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Illustration by Drew Shannon

There is only one good way to survive the lockdown of normal social life as the COVID-19 virus spreads. It doesn’t involve watching the news on television all day long, nor going on a shopping expedition for supplies to hoard. Hiding away from all living beings isn’t the answer either. There is just one solution: Get a dog. Dogs are supremely adapted for maintaining calm during a crisis like the current one. They actively applaud the return to a simpler life that is now being forced upon Canadians.

The three dogs in the pack that I belong to are all philosophers and have been teaching me life lessons for years. In dog philosophy, it is the basics that count. Maggie, a mastiff cross, Billy, a boxer cross, and Chiwee, a Chihuahua, like to get out and about for lots of exercise, but they don’t like crowds. Two of the three pack members have been observing the two-metre social-distance rule with human strangers long before health authorities promoted it as protection from infection. It’s fine if we know someone and are sure they are safe, but otherwise most of the pack keep some distance initially. We like to be outside and don’t seek out enclosed spaces such as shopping malls or stadiums. On the occasions when I have taken one of them into a mall as part of a dog-training course, for teaching calmness in the face of crowds, the security guard has usually spotted us and made us leave. “Told you it wasn’t a good idea,” Maggie’s knowing look noted one time.

The one member of our household who is enjoying self-isolation: our pets

The pack lives in the present. They haven’t been thinking much about the market crash and the damage that may have been done to their stock portfolios. What is done is done, and the pack does not look back. Even less do they worry about tomorrow. “Tomorrow is another day,” said Scarlett O’Hara one night as we sat on the couch watching Gone With the Wind. A movie, as my dogs must have noticed, that was unkind to horses and discriminated against dogs in the casting of roles.

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The pack prefers a simple life. The dogs disapprove of me going to faraway places on jet planes. They term it “vacuous tourism” and deplore the unnecessary carbon emissions from such trips. The sense of reproach is so transparent, the relief at my return so clearly expressed, that I seldom leave town. There is no need when my best friends are right here wanting to be with me.

Even day trips in the car are not very popular unless the pack can ride along and I agree to roll down the windows for them. Their needs are modest. The pack likes to have a roof over their heads, some heat for the house in the winter and all of us being together. They like to have lots of food, but are not fussy about which brand of kibble is served. For beverages, water does fine. Being committed environmentalists, the pack does not buy water in those plastic bottles. Indeed, they are entirely content, feeling thirsty while out on a ramble, to drink from a puddle.

In our pack, we find routine comforting and that’s another good habit for managing coronavirus-induced displacement. One of our members wakes all the rest up at exactly the same time every morning. After breakfast, we go out for a short walk and bathroom break. The dogs are on the leading edge of social trends by not using toilet paper. After a morning walk, they are content to lie about for several hours, watching for passersby on the street to bark at from the window. The dogs feel nothing is gained by obsessing over the latest statistics on COVID-19. Better to dream of hunting trips where a dozen hounds chase some wild boar or stag. We stir after lunch to go on our long walk. There is no rush on these outings, we sniff around and enjoy the fact that we are still alive. It is nice then to come home, eat some more kibble and sleep on the sofa. Another short walk at bedtime helps the pack members settle in for bed, and that’s another successful day completed.

When health does deteriorate, as it will for some as this virus spreads, dog philosophy again gives guidance. Sick dogs don’t complain. They lie quietly and wait. They do appreciate that their medical care is available instantly and assume the same holds for humans. In our pack, if a dog does have a medical emergency we can expect to be at the vet within the hour. If the worst comes to the worst, well, the vet will be kind. We all have to go some time.

For dogs, the COVID-19 crisis means there will be more humans at home to look after them who are looking for crowd-avoidant things to do. The dogs are well pleased.

Humans can profit by heeding the dogs’ counsel: news obsessing, Facebook devouring or e-mail addiction won’t make the virus go away or relieve your anxiety. The things that work are sniffing, barking, walking, eating, nipping pack colleagues and sleeping.

John Goyder lives in Oakville, with Maggie, Billy and Chiwee.

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