We recently lost our beloved golden retriever, Layla. His departure left a huge hole in the house and in our hearts at a time when we needed his endless joy, compassion and affection more than ever. Losing a pet may seem like a small tragedy compared to the ongoing pandemic, but it devastated us nonetheless.
Due to COVID restrictions, our family has been mourning home alone. As I staggered in pain, desperately losing my intimate physical, emotional, and spiritual relationship with this innately loving creature, an idea occurred to me. On some levels, it was a bit strange, but I decided to step out of my comfort zone.
I put an ad on Next to Sorich Park, our online neighborhood bulletin board in Marin County, California, titled “The grieving family needs canine healing.” Attaching a photo of Layla, I said that I would love to take a neighbor’s dog for a walk or just play in the garden, and assured readers that I have been applying strict security measures.
I also mentioned that I would be particularly interested in meeting other golden retrievers; I like almost all dogs, but once you have a golden, you get a lifetime membership to a club where you naturally gravitate towards your fellow devotees.
Within minutes of posting, the likes, emojis, and comments started pouring in, a stream that soon turned into a flood. There were expressions of sympathy, stories of people’s own losses, and recommendations for local golden retriever adoption.
Many included photos of their own pets; two sent beautiful poems; and one included a link to an online support group for pet beating. I even got a message from the San Rafael Police Department to visit their official comfort dog. The best summons I have ever received.
During the following week, I received 420 responses, including 140 comments. I was simply overwhelmed by this outpouring of empathy. Messages from 25 previously unknown neighbors welcomed me to meet their puppies, 15 of them golden retrievers. How can complete strangers be so generous during a health crisis, when we are so focused on our own well-being?
As the offers kept coming, I realized that I had found a rich vein of humanity at a time when we really need a more personal connection. While we all want to feel loved, I believe that we have an equally primary need to give love, and dogs bless us with abundant opportunities to express our devotion.
I work from home, so I watched Layla all day, every day, and I rarely walked past her without stopping to rub her soft head, neck, back or belly, feeling a gentle jolt of loving energy creep up my arm and reach my heart. and brain. During our 12 years together, I can honestly say that I enjoyed every hit.
People always talk about the cuteness, lack of judgment, and unconditional love they get from their dogs, but I also know that Layla continually evokes these same qualities in me. I think the reason people responded so viscerally to my ad was that it allowed them to share their best friends and the best of themselves.
Two weeks after the publication of my post, I started to organize the game schedules. It was almost like Tinder, where I kept swiping right for my next candidate. Now I have six dates, from 10 weeks to 11 years. Turns out there’s a little golden candy right down the block that became an instant friend.
And talk about magic: after a few minutes of sitting together with the police dog, Blue, suddenly put his front paws on my shoulders to give me a hug. I would have started crying if I wasn’t smiling so much under my mask. Somehow, he just knew.
Under the Bay Area stay-at-home orders, we are only supposed to go out shopping for food, recipes, and exercise outside. Meetings with my new furry friends fit all these criteria: food for my soul, strong medicine for my pain, and fresh air for me and my canine companion.
Although my heart still aches, I am also filled with gratitude, both for my dear friendship with Layla and for the unexpected kindness of so many strangers. And the bonus lesson from this wonderful experience: they were right next door all this time.
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