The dog days of COVID

Five years ago this August I wrote a guest column about the passing of our beloved yellow lab, Sam Adams. A heartbreak for all of us, but as it turns out, our hearts were again captured by another yellow lab, this time a puppy that we named Augustus “Augie” Wilhelm. Augie was a captivating yellow furball who grew to be 95 pounds of unrestrained exuberance and energy.

Augie is smart, as most labs are; he can track a ball thrown over the garage and catch it, put away his toys and (according to my husband) tell time — dinner time. He will dig a hole under the fence, push a tennis ball through and wait expectantly for us to retrieve it (who’s the smart one now?).

It would be fair to say that Augie is less accomplished in skills that seem fairly standard for the Labrador breed. He does not swim (at least not without a life jacket and a handful of treats) and we are grateful that he cannot catch a squirrel or rabbit. He is not mellow or relaxed.

We have worked with several dog trainers to help Augie learn the basics of civilized leash walking, but he has little interest. Better to drag us down the street, holding on to his leash with both hands, like Iditarod contestants who have lost control of the sled.

Whether he behaves like a canine knucklehead or a genius, Augie does excel at one previously unrecognized skill; that of pandemic companion, our COVID security blanket.

During the long months of confinement and uncertainty, Augie helped manage our coronavirus anxieties by forcing us, as dogs do, to live in the moment.

He greeted us every morning full of joy and hopefulness. Canine comfort without judgment. No pressure to write in gratitude journals, practice mindfulness or watch workout videos. Augie’s “self-care” routine is straightforward and persistent.

“Let’s go for a walk, a ride, a nap.”

“Put down that phone and throw the ball, already!”

“Is it time to eat yet? ... What about now?”

Augie doesn’t care if we can bake the perfect loaf of pandemic sour dough and has no interest in critiquing decluttering efforts at all. He didn’t worry if people would be masked or socially distanced or vaccinated and he never felt compelled to attend a Zoom happy hour.

If there is such a thing as a silver lining to an 18-month long global pandemic, it is once again a yellow dog who flops on the floor at our feet, basking in the nearness of his people and reminding us to be grateful that we are together, safe and healthy.

— MaryJo Wangelin of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].