VIRUS DIARY: In pandemic, a forlorn dog finds new purpose

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — “This feels like a good time to get another dog to help us get over the loss of Surfer,” the Professor announced in her FM radio-ready voice. Even though my heart didn’t feel quite ready, I knew she was right, and not only because she really is a smart professor.

We needed to feel the void left by Surfer’s death last fall. He was a regal blend of the Samoyed and Husky breeds who made people swoon wherever he swaggered. He died in his sleep without warning, leaving no time to say goodbye.

Surfer was the Professor’s dog, but he had become one of my best buddies during the two years since we met and quickly bonded, as kindred spirits do. His death came just two weeks after I watched my dad die, so it felt like a double whammy that had me reeling for awhile.

I gradually began to feel better. Then this pandemic cast its pall. The ensuing lockdown has kept the Professor, her two children, her surviving 13-year-old dog Phoebe and me cloistered in her home for the past four weeks.

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It didn’t take long before the Professor realized that rescuing a forlorn dog might provide a ray of light amid all the gloom. She had some experience in this area, having adopted Surfer when he was a 4-year-old waif found starving on a beach.

It made too much sense not to explore. It was clear we were going to be housebound for so long that we would have ample time to train and welcome a new dog.

As we began to look around, we were pleased and surprised to discover plenty of dog shelters and adoption agencies still open. It also turned out that we weren’t the only ones looking for a new pet.

We also learned that more dogs, cats and other pets will probably need new homes in coming months. With unemployment rising, some people probably won’t be able to feed another mouth. Other animals will lose owners who succumb to COVID-19. Some animals will need people with a little extra room in their budgets and hearts.

The Professor’s 17-year-old daughter especially wanted another dog, to help her cope with the abrupt disruption to her bustling social and academic life as a junior in high school. It seemed appropriate, then, that she was the one who found Chase, a 3-year-old dog who is Surfer’s doppelganger but with his own distinctive flair.

Within a few minutes of meeting him at his foster home two weeks ago, we knew he was the perfect fit. And so he has been. He has already been helping me close the loop on the deaths of my dad and Surfer. His presence provided solace, too, when COVID-19 recently took one of The Associated Press’ finest — my longtime colleague, Nick Jesdanun.

I dread all of the death that is still to come during this pandemic. But I take comfort in knowing that I am going to emerge with a new friend — one now renamed “Wookiee,” because he sounds so much like Chewbacca in “”Star Wars. Yet as much as I like that name, I suspect this dog is always going to remind me of something else: Hope.

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“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, will showcase the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke on Twitter here.

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