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  • Jan Flynn

As If 2020 Wasn’t Bad Enough

Now there’s dog poop in my fridge

This close to Thanksgiving, there should be a turkey in there

A nice, big, organic, free-range, heritage bird, gently chilling out until its big day in the oven. What else should be in the refrigerator right now? Whipping cream, ingredients for stuffing, bottles of champagne (it goes with everything, after all, even turkey). Maybe a case of beer for the Philistines in the family. A bag of cranberries.

But not this year. It’s 2020, the year of plague and presidential psychopathy, the year of waking up in a hideous alternate reality that refuses to relent. There’s no turkey in the fridge because my husband and I are doing the responsible thing and staying home, just the two of us. And our dog.

Who is not well.

Allow me to introduce you to Molly, the world’s best dog

Photo by author

I understand, if you’re a dog lover, you may object to the arbitrary designation of my dog as The Best, so allow me to clarify. Dogs, for the most part, are exceptional beings, superior to the humans they care for in ways that space does not permit in this article to enumerate. Also, dogs are each exceptional in their own manner, and if that manner happens to mesh with the personalities and quirks of their human companions, then it is fair to say there is a vast, unknown quantity of the world’s best dogs.

In reality, quantifying a dog’s qualities is a function of human recognition rather than a comment on the dog itself. With vanishingly few exceptions, dogs, when given half a chance and a suitable environment, are just plain good.

My point is that Molly is the best dog in the world for us.

She came to us eight years ago, rescued by her breeder after she wound up on the wrong side of a messy divorce. She was already five years old and arrived in our household with impeccable manners and a healthy respect for our cat. Well-disposed toward humans in general and immediately devoted to us, Molly has from her first day in our family exhibited a steadiness of character I can only aspire to. She is endlessly cheerful, endlessly patient, possessed of a great and gentle sense of humor.

Molly makes our home a better, happier place. In the nightmare circus of 2020, her presence has been a bulwark of sanity in an otherwise off-the-rails crazy train of a world. We would like to keep her in it, with us, for as long as we last. Being human, we are selfish that way. She’s thirteen now, not ancient for her breed but certainly senior, and has slowed down in recent months. A covey of quail crossing her line of sight would once have sent her into joyous pursuit. Now they merit barely a passing glance. The jackrabbits that occasionally scoot through the vineyards on our daily walks catch her interest, but don’t send her on the run. At her age, she knows better.

We get it. We’re not as fast on the draw as we once were either. But now there is something undeniably amiss with Molly, which explains the dog doo in the refrigerator. No, she did not put it there herself.

The trouble began about six weeks ago, during a disaster

Of course, when hasn’t there been a disaster of one kind or another going on this year? In this case, it was during the complex of wildfires that devastated Napa Valley in October, forcing us out of our house in two separate evacuations — the first to the home of friends on the San Francisco Peninsula, the second, a longer stay with relatives in Idaho. That’s a lot of stress for an elderly dog, both her own and what she surely must have absorbed from us.

So when we awoke one morning between forced trips to discover Molly had staged her own epic evacuation on the rug in the hallway, we chalked it up to emotional distress. The rug went outside to be hosed down, a woefully apologetic Molly went outside to make sure everything was fait accompli, and by that night we were back in the car heading north to escape the flames and noxious air, with Molly tucked into her bed in the back and apparently recovered.

Alas, the condition recurred — thankfully, without untoward incident in the homes of our hosts, but clearly Molly’s lower regions were in distress. We fasted her for a day, then fed her small amounts of plain chicken and rice, and got her to her vet as soon as we got home.

After a course of antibiotics, probiotics, and dewormer, all was well

Molly, in fact, seemed livelier than she had in several weeks. She’d lost a couple of extra pounds and was lighter on her feet with a sprightlier step. We breathed a deep sigh of relief. With everything else 2020 had thrown at us, the thought of something being seriously wrong with Molly, our emotional rudder, was just too much to contemplate.

But around the time of the election, she had a relapse. Added to our angst over the white-knuckle days of the vote count was our renewed concern about our dog. Back she went to the vet, for more tests and more pills. We put her back on chicken and rice and watched her like a hawk on her walks to make sure she wasn’t snacking on anything weird out there along the trail. She took a longer course of anti-whatevers and pro-whatever-elses.

By the time Georgia certified its election results and Trump’s intention to reverse reality appeared to be melting like Rudy Giulani’s sideburns, Molly seemed to be back to her old, happy-go-lucky self. With all that and the encouraging news about two fast-tracked COVID vaccines, things were looking brighter. Maybe 2020 was going to redeem itself after all.

Alas, not so fast

This past week has been a harrowing litany of rising COVID case counts, while the national death toll has topped a quarter-million and every public health expert from our local county epidemiologist to Dr. Fauci himself has practically taken to their knees. They’re pleading with Americans to stay home and stave off a wave of devastation that is otherwise bound to get worse, probably much worse if the health care system is as overwhelmed as the current trends indicate. But Americans, as we’ve seen, seem more responsive to bizarre suggestions about injecting disinfectants than taking evidence-based advice.

Even if you follow all the rules, things can go awry. In the school where I work, where every possible precaution has been taken and every protocol scrupulously followed by students and staff alike, one student tested positive after exposure to a family member, and that meant an entire administrative day devoted to contact tracing, notifications, and communications to understandably skittish parents. At least we have this next week off for the holiday, but there are many already-diminished Thanksgiving celebrations in our town that will perforce be scaled down even further.

Meanwhile, Molly did not want to get out of bed this morning

She never fails to rejoice when my husband awakens, but today it was a wan thump of a tail from her bed. A trip to potty land revealed that her complaint has returned, and she’s tried to vomit at least once. She is not a happy puppy.

It’s Sunday as I write this. We’re in a small town far from an emergency vet, and we can’t detect a fever, so we’re giving her lots of love and rest and leaving messages with her doc so we can get her in there ASAP tomorrow. Along with a double-bagged, refrigerated sample of her most recent offering.

Maybe it’s nothing serious. She could just have a recurrent infection or another species of parasite, something that will respond to different drugs. She’s otherwise in great condition for a dog her age.

But then again, this is 2020. This year is not ready to release its grip on us any more than the Lame Duck in Chief is ready to make a graceful exit. It’s hard not to brace for what might come. Really, what can we do but follow the advice of Mel Brooks?

Hope for the best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed.

And that’s why there is dog poop in our refrigerator instead of a turkey. In case you were wondering.

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