Alexandria, VA – We barely know each other, really. We are nine women who live in each others’ phones under names like “Loop” and “Chex.” We have never all been together in person.
So how come it feels like family? How did our “Pandemic Pups” text group become my most trusted source of laughter and solidarity this past year?
How It Started
The seven puppies were five days old when they got to our house with their beautiful mama on February 28, 2020. The world was just starting to shut down, and fostering this incredible puppy family for two months kept my own human family grounded and distracted as we settled into the surreal.
By mid-April, my obsessive social media posting (there was nothing else to do, and they were so darn cute!) had resulted in homes for everyone. Even better: six out of seven pups were landing in our 10-minute radius. Some of us were loosely connected: a preschool connection here, a soccer connection there. But we didn’t know each other well, so when I started a text messaging group, I figured it would be useful for a few weeks of adjustment questions and training tips, and then it would fade away.
From Puppy Antics To Emotional Support
A year later, we are friends. Our text strings veer effortlessly from hilarious puppy antics to moving meditations on loss. Some mornings I laugh out loud again and again, as the photo parade of “this is what my puppy’s up to today” escalates from mud baths to de-stuffed pillows to a heartless murder of The Elf at Christmas.
But a mere six texts after our guilty laughter at the kids crying over that dreaded elf, we have shifted to our very real worries about what these children have missed this year. Soon enough, though, somebody’s pup unravels the toilet paper, and the shot of her delight gets us all going again.
We’ve shared the expected puppy potty-training tips, plus home-schooling fails, TikTok recipes, and reflections on anxiety and depression. Then there’s the recounting of delightful small-world encounters, like the time Chex and Captain had a surprise reunion in the back room of Ft. Hunt Animal Hospital. Or the adorable interruption occurring in Stratford Landing Elementary’s garden class when the teacher appears on-screen: “That’s Chexie’s mom! Chexie’s my puppy’s brother!” (It turns out that Chexie’s mom teaches Cheerio’s kid, and Countess Chocula’s mom teaches Fruit Loop’s kid!)
Sometimes, when a video of super-weird puppy behavior has us transfixed, a version of Mama Teddi doing the same thing pops onto the screen and suddenly has us all marveling at the strength of genes.
There’ll be a week or two with nothing, and then something kicks us off. You know how with some text groups you can wake up to 26 messages and think “ugh”? With this group, that number makes me smile with anticipation. I know that, out of the blue, my day just got better.
At some point it became clear to me that this is about the warmest human connection regularly happening outside my household. So I asked the others — via text, of course — and here’s what came back, eight-fold:
● “On lonely days, with quarantine and working from home, I feel like you guys are always there for me with a laugh and a fun story.”
● “I especially love that nobody ever passes judgment but just offers support, compassion, and understanding.”
● “I cannot imagine this past year without this group.”
The Unique Intimacy of This Year
A pandemic wipes away many of our chances at human connection. But I think most folks this year have learned, one way or another, that it also creates a unique moment where different kinds of human connection can thrive. In my case, it’s a puppy texting group.
In normal times, “real” friendships would have kept us so busy that a tenuous link through text would be overshadowed. But in a year where all friendships were virtual, this one had a shot. Because of the pandemic, we have been very much present—on equal footing with family, work, long-standing friendships—in each other’s lives since adoption day a year ago.
What’s more, I think it helps that we are not family, long-standing friends, or co-workers. We’re linked by something that is strangely intimate: we love each others’ dogs unconditionally. Add to that, I think, that we are not face-to-face in these conversations, that all participation comes at a convenient time for each of us, and that everything is different and strange this year, and you get honesty and openness that feel unique.
It turns out we’ve become the best kind of family: pandemic puppy in-laws.
(A month from now, when everybody’s vaccinated, we’d be able to punctuate this story with a swell group shot of the women I’m so thankful for: Mary Charlton, Sue Freewalt, Renee McGrew, Meagan McKissick, Brittany McMaster, Lara O’Connor, Gina O’Hara, and Lauren Tavar.)
Kathy Callahan, CPDT-KA (www.puppypicks.com), is a dog trainer whose family has now fostered about 200 rescue pups. Check out her fun, photo-filled book, 101 Rescue Puppies: One Family’s Story of Fostering Dogs, Love and Trust. Click here for a short-and-sweet video of the Pandemic Pups litter from 5 days through adoption. youtu.be/vTk1-Um7qBA.