Hanging Out with My Dogs Has Become the Best Self-Care There Is
This one goes out to Kingsley, Krystal and Escobar
If I were to definitively rank the subjects of the Instagram Stories I consume on the daily, the hierarchy would be as follows:
1. Food, sometimes ordered in, often home-cooked and around 90% of the time, some form of bread or pastry;
2. Workouts, which tend to fall under two umbrellas: the indoor cycling sort and the Chloe Ting variety; and
3. Dogs. So. Many. Dogs.
And while the Leo moon in me longs to differentiate myself from the rest of the round icons that line the top of your Instagram home screen, I’ve earned enough keep-it-real points throughout the quarantine to admit that these three things—along with a tightly packed cup of social media activism and a heaping spoonful of Zoom calls—are pretty much all the ingredients that make up the recipe of my unexciting, locked-down life. That last thing on the list specifically, has become extremely important. The dogs, I mean.
As I write this, my three sources of sanity are all within a 10 meter vicinity of my body.
If I take a glance to my left (just did) I’ll see Escobar, a teacup Yorkshire terrier with whom I share a birthday. He’s laying in his cage, favoring the prospect of sleep over his bowl of lunchtime kibble. He’s got one paw pushing beyond the railings as he lays sprawled on the cage floor, head tipped back ever so slightly in an angle that demands to be noticed. He’s only ever put in isolation when it’s mealtime, which also happens to be his least favorite time of day. I’d like to think that our shared-birthday-telepathy (it’s a thing) affirms my understanding that he’d much rather be eating the human food he sees us snacking on instead.
When he gets out of his cage, it’ll be our turn to eat lunch. He’ll sit by our feet, head tipped up again—only less dramatic and more forlorn as he asks for a shred of chicken or piece of beef steak he already knows he won’t receive. He’ll do the same thing over dinner, but not before inviting each member of the family to play a game of not-quite-fetch (he struggles with returning the toy, instead bringing it close but never letting it go.) Not-quite-fetch only becomes actual fetch, we’ve found, when there are treats on the line. Dentastix are his favorite.
Kingsley, with whom I share my whole heart, is who you’d see when you look up the words “good boy” in the dictionary. He’s Escobar’s polar opposite: almost always quiet, even when begging for a bite of your food. You could put him on your lap while you scarf down your dinner, and he wouldn’t lunge forward in the hopes of stealing a bite. While Scoby is quick to perform tricks for treats, Kingsley isn’t quite as successful in choreographed performances. Instead, he’ll make this wide-eyed, tooth-flashing expression at you—we swear he’s smiling—and win you over with his charm and Gardenia loaf-shaped form. If our pets were marine animals, Kingsley would be the whale shark: the gentle giant of the Treñas family household.
Oh, he just peered through the glass panel on the kitchen door. A quiet kind of curious, Kingsley has developed a habit of doing that lately: peeking into the living room and hallways leading to our bedrooms. He never trespasses beyond the kitchen unless called, which he does either out of respect for what Escobar has claimed as his space, or fear of being playfully mauled by a Yorkie half his size. I’ve tried to get him comfortable exploring beyond the kitchen, but he’s always preferred it, relying on the tiled floors to keep him cool throughout his naps. Instead, we bond every night when I share a small portion of my nightly Yakult. He waits for me to show up after dinner, watches as I drink my share of the bottle, and licks up his share of the stuff from the palm of my hand. I’m not typically one for routines, but… Alexa, play The Only Exception by Paramore.
I can’t see Krystal, with whom I share my childhood, but she doesn’t have to be in sight for me to know she’s just a few steps away. If I were to stand up from the dining chair I’m on, enter the kitchen and make a left, I’d find her curled up in either of two prime real estate locations: on the khaki-colored rug in front of the sink, or just a few steps away on the makeshift rag fashioned out of an old pair of shorts.
Closing in on 14, Krystal doesn’t do much besides sleep these days. If I’m being completely honest, I taste the anxiety on my tongue when I think about her age or see her sleeping too deeply. Or dwell on the fact that she’s completely blind now and has to bump her way through a room to figure out where she wants to go. But if Krystal’s 14-year track record punctuated by cancer survival, a failed pregnancy, the birth of Kingsley and his siblings and plenty of dog bites has taught me anything, it’s that she’s a fighter. A literal bad bitch. She’s the blueprint.
It’s said that the phrase “man’s best friend” was first attributed to dogs in the 18th Century, when Frederick the Great of Prussia described one of his Italian greyhounds as such. In 1821, poet C.S. van Winkle used the phrase in a piece published in The New-York Literary Journal. 50 years later, Attorney George Graham Vest used the phrase in his impassioned appeal to a jury. Closer to a eulogy than a closing argument, he represented a farmer whose dog had been shot down by a neighbor. Today, the phrase still rings true. “Man’s best friend” remains a go-to descriptor, the first three words we pick out of a bag of adjectives when dogs are the topic. If I were to quote any part of Graham Vest’s speech, whether it be “He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side,” or “When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens,” it still feels true enough to make me want to reach for a Kleenex.
It’s a time when uncertainty, anger, or anxiety—or all three—are through the roof. Between the looming threat of the pandemic, an extended quarantine period and a police force that blatantly lies to protect itself, the idea of a lasting source of self-care seems elusive at times. But as we grasp at whatever form of reprieve we can afford ourselves, I’m glad that I have three non-humans to wait out the lockdown with. Sanity takes shape in attempting to teach Escobar a trick, feeding Kingsley probiotics out of my palm, making sure Krystal is curled up in her bed before I sleep. It’s constant. It’s safe.
Is it shallow? Maybe. But for now, it’s enough.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver