My boss advised against getting a dog. And it should be said that my dog has annoyed my boss, although canine behavior wasn’t the basis of his advice. Since the pandemic pushed our recording sessions fully remote, listeners to The Editors podcast at National Review have heard stray barks, or — and I apologize for this — they heard her panting over my brilliant analysis of the latest Trump tweet. You see, I had forgotten to pull the blinds down, and she saw a squirrel in a nearby tree, and, well, I had to calm her down. But the show must go on, right?
My dog is named Dolly. She is a Kerry blue terrier and just turned one.
Two things changed as the pandemic started. The first is that we moved our family of two adults and three young children out of a small (but beloved) two-bedroom apartment and into a single-family home with a yard. This was less than a month before the great lockdowns began. That was extraordinary good luck. A few weeks later, when the outside world closed down and we’d lost our schools and babysitter, we had a puppy. That was impulsive.
My wife just suggested it, while the kids were in the bath one night. The world was going to shut down. I had pulled my daughter out of school, and then school was shut down a few days later. I wouldn’t be traveling to the office, and we would need something fun to occupy our time. We probably wouldn’t be traveling overseas anytime soon. There was literally no more convenient time to train a dog. And maybe there’d be more dogs available because people were changing plans.
Just as in real estate, we found there were a few weeks of demand crash and stasis in the dog market, followed immediately by a surging demand that far outstripped supply. After a few messages on different Facebook groups, we were the first people on our street with a pandemic dog. Not the last. Goldendoodles, poodle mixes, and the shelter dogs that are always advertised as “Schnauzer mixes” all made their debut in the months afterward. My agent — formerly a Brooklyn guy, who moved into the suburbs — reported that his dog was losing weight during COVID. Such were the walks.
The dog itself was my wife’s concession to me. The name was mine to her. We drew up lists and mine was filled with the likes of Rosín (Ro-sheen), and Méabh (Maeve). Of course, it was a Kerry blue, with all the blarney legends about Ireland’s wild west coast attached to her breed. The Irish nationalist Michael Collins gave his Kerry blue his own prison name, Convict 224. Daniel Tenreiro would say that’s “based,” but imitating Collins now would be “cringe.” Somewhere on my list, I wrote “Dolly.” And that’s what my wife picked.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Dolly needs to be outside four times a day not to ruin our floors. She has figured this out and does her best to accommodate our timing. We haven’t gotten around to building a fence in the backyard, so we need to go out with her. We thought that our house was far back enough from the street that Dolly would not, like the other dogs, bark her head off when dogs pass our property. This was wrong. And besides, there’s no way to pull a house far enough away from the squirrels. Also, at some point, Dolly transferred her primary affection away from me and to my wife — probably because I walk her, but my wife feeds her. Also, the room my wife claimed for her own home office and craft room has a better view of the squirrels.
For a few months there, the toddlers could not stop chasing Dolly around the living room, and there was some nipping. Around month four, we were exhausted from the pandemic and addled by social isolation and “Zoom school.” Dolly would launch herself at any running child. The children would fall and scream like they had been shot. The bearded black bullet had felled them again. Sharp words like “regret” and “mistake” were uttered. But there are no scars and no blood drawn. A few months later, Dolly learned not to nip. Then she mostly learned not to knock them down. She is a goofball with them, and the worst thing she wants to do to the children is steal their toast. It’s weird how much she loves toast! Then again, we butter it with Kerrygold.
Dolly is just 27 pounds, and maybe 18 inches at the withers. And when wet, she looks spindly and fragile. But her fur and beard give her a more imposing look. She has the bark and growl of a much larger dog. When she barks near the front of our house, you can hear our doorbell reverberating from it. She’s still a jet-black bullet. And I found that I’m glad for it.
As with a lot of people, the past year has made me a little more sensitive to threats that aren’t the coronavirus. The political temperature has been building for years, and the number of hate-mailers and anonymous trolls who really do prove to you that they are stalking you online keeps increasing. I thought about investing a significant chunk of my yearly income in a trained “protection dog” at one point.
But Dolly might be enough to fill the “dog layer” of home security. She has a nose for good order. Just one example. She’s gotten used to the idea that at night, she and I are the last ones in. After we take our late-night walk, the front door shuts for good. But this weekend, I remembered just before I fell asleep that I needed to recharge my flashlight, and it was sitting in my coat in our front vestibule. Dolly was on the couch watching the Great British Baking thing with my wife. But when I opened the front door, I heard her leap, and she put on her full doorbell-rattling “big dog” bark, bounding toward the front door. She was a terror. This is the best alarm system money can buy. As she rounded the corner, she realized it was me and gave me an offended look as if to say, “Why are you up and out here?” The tail wagged quizzically, and then she settled and went back to the couch.
That’s our black bullet. The times that she has snapped a lead during a squirrel chase, or that a leash has slipped out of hand while navigating the ice, she tears away. She runs the way a gold-medal Olympic ice skater leaps — with an impossible combination of speed and balletic elegance. It’s a genuinely beautiful and intimidating display. Our worry about how to “get her back” is completely cut through by our smiling admiration in watching her go and go. Eventually we find a piece of dried meat stinky enough to get her back in hand.
And actually, that’s her best value in these times: the simplicity of her needs and instincts. Dogs chase squirrels, they seek tasty food, they frighten evildoers, and at the end of the day, they lay next to the humans they love. Humans can, for a short time, refuse to tend to their needs — for fresh air, sun and feasts, or for recreation, affection, and rest. And in the pandemic, it has been tempting to ignore those physical and mental-health needs. It’s too dangerous to play, or venture, or fight. And damnit, there’s too much important stuff happening on the Internet to rest. But Dolly has been there to remind us what we are.
The icons and the crucifixes in our home call us to attend to the supernatural realities, and our needs for grace, prayer, and contemplation. But Dolly is Nature’s 27-pound icon. She makes it impossible to ignore her needs — and therefore impossible to discount our own.
Five stars. Would recommend.