Our household includes our pets. We have a dog and a cat, well, a snake too but if you’ve read any of my past articles, you know the resentment I have toward owning the snake.
Anyway, this story begins with a road trip to Kansas to visit my mother. This past, quarantined, June myself (driver), and five other passengers: my niece, my son, my daughter, and two dogs (Leo and Elvis) rented a huge SUV for everyone’s comfort and headed out. It was going to be great! It was…until Leo decided he wanted to eat Elvis. The remainder of the trip was centered around keeping these two dogs apart. We had an excellent visit in Kansas and the day came to return east. The decision was made, (meaning I pleaded with my mother) to leave my dog, Elvis, with her in Kansas. I would fly out on a cheap, quarantine time ticket, and return with my dog in a month or so. Solution!
I explain this because the “solution” ended up taking approximately five months. My daughter and I did return for a visit within that time but was not able to drive. At least we had “visitation” with Elvis.
I explain this, not to go into the luxuries of road tripping with dogs, teenagers, and a college student, (because you know…that was a dream come true), but to focus on the importance our pet has within my little family. At first, it was kind of nice to be able to be gone for a night or two and not worry about “the dog.” It didn’t last long and we really started to miss him.
I continued to work from home and continued to find reasons to drag my daughter out of her room during quarantine. When Elvis was with us, there was purpose for her to take him for a walk. “Elvis needs you,” I would say. The cat would make things worse. If she was laying on my daughter’s lap that was more reason NOT to move.
Over and over my daughter and I would say to each other, “I just miss Elvis.” I honestly didn’t think I would miss the letting outside, and back in. The absolute meltdown my dog has for 10 minutes when someone comes home or leaves. I wouldn’t miss his snoring for sure, or the dog hair to clean. The reality? During this time, was my daughter’s continued detachment from me. Now this is inevitable because she is 13 and I am the controlling parent. There will be this separation for any parent and teenager. But without Elvis, it just seemed more… “empty” in the house creating extra distance between us. Especially because we, my daughter and I, were in the house all day, every day… together, for a while!
I would force my daughter on walks with me or blackmail her to get outside. Articles on the connection between mental health and exercise did not interest her in the least.
Finally, the day came when I was able to fly to Kansas and return with my mother, her dog, and my dog, all in tow. I’m not going to say everything has returned to pre-teen relationship status between my daughter and I, however, there is an aura in the house that has returned. Elvis gives my daughter a little more purpose. Taking him for a walk or rewarding him with a treat. I hear her laugh more often because he wants her to play. The three of us play and run together. Without Elvis involved, she would roll her eyes and shake her head at me if I want to be silly.
During the height of quarantine, most cities in America reported a double in adoption rates for dogs. At first this scared me because I thought people would be irresponsible at this rate. Now I look back and see this probably saved many people from emotional fallout over being alone. Our pets are so extremely important for children, especially when their “normal” has been turned upside down.
Until Elvis was gone, I didn’t realize how quiet it can be to come home. I didn’t realize how much my children need that extra purpose in their lives. When he returned, it opened my eyes to his contribution to our family. There are days my children and I get irritated with each other or a teenager’s door slams due to “stupid rule.” Sometimes, on these days, I can talk them into a hike or walk if we bring Elvis with us. If the only connection on those days is this, we all still love the dog and he loves all of us, then that is enough.