I scrolled through photos of my new foster dog, showing each and every one to my friend Rick like a giddy teenager showing her friend a new crush.
“Just adopt him already. He’s clearly yours,” he said with a sigh on that Thanksgiving night, 2013.
“I can’t adopt him. My life’s not set up to have a dog,” I said as if this was a totally obvious and permanent situation.
“Well,” he said matter-a-factly, “Maybe it’s time you changed your life.”
I had never considered that. I had thought of life as something that happened to me, not something I had control over. But he was right. You can change your life, and what better reason to do so than for love.
Over the past many weeks, an entire world has changed their lives. All for love: love of one another to keep each other safe. People have gone from sitting at restaurants to learning to cook; from having meetings in conference rooms to joining the conversation while in their basements. We’ve stopped gathering at playgrounds and parks and now play board games with the family. We’ve learned to have patience, remembering that there was a time when 2-day delivery was unimaginable and we all survived.
We’ve had to slow down, but are still able to utilize technological advances. While many parents are still overcoming the challenge of working from home while providing child care full time, children are trying to learn in a digital world without classrooms and recess. Those who are riding this out alone now are settling with digital meet-ups and virtual happy hours to connect with friends.
While our human lives have changed for the seemingly worse, our pets’ lives have come out ahead. Not only are pet parents home all day, but many pets who found themselves homeless in March have been the recipient of the most overwhelming collective compassion animal shelters have ever seen.
For the shelters who put out an urgent call for fosters and adopters before they were forced to shut their doors to the public, the response was nothing short of miraculous. People who probably felt as I always had (“My life isn’t set up for a dog”), found their lives suddenly changed, and a furry companion fit right in. Pets who had been abandoned were instantly given a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in, and a level of love and attention they never dreamed of.
Adopting a pet right now is perfect timing: we’re home and can devote enormous amounts of time and energy to a new family member. We can acclimate them to our lives, spend hours training with them, and dote upon them 24/7. While this is cause for celebration, I feel a small ball of worry tucked away in my otherwise joyous heart.
Because life changes.
People didn’t change their lives to adopt a pet; their lives changed, and with new circumstances they felt they were able to foster or adopt. But just as the grand shift of life happened shortly after Spring began, life will shift again soon. Slowly work, school, and commerce will open enough to where we will not be spending every waking moment confined to our homes.
People ask “What will happen when we go back?” The answer is we aren’t going back; we can only move forward. But in doing so, we get an incredible opportunity to change our lives by choosing what we keep and what we discard from this version of life.
One thing is for certain: when life speeds up again, our pets will still be by our side. Those furry companions who saw us through this isolating, difficult time are not going to abandon us. In return, we need to commit to not abandoning them in whatever Life 3.0 holds.
What will the world look like a year from now? It’ll look like whatever we choose it to look like.
Choose to include the pets we’ve committed to, and who have committed to us.
Pets aren’t expendable toys or just convenient companions during a pandemic. Pets are love. When we choose to adopt, we commit to bringing love into our family for a lifetime.
I did change my life after that fateful Thanksgiving dialogue. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Tucker, the foster dog I rearranged my life for is brindle pit bull. But that’s just the package he came in. Tucker was, and is as every pet is, love.
The tweaks I made to accommodate love weren’t sacrifices. Anything we give up for love isn’t a sacrifice; they are just things that hold a place for love to flood into once we let them go.
So as we begin to refill our calendars with lunch dates and movies and concerts and outings, remember that love is still sitting at your feet, lying on the couch, and snoring in your bed. Love has filled in many of the empty spaces we were left with when we all closed our front doors. Now that our door is opening again, we cannot just leave that love behind.
Find restaurants that allow dogs on patios, invite friends over for a night of games and some kitten cuddles, find dog friendly trails to explore, and when you must go on a solely human adventure, hire a pet sitter to care for the love you will never abandon.
If you will be going back to work outside the home, inquire with your employer if pets are allowed in the office; make plans to go home at lunch to visit your pet or see if a neighbor can help out with afternoon visits or walks. Start interviewing dog walkers and looking into doggy daycare now so you’ll be ready when you and your love will be prepared to transition to a whole new routine.
Our pets will have to adapt to our new lives as we too will adapt, as we both adapted this time. But don’t go back to the life you had before; go forward with the love you invited into your home faithfully by your side.
Love is always worth changing your life for. Whether by forces beyond our control or carefully designed by us, life is ever-changing. But Love… Love is forever.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.