender ears.
Skip is one of the happiest dogs I have ever met. That’s without a doubt the main reason that he’s our dog now. Happy dog, happy Trisha.
Ghost Kitty (aka Polly), would like to remind us that it’s not all about the dogs.
Please be safe out there, I send you my warmest wishes for safety and health.