April 29, 2020

Social Distancing? Lessons I’m learning from Walking my Dog.

Dyanne Soulfire


Check out Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


Social Distancing. We Try. We Really Do.

I probably shouldn’t confess this, but Penelope is not cooperating with social distancing.

It’s a beautiful, sunny, crisp, spring-like day. We mostly have the beach to ourselves these days.

On this day, a young man who must be missing spring training, is standing behind a line he’s drawn in the sand. He is in the start position, runner’s arms ready, leaning in, and then…zip! He’s out of the gate for what looks like a 50 or 100-yard dash. He turns around. Back again. And again.

Penelope watches the first dash and quickly decides this is just too good of a game to sit out. Off she goes.

I should probably mention that Penelope, or Sweet P as I call her, is my dog.

Social distancing. Penelope is not onboard. I call her. She looks back at me and looks away again. She stays with the runner. Of course, she gets a pet or two.

There’s no option but to get closer and quickly hook the leash to her collar. I hadn’t intended or anticipated this. Do I talk? Do I hold my breath?

Gleefully escaping from his parents, a little special needs boy beelines to Sweet P totally embracing her, laughing with joy. His parents grin seeing him so happy, seemingly not concerned about social distancing.

He next runs to my runner guy, intending a full-on hug. My runner guy quickly puts up a fist and fist-bumps him, not sure what to do. He later rinsed his hands in the ocean. Who can resist a child who needs a hug from a dog?

A toddler runs across the yard to Sweet P as we walk through the neighborhood, saying, “doggy, doggy.” Her mother asks if her daughter can pet the dog. “Of course,” I say.

The mother hovers protectively over her daughter who giggles as she sinks her hands into Penelope’s fur. I let the leash retract moving closer asking Sweet P to sit. Next thing you know, mom and I are chatting away. A momentary lapse in judgment and the six feet rule.

Adults come out to pet Penelope on occasion too.

It’s a need, I think, to feel and touch another living thing, especially in the absence of other available beings. People are missing their adult children and grandchildren. Kids are missing playmates and teachers. Teenagers and young adults are missing socializing with each other, their primary pastime. Coworkers, church-goers, all missing one another.

A loving, happy dog walking down the road within reach to pet is just too much to resist. I totally understand this very human need.

What to do? Politely say, please don’t pet my dog. That would be hard, but doable. Penelope would probably overrule me anyway.

What are the rules here? Does Sweet P need a bath every time she comes in from a walk? Do I need to disinfect my hands after petting her?

Do I go with my heart or my head? I know the right answer is a little of both. I know I need to remind myself to be a little more cautious, to prepare in advance, to expect the unexpected.

Sometimes, though, a quick, kind, healing pet is all someone needs to get through another day. Could hearing a child’s laughter be a better elixir, a more powerful immune booster than social distancing in the moment?

My heart wants to say yes.


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