My dog Elsa isn’t always the best on a walk. A beagle/corgi mix, she’ll pull and pull, tail wagging, nose and mouth to the ground. You’ll often find her trying to sneak pistachio shells from a tree pit or swiping gum from the sidewalk, always with a little “I know I shouldn’t be doing this” smirk.
She’s one of those dogs that people smile at as they stroll by. Plodding along on her squat legs, she takes the shape of a wiggling challah, long ears flopping in the wind and her friendly hound snout regularly turning up to greet passersby.
Elsa came to us 6 years ago from a family with a pair of 7-year-olds, and yes, she’s named after that Elsa. (The name suited her, so we kept it.) She’s particularly attuned to kids and their flailing appendages, likely because she is also just a foot or two off the ground. It’s hard for little ones to resist her charms—she’ll roll right up to them, planting a wet nose boop on their cheek, sniffing their hair with all her might. I have no children of my own, and this is one of my favorite ways to interact with them: to see their eyes watch her, and Elsa tug to greet them, and the unbridled joy she brings them by just existing in the world. She makes it easier to talk with strangers on the street, a little power broker of connection.
But these days, I can't let them pet her.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, we can still go on walks but are dutifully staying six feet away from other people when we're out. Other dogs aren’t really Elsa's cup of tea, so avoiding them has always been part of our outdoor routine. Dog parks are not hard to avoid; off-leash hours aren't our thing. But distancing from people, and especially kids, is not exactly Elsa's strong suit. I just didn’t expect to miss her interactions with children so much.
Now, when a child passes by and longingly looks over their shoulder at Elsa, we can’t double back to offer a quick pet or a small hello. When a parent points her out, we have to hold off on initiating a meet-and-greet. If Elsa starts to approach someone, we have to draw her back to our side instead of letting her find a new friend. I’m grateful to have her cheerful soul in our lives through this time, but one of her best traits is the happiness she brings to everyone else with which she crosses paths.
It hasn't been proven that the virus can exist on pet fur, but with the possibility of asymptomatic carriers, distancing from others, and staying inside save for essentials and exercise, it's easier to manage not petting than the other way around. We all, and especially children, need a little extra comfort right now, but a firm 'no petting policy' keeps any concerns at bay.
While so much will, and must, be different after the outbreak passes, I’m holding onto the hope that Elsa will once again get big hugs from tiny arms on the street.
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