This is an installment of Pandemic Purchases, a special series of personal essays about the items bought in the last year that brought the most value and joy to our lives and work while living in lockdown.
I admittedly, but proudly, contributed to the puppy boom of 2020.
Back in fall 2019, I made the move back to my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, settling into a “spacious” 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. While there were a few things to get acclimated to (like sharing a home with my boyfriend, Alex, for the first time), I felt that familiar comfort coming back to my digs.
After only a couple of months living in the apartment together, puppy fever set in. Scrolling through breeder and adoption pages online became our new evening pastime, which typically ended with fatigue from sticker shock and the millionth video emphasizing the many responsibilities of pet parenthood. It didn’t take too long for that habit to fizzle.
That yearning was reinvigorated, though, when my dear friend Lindsay posted pictures of her golden retriever puppy, Jerry, on Instagram in mid-March 2020. Seeing his sweet smile lit the spark to start looking again. Hoping that the breeder she used would be a fit for us, I messaged my friend asking to get connected.
You know how they say timing is everything? Well, of that same litter, there were a few puppies who had yet to be claimed out of fear of the unfamiliar, yet impending pandemic. (Remember, at the time we thought that COVID might last one month, tops).
Alex and I, however, saw being homebound as an opportunity to spend time with our new puppy.
Within just a matter of hours we had committed to giving Lulu, our English cream golden retriever, a home. What we didn’t know then was that we were just one in a crowd of people who had the same thought: a pandemic is the perfect time to get a pet.
In those 72 hours, between our decision and her pick-up date, we did our research on everything a 10-week-old puppy could need and want. While the sentiment was there, we didn’t actually make it to PetSmart until the morning of Lulu’s “gotcha day,” and desperately tracked down any and all help we could get at the store.
What size collar do we get? Does Lulu prefer chicken or beef food? Will she like this iridescent pink flamingo toy (who later became Mingo)? With too much at stake in the 30 minutes we had before retrieving her, we committed to PetSmart’s puppy plan, which promised all of the essentials we’d need: food, treats, toys, and other gear as well as future vet appointments. Among other last minute buys were a bed that was far too small for any dog really (especially a golden retriever) and what became Lulu’s signature pink bow.
With the car stocked with what seemed like half of the dog section of PetSmart, we excitedly made the two-hour trek to bring Lulu home.
Luckily, our Lulu had already been potty trained, so we didn’t have to mess with too many accidents in the apartment. That didn’t last too long, though, as our little diva would decide to use the restroom on the shared stairs of our apartment building from time to time, prompting a cleaning supplies haul.
Making Lulu a part of the family also illuminated my innate joy of gift-giving, which led to purchases not limited to a set of squeaky wine, tequila and vodka “bottles,” four dog beds and a subscription to BarkBox. Lulu still thinks that every package that arrives in the mail is for her, and BarkBox day is the best of the month in our home.
Once it was clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to be a quick two-weeks-and-you’re-out affair, we moved to quarantine at Alex’s family home on Gwynn’s Island on the Chesapeake Bay. Sure, it was ideal for me to work by the beach for four months, but what really kept me sane was seeing how happy the sand and the water made Lulu.
Just like clockwork, Lulu would sound the wakeup call each morning at the bay encouraging us to head down to the beach for a walk. Work often kept me indoors for a stronger Wi-Fi connection, but Lulu kept the day interesting by charging back inside as a sopping wet pup asking to be rubbed dry. (Belly rubs and treat time quickly became a ritual for us.)
What I didn’t immediately realize, however, is how cherished those rituals were to the both of us. They say that golden retrievers are the breed most likely to take on the emotions of their owner. Well, during a global pandemic, I certainly went through the gamut of feelings—often feeling scared, uncertain, and doubtful.
Lulu served as a reprieve from the never-ending emails, calls and news alerts that were the first several months of the pandemic. She still gives me a reason to laugh every day, especially on the occasion in which she ate an entire stick-and-a-half of butter. (You can guess what happened next.)
After a few months spent at the bay, we returned to Richmond. Quickly realizing that we had outgrown our one-bedroom apartment and wanted more outdoor space, we hopped on the housing market, which was a whole other type of mess during the pandemic. After searching for weeks, we found our home, which is now fondly called Hotel Lulu.
While some things may be returning to “normal,” I don’t think there will ever be a day that I don’t want to catch some sunshine, dance in the kitchen or play Lulu’s favorite game of keep away.
How special it is to have something that loves you unconditionally and inconsequentially when the world is turned upside down.