PAGERIE Guest: May Ping Wong On Why Dogs Are Our Heroes During the Pandemic

In early 2020, the Covid-19 virus spread quickly across Europe and an impending lockdown in the UK seemed inevitable. With the fear of the unknown arriving on our shores, face masks, gloves, and hand gels flew off the shelf. By the time the lockdown was in place, not a roll of toilet paper could be found on supermarket shelves – a strange and slightly comical worldwide phenomenon.

If the dogs knew what was about to happen, they would probably have been thrilled at the prospect of their humans being home with them 24/7. However, because we live in an apartment in central London with no outdoor space, my first thoughts revolved around how was I going to manage their exercise needs, not to mention their daily multiple bathroom breaks?

Thankfully, when the lockdown was announced in late March, the Government issued guidelines listing dog-walking as an essential activity.

I looked forward to our daily outings around the neighbourhood, along almost deserted streets, as we headed to the park nearest to us. Spring was in the air and we sauntered along in mild weather, passing houses with gardens now waking from dark winter days. Daffodils were emerging with their still-shy yellow blooms curled in on themselves. In this neighbourhood where I have lived for the past twenty years, I noticed everything, anew, every little detail of architecture, the gardens, and surrounding nature.

Upon arriving at our destination, the dogs would dash around the park, happily chasing each other.

They were completely oblivious that the world around them was slowly grinding to a halt. I would sit on a park bench and quietly contemplate how much our lives have changed. It also brought that sometimes overwhelming sense that I was alone in this pandemic. Yes, I had my dogs and I would be bereft without them, but I did not have another to unload the heavy thoughts building within me. On the flip side, I would look up in the skies when an aeroplane flew overhead. Until the pandemic, that was just part of the noise pollution, but now they made me wonder why these people were still travelling during a lockdown.

Once back at home, shielded indoors from the virus, each day easily melted into the next with nowhere to go except for the need to get up each morning to feed and walk Darcy and George. Both dogs, inspired by their keen internal clocks and empty stomachs, gently nudged me whenever it is feeding time. They provided me with a structure and purpose for each day. I had a responsibility to them and they never let me forget it. And when I settled back to watch yet another TV series, they were my loyal companions, offering back to me the comfort I had provided them.

I tried to assign myself various tasks to bring purpose and joy into my days.

One activity was to teach Darcy and George new tricks as a way to engage and entertain myself and them. Darcy is ten, and George is approximately seven. I thought what you are thinking now: “Can an old dog learn new tricks?” While the task seemed daunting, the journey turned out to be delightfully enlightening and rewarding. Throughout the process, I learnt more about their personalities. Darcy would let me know when she had enough and George was eager to please. He would do anything to get a treat. To my amazement, they returned all my efforts by performing each new trick beautifully.

For more than a year now, we have lived through the pandemic and together we have survived it.

The chance to walk with Darcy and George, to be outside and in nature was an essential relief for them and for me. I would probably go so far as to say it saved me from descending into depression. And I have a newfound appreciation that there’s so much around us, even in central London, if we take the time to slow down and look.

So many people have endured loneliness during this time of isolation without the comfort of a friend, family member, or companion animal. We are all familiar with research about the role of nature and community in supporting our mental health. I can say without equivocation that Darcy and George, my inherently gentle Cockapoo and my scruffy little Hungarian street dog, gave me a sense of purpose, lavished me with ever-loyal love, and saved my sanity during lockdown.