Late one night in early May, during the height of the shutdown, our Boston Terrier had his first seizure.
His body was rigid and thrashing about, and there was foam coming out of his mouth. While my husband Howard pushed a blanket under the dog, I ran downstairs to the first floor, yelling our veterinarian’s name. That’s because we had the amazing luck of living upstairs from our vet, the wonderful Dr. Susan Ryan, in our former Park Slope building. (We moved to a new place in August.)
Even though it was just past 11 p.m. Dr. Ryan burst out of her apartment and came running up the stairs with me. The grand mal seizure was already over, although our dog, Wilson, was still in a post-seizure state. Dr. Ryan sat with us on the floor in the dark to help calm him (and us too). In that moment, it was hard to make sense of what had happened and my husband and I were grateful for her presence. We didn’t even notice until later that we were in our pajamas and we were not wearing our masks.
She came running again when the second grand mal happened a week later. By the third one, we were comfortable handling it on our own, and told her about it later. (If you are going to adopt a dog with a health issue, I wholeheartedly recommend having a vet for your NYC neighbor.)
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Small seizures began to happen daily, sometimes twice a day. They only lasted a minute or two, never longer. The grand mals happened every several days, until we were able to control them with medication (first we tried a drug called Keppra, now he’s on Phenobarbital and doing better. Do not send us advice about natural alternatives; we tried everything to avoid serious drugs. It didn’t work.)
It was clear we couldn’t leave the dog alone. Strangely enough, that hasn’t been a problem at all. That’s because during the pandemic, everything about our newly shrunk-down, stay-at-home lifestyle has turned into a bonanza for our dog.
Going out to eat at a New York City restaurant with outdoor seating? Naturally, we bring the dog now. Working from home? Staff meetings on Zoom? With the dog, of course! A walk in the middle of day? Not a problem for us pandemic dog owners. (Our dog walker, sadly, is out of luck.)
The first time we went to a restaurant with outdoor dining along with our dog was a revelation. As New Yorkers we move fast when we’re outside, so slowing down for a meal and taking in the scenery feels very new. Our favorite place for brunch, Zatar, has seating on a side street, not an avenue, which is key to a peaceful outdoor dining experience in my book. (Outdoor seating alongside moving traffic? I don’t think so.) The tables are spaced far enough apart to feel safe from potential infection. When we eat there, the dog lounges at our feet and I imagine this is what outdoor dining in Paris feels like.
Outdoor dining with the dog is not the only culinary pandemic boon. My husband figured out a workaround to the problem of picking up breakfast while walking the dog.
Even before the pandemic, and before the seizures started, he insisted he couldn’t leave the dog tied up outside a store or deli for a quick dash inside (he’s convinced someone would steal our dog). So he could never buy anything when he was out with the dog, and that needed to change.
It all started with an egg on a roll. My husband asked me to go with him on a morning walk so I could watch the dog while he went inside Baked, a popular bakery in nearby Greenwood, to get his favorite breakfast. There we noticed bakery staff running bags of pastries and coffee outside to police officers in their cars and repairmen in their trucks and figured out my participation wasn’t needed.
Now my husband joins this parade of NYC men getting their pastries and breakfast sandwiches. He sits on a bench outside the bakery and enjoys his curbside delivery. In fact, he says, the staff at most delis and casual eateries will come outside to take his order and bring him his food. He eats many breakfasts and lunches like this now.
I’m not put out by this bit of breathing room in our relationship. To be honest, I didn’t really think of myself as a dog owner before the pandemic. Wilson was my husband’s dog. He adopted him in November without telling me; he told me he was going out for a walk and came back with a dog, which I guess was his version of a mid-life crisis. Friends said it was better than a sports car or an affair.
I had known my husband wanted a dog—he was obsessed with them, Bostons in particular. But at that point, we lived in a small apartment and life was so busy (at least it was then). Our daughters’ schedules had us coming and going all the time. Life felt too intense for a dog.
And when he brought home this malnourished puppy that someone dropped off at the shelter near us, all I could think about for some reason was poopy diapers. This would be worse than diapers—there’s no toilet training a dog, as far as I knew. Still, I wanted to give this dog with sad eyes a home. I said the dog could stay but Howard was going to have to do all the work. And he does.
Then the pandemic hit and I found myself working from home. With no commute, I had time in the morning to go on long walks with my husband and the dog in the park. Somehow, in those early months, I fell for the whole owning-a-dog experience: the United Nations-like conference every morning at off leash hours. The instant camaraderie from other dog owners. The chance to reconnect with my spouse. I went to sleep at night craving our walk in the morning. I bought a fanny pack, excuse me, a “belt bag.”
Now that we moved to the edge of the South Slope, I don’t join Howard and Wilson for walks during the week—Wilson’s new medicine makes him sleep later and I need to start my work earlier than my husband. But we walk together on the weekends and it feels like a tune up for body and soul—and our relationship.
In the first weeks of the lockdown, there were memes about cats and dogs wondering why their humans were always home, messing up their daytime routines. To our dog, the fact that the two of us are home with him now 24/7 is completely reasonable. We spend so much time together that we can tell when he’s going to have a seizure before it happens.
In the pandemic, we are the support animals. He is the master. It’s fine.
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