In a matter of weeks, my fiancée and partner of nearly a decade left me, I lost all work and income for the foreseeable future and had to pack up and move out of my own home. Before even getting off the break-up rites of passage starting blocks (power ballad singing into screw-cap bottled rosé, donning a duvet to pop down to Londis or considering taking the clippers to my barnet), the entire nation found themselves on the same flex. We lost our ‘normal’, we lost our liberty, we lost loved ones and, as if things couldn’t get any worse, millions of us have been forced to take up jogging.
Thankfully, there’s nothing like a global pandemic to put everything into perspective. My enlightenment nugget is one I never imagined I’d be sharing this year. The discovery that the true love of my life is, in fact, my cheeky, vertically challenged, cheesy-pawed miniature dachshund, Cuby. She was christened Ruby, but our dog trainer opted for a “C” to assist her speech impediment and we ran with it. Although the “we” in that sentence still seriously pangs, my new “we” became “me and the dog” – gratefully without need for any fur baby custody carnage.
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I’ve consistently been – no doubt irritatingly – obsessed with Cuby but, suddenly self-isolating solo, my human interaction was cancelled; replaced exclusively by canine. This velvety-eared, Disney-eyed, Kohl-lined, pâté-breathed, velociraptor-clawed, sheepskin rug-humpin’ hound became my only tangible companion. My entertainment. My sounding board. My exercise partner, dinner date, confidante and now, clearly, my muse. Yesterday I picked her brain over the wording of a tricky email and today I asked her to help me up out of a beanbag. There’s a whop load of impossible pressure on her young furry shoulders.
If dogs could transfer coronavirus to humans, Cuby would be a super-spreader. She waits until you’re at peak yawn to sneeze into your mouth, licks eyeballs, nestles in neck rolls and uses cheeks as her pillow (face and, more frequently, buttock, now I’ve crumbled and sometimes allow her to sleep in the bed). Of course, Cuby hasn’t got a scoobie about Corona. She doesn’t understand what’s going on and probably wouldn’t give a gravy bone if she did. She thought the claps for carers were for her and I let her bask in that pot and pan glory – because she’s cared for me. My little grief hoover shows unswerving devotion and has lovingly mopped salty tears from my chin without a moan. She’s made me laugh every day, judges me never and greets me each morning with the boom-banging excitement levels of a Lush employee given half a chance to demonstrate the invigorating, minty nebulas of their latest intergalactic bathbomb.
The sounds of her seemingly rehearsing for STOMP across the flat have brightened the bleak. Her yapping has curbed any intruder paranoia. Pats, strokes and squidges have lessened my “I wonder when I’m going to be able to touch another human being again?” torture. She’s provided me structure and kept me, up, out and at ‘em every day – even those when I’d really rather have sat in my pants, eating my feelings. She’s sparked conversation with neighbours previously unknown and collects smiles and compliments wherever we go. I graciously thank her admirers as though I birthed her myself.
Studies surveys consistently show that the health benefits of owning a mood-boosting, stress-relieving, serotonin and dopamine dripping dog are inarguable. I’ve always known pets can do wonders for our physical and mental wellbeing but this year has given me proof to the power. Dogs can read our emotional state and tell us so much about ourselves. Cuby tells me that I am doing okay.
In an era that has highlighted the significance of our homes more than ever, I lost the beloved bricks that marked mine and the person who cemented their meaning. From here on in, home is where my Cuby is.
‘Gender Rebels: 50 Influential Cross-Dressers, Impersonators, Name-Changers, and Game-Changers’ by Anneka Harry is out now.
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