Guest Post #2 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Hello and welcome to another guest post in my Pandemic Pets feature. Each week I will be welcoming a guest on to The Glorious Outsiders to talk about their pet and how the experience of owning one helped them through the Covid 19 pandemic. For our second post, please welcome Simon Finnis to the blog. Simon is a regular writer at my adult writing group and a fantastic poet and short story writer. Here he talks about how walking his Labrador Harvey made lockdown more bearable.

Pandemic Pet

If we had not fully appreciated the value of a dog as a companion, a source of therapy and love, a force of sanity and comfort in a seemingly crazy world, we certainly do now. Months of vacillating uncertainty as the pandemic raged across communities and nations. The agony of personal doubt and tiptoeing around the edges of pits of despair as the supposed certainties of a previous pre-Covid life are thrown into turmoil. Our Labrador-retriever’s contribution to the year 2020 has been enormous!

My wife and I have had plenty of time and opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with our beloved four-legged friend. His energetic and loving welcome at the start of each morning injected a greater sense of purpose and meaning into our days as a new routine began to take shape. How were our days going to work out? All at once, walking the dog would take on a new enhanced status. Something to cherish.

At a time when it was easy to feel so negative about the world, here was a reason to feel privileged. We had an even stronger motivation to go out and explore our beautiful and varied surroundings during lockdown. Suddenly we found new places to walk close to home. It became possible to relate to the world more from an animal’s perspective, to take time and have a more sensual and engaged relationship with both nature and our built environment. There was certainly less need to rush about crazily as had so often been the case in the past, constantly being driven by the clock; less stressing about work, traffic, shopping or meeting up with friends in time.

There is something infectious about the undimmed enthusiasm of a furry, four-legged companion. Whether at home or outdoors, their curiosity and playful nature has become the perfect antidote to a seemingly grim reality of coronavirus being drip-fed through the media over the last few months. One upside to all the turmoil was a now daily opportunity to escape from all the noise and overwhelming busyness that had hitherto been filling our lives. It was time to see the world from a new perspective, to turn down the volume, adapt to a new rhythm and value each day. I believe that there is much that pets can teach us as humans. If anything, the pandemic has offered the space to develop a greater bond with our dog, fully sensing all the light and beauty it brings into our lives.

Thank you so much to Simon for joining us today! It was lovely to hear how the family dog made lockdown so much more bearable. If you would like to tell us about your pet and how they’ve helped you through the pandemic, then please get in touch! Stories and poems are also welcome!

Pandemic Pets; How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Like everyone else in the country, I sat in a kind of shocked stupor when it was first announced that we would be going into lockdown. I think the biggest shock for most of us was the school closures and onset of home learning. As I write this, England is in another lockdown, though a far less strict one this time around. Mostly, life appears to be going on as normal. Of course by ‘normal’ I mean the ‘new normal’ of social distancing, bubbles, hand sanitising and face mask wearing. Isn’t it weird how quickly we all get used to things like this?

We all live such day-to-day lives now, don’t we? We really can’t plan too far ahead. Especially when it comes to things like weddings, birthdays and Christmas. We all just shrug helplessly and say; ‘we’ll see what happens.’ And that’s a weird and unsettling way to live your life, not being able to plan much, not knowing anything for sure. Young children are good at living like that; they tend to live in the moment, not looking too far ahead. Animals are the same; they have little concept of time or future and so don’t worry about it like we do.

During the first national lockdown, there was a growing and slightly worrying trend of people purchasing ‘lockdown puppies’. For anyone who already had a dog, or had been planning to get one, this was probably a sensible idea, as long as social distancing rules were adhered to etc. But for anyone who bought a puppy on a whim because they were bored, not so good, and I fully expect to see a lot of these lockdown puppies end up in rescue before long.

Having said that, I truly believe that owning pets is massively beneficial to your mental and physical health, and perhaps that was what drove some of this. As well as puppies and kittens, there was also a huge increase in people chicken-keeping for the first time too.

I’ve been an animal lover my entire life. I grew up surrounded by a much loved menagerie of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits and I’m just the same in my adult life. We have dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks and chickens and until recently pet rats and hamsters too.

Often, I prefer animals to people, or at least I prefer their company and find them generally a lot less stressful to be around. During the first strict lockdown, in the messy middle of home-schooling and juggling work, I found myself turning to my animals even more. I spent as much time as I could outside, and we were so lucky that the majority of the lockdown weather was absolutely glorious. I felt so blessed to be sat in the sun in my large garden, with the cockerel crowing and the ducks quacking.

We were one of the families who got a lockdown puppy, though ours was planned before lockdown happened. In February, a month after I lost my beloved lurcher Skipper, I came across an ad from a lady whose beautiful lurcher was due to have puppies in March. We made contact, spoke on the phone and after she had carefully vetted me, I was put on the list. The day before the puppies were born, we went into lockdown and it became very uncertain as to whether we would get one or not.

As luck would have it, the travel restrictions were lifted just as the pups turned 8 weeks old and we were able to pick our beautiful boy Jesse up mid-May. He certainly entered our lives at the perfect time. We were starting to lag…starting to get on each other’s nerves, starting to get itchy feet. It was getting hard. But having Jesse and integrating him into our family was the perfect distraction and gave us all something positive to focus on. I will always be grateful to him for that. He is now 7 months old and a truly beautiful boy with the sweetest soul. I’ve never had such a loving loyal dog before, he is just adorable in every way, and so smart too!

Jesse at 8 weeks

But even before he arrived, I was so grateful to have my pets in my life. At the start of home schooling me and the kids fell into a routine, where we would start the day with PE, do a few lessons and then take our older lurcher Tinks for a long walk before lunch. We really looked forward to these walks, and it was lovely to have the kids with me and Tinks, when usually they would be at school. We integrated some of our learning into the walks, sometimes had picnics, played in streams, ran down hills and played hide and seek. I’m not sure we would have done all those things daily if we had not had a dog to walk.

Beautiful Tinks

My dogs are my best friends. They are my family. I love them so much I cannot bear being away from them. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have a dog or who doesn’t like dogs…quite what they give you in return for a warm bed, some yummy food and long walks. What we give them is small in comparison. My dogs welcome me home with wagging tails, warm kisses and the absolutely adorable ‘lurcher lean’! They watch me, listen to me, follow me, and love me for me. They don’t expect or demand anything of me, other than the above mentioned food bed and walk! They make me laugh every day with their antics and loopy smiles. They challenge me – to keep going, to get out, to talk to people, to socialise, to train them, to get better, to be better. I would be far, far less without my dogs and I hate to imagine what lockdown would have been like without them.

As for now, as we navigate through another lockdown and balance precariously between old normal and new normal, between hope and fear, between fragile mental health and steely resilience, I turn to them more and more because they are steady, they are sure, they are always there, just being them. Just being dogs. Living in the moment, not worrying about what tomorrow might bring. I hope that anyone who got a lockdown puppy, kitten or flock of chickens is feeling the same right now, because to have pets in your life during tumultuous times is truly a wonderful gift.

Home schooling with chickens in tow

How about you? Did you get a pet during lockdown? How is it working out? If you already had pets, tell me about them and how they have helped you during the pandemic. I’m starting this as a new guest feature so get in touch if you and your furry friends have a story to share. It can be a non-fiction piece or a story or a poem!

Guest Post#13 Dreaming of Another World

Last week I shared what I thought would be the last guest post for my Dreaming of Another World feature but I could not resist adding this wonderful piece from 12-year-old Thea. Thea is a hugely talented young writer who attends one of my children’s writing groups. I think you will agree she has a beautiful way with words. Thank you Thea!

Chantelle’s Blog Series from Thea Anne.

The human race has a tendency to rest. We take a breath. We pause. Replenish the energy that we lose in our hectic, busy lives. Sometimes that makes us feel guilty. Sometimes that makes us stressed. Or sometimes we’ll rest too long, and we’ll stop being productive, stop working on what we love because we forget we love it; or at least that we once did.

However you take it, a rest can change things a lot. When we open our eyes they’ll be fresh, clean and never the same.

I remember, months ago, we talked about how covid-19 wasn’t very serious, it wasn’t the end of the world, a pandemic.

Most of all, I remember wishing I could just take a break.

That’s almost what quarantine felt like at first, a rest, a break, a pause, a breath.

At first.

The roads were quiet, no cars rushing past. Their headlights that somehow managed to slip through the gap in my curtains, their polluting fumes slowly crippling the earth. There were no more packs of school children making their way down the street right in front of my house, tossing litter carelessly into my driveway, or on the road. There were no more aeroplanes in the sky for me to watch go past with a smile on my face, although they too thoughtlessly polluted the air.

All my classes were cancelled, the auditions no longer happening, my mother no longer having to spend hours rushing me and my brothers around, me no longer quite knowing what the loneliness I felt was.

I talked to some of my friends more, even if not in person. Yet some I heard from less. Turns out that sometimes people will only talk to you if they want something.

I started listening to music a lot more, sometimes I’d find myself in another world with my headphones on. Turns out reality is the least pleasing place in which we live.

I started writing a lot more too, sometimes pages at a time, sometimes nothing. It helps me understand my feelings better, by letting someone else feel them, that someone being the only one that understands me. Not even I understand me all the time, but they do.

I expected to still hear children, maybe taking a walk for fun, sport, or exercise. I thought there’d be the sound of laughter and children playing in their gardens. But a deafening silence had embraced my home. It sometimes made me think, what is everyone so afraid of? For everyone did seem afraid. Surely the grim reaper won’t take you just for having fun? Surely when you have a rest you should enjoy yourselves? But everyone locked their doors, and pulled the shutters closed. Hid away.

The human race has a tendency to divide themselves, unity preposterous in the eyes of fear. But surely this is the time to change that?

Surely, for all the lives lost, it’s about time to start living one of your own?

A huge thank you to Thea for sharing the post with us. And that really does bring my Dreaming Of Another World feature to a close. Thank you to all the creatives who took part and shared their experiences as well as their stories and poems. Do stay tuned as next week I kick off a new feature for which I will be needing guests again!

Guest Post #12 Dreaming Of Another World

Welcome to what will be the final guest post for my Dreaming of Another World feature, but do stay tuned for news on a brand new guest feature coming soon! This was all inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown forced me to pause, think and dream of another world, one I could just glimpse when we were all forced to stay still. I asked other creatives for their thoughts, feelings and experiences during this strange time and I had a wonderful response. Please welcome Adeola Sheehy to The Glorious Outsiders and enjoy her personal piece on her lockdown experience. You can find out more about Adeola at the end of the post.

The Outside

When the unknown woke me from sleep in the night, I used to be able to tell the time by the activity from my window. Lying still so not to wake the baby I would listen for the vans and lorries hurrying past to signal the early hours. A few hours later the headlights of the earliest workers would slice through the blinds, sliding down the wall as the cars turned the corner and quietly began their day.

Next the encroaching daylight. How slowly the darkness lifts, as though it wants to hold you in its grasp for as long as possible. On the rare occasion I slept in I would be woken to the marching herds of school children, chattering loudly to hear themselves over the swoosh or the cars and buses, and the stomping of their own feet.

That’s just an echo now, their feet are hemmed in by walls and walk only across the soft carpet of their homes. The car engines are cold as their owners try to remember to leave them running every so often, so their batteries don’t die. How strange this static, stationery waiting. This pause.

As we huddle indoors, the news speaks of a sinister thing lurking outside. It is alive and hunting us, preying on the weakest among us. It has learnt how to travel unseen, invisible as it stalks us. We go out only in the daytime, for short periods and never altogether. The roads are quiet but even though the houses are full, they are quiet too. I hear no children in the gardens, or laughter from an open window. There is a hush, a waiting, a palpable fear.

Then in the night, I wake to darkness. There are no sounds or lights to offer me clues, only the rhythmic breathing of my dreaming family. What is it out there, prowling the streets?

I feel the presence of the fairy tale wolf prowling an isolated village in ever tighter circles. It’s come in from the dark woods, no longer in a distant far away land, it’s come to the doorstep. The village shuts their doors against the threat, but also to each other. Their once united community split into multiple tiny islands. Each fearful, focused on survival, and weakened by being alone. The wolf has the run of the town now, it can walk anywhere it likes, it has taken over a new territory and the villagers must come out sooner or later. It’s an unwinnable siege of their own making.

The shadows and the darkness have melded into one suffocating thing. My body is still and my breathing steady, as only my eyes move, tracking back and forth, searching out the presence that has my arm hair standing on end. I see the curtain twitch.

I left it open just a crack, so we could breathe a little freer. I watch it move, the delicate white lace against the dense dark. Through it a plume of white steam pushes inwards. It dissipates quickly only to be replaced by another warm breath fogging the air.

And another.

The wolf is at my door.

Author Bio

A home educating mother of four, Adeola’s writing has adapted and changed over the years to fit the time constraints of a full life.  

From short stories, to essays and articles and with various characters nagging in her ears wanting their tales to be told, you can currently find her writing in magazines such as Roots + Wings and Juno, as well as the soon to be published Hear Our Voices collection by Conscious Dreams Publishing, and in the Fireside group at The Kindred Voice.  

Lockdown seems to have broken the dam, and her pen is firmly attached to the page, so follow her on Instagram at @adeola_moonsong to see where she’ll be popping up next. 

Thank you so much to Adeola and ALL of the creatives who have participated in this feature. We’ve had short stories, poems and personal pieces and they have all been amazing. I am thinking about collating these pieces into a collection at some point (subject to each author’s permission of course) but I would like to make it a really diverse and interesting one. So, for my next guest feature I would like to know how your pets helped you through lockdown, or the pandemic in general. If you are a creative with a furry friend, then please get in touch! Perhaps you even got a pet for the first time during lockdown? I’d like to know about you and your pet, how you got together, what you do together, whether they have a positive impact on your mental health and how they have helped or hindered your creative processes and your everyday life during the pandemic. Please get in touch 🙂