The power of pups

·5 min read

Olive's human parents were heartbroken before she came into their lives.

The tiny Shih Tzu's predecessor, another Shih Tzu named Bella, had passed away just two weeks before the pandemic started and left a gaping hole in the hearts of Cindy and Patrick Wilson.

"It was the worst time. It was horrific. We would cry almost every day after losing her because all we had to do is sit around and think about our dog that we lost," Cindy Wilson said of Bella, who was the family dog of 16 years.

"Here we are in lockdown and we have no dog."

But Olive arrived and put joy back in the Wilsons' lives – so much so, that she earned the middle name Joy, to match the happiness she brought to the family.

Wilson said the day they got Olive was amazing and made the pandemic much more bearable.

"It was a happy, happy day," she said through tears.

Now, Olive Joy helps keep Cindy and Patrick entertained, as both of them have recently retired from teaching. The three of them are at home together every day and Olive is getting spoiled with love and attention.

"She's used to having people around almost constantly. She's very sassy, but very cuddly," Wilson said.

Olive has helped get the Wilsons out of the house during the pandemic, walking her at least twice a day.

"We'd probably just be hanging around and not moving as much as we should. So she's been very good for our physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing," Wilson said.

The pandemic would have been "horrible" without their beloved Olive, Wilson said, adding she couldn't even imagine how empty the house would have been.

Olive, like many other furry friends, has been appreciated all the more during the pandemic.

Ruby the chocolate lab brightened the lives of her family during the COVID-19 lockdown just by being herself.

"She kind of made me realize how important she was. It's not anything else extra she did. I just noticed without her things would have been worse," Ruby's human dad Mark Mutch said.

In a year of social distancing, having a friend at home made Mutch feel like there was always somebody around.

"I talk about my dog as if she's another person, but to me, she basically is," Mutch said.

Ruby helped Mutch get out of the house for walks and keep busy caring for her. Ruby's dad said the days would have been a lot longer and more boring without her.

And for even the youngest people among us, pets have offered support and friendship during a lonely time.

Johanna Silver's family got a new dog, Sky, who became fast friends with their seven-year-old Sullivan and three-year-old Slater, after they moved from St. Albert to Morinville during the pandemic.

Sulllivan moved to a new school and had no friends and no way to have play dates with other kids, but after the Silvers got Sky, Sullivan had a pal to hang out with.

The family had wanted a dog for a long time and it was finally the right time. But it wasn't so easy finding a dog in 2020.

Every family was looking for a new best friend this year and the Silvers had trouble finding a pup that was a good fit for their family.

"It was a lot of letdowns," Johanna Silver said.

Finally, Sky, who is likely a Border Collie mixed with a Bernese Mountain Dog or a Saint Bernard, mixed with another mystery breed, came to the family.

"She's definitely brought a lot of a lot of joy and confidence for my seven-year-old," Silver said, adding she has helped teach responsibility and brought some goofiness to the family.

Sky has also helped keep the family active and out of the house during the pandemic.

The Silvers were not the only ones looking for a furry friend this year.

Danielle Lefebvre, whose family breeds labs, had 16 puppies born this year and an overwhelming amount of calls from families looking to adopt.

"We ended up having a huge waiting list just because everybody wanted a puppy," Lefebvre said, adding calls were coming from Lethbridge and B.C.

'It was very, very busy, very intense. We had to stop answering phone calls and text messages, that's how intense it was."

But after the puppies went to their forever homes over the Thanksgiving weekend, Lefebvre said it was wonderful to see how much of a positive impact they had on the families' lives.

And while all dogs brought comfort and company to their families this year, some families needed an extra boost to get through even more challenges.

Rocky, a Shih Tzu who lives with Liam and Lorna Connelly, helped support the family through cancer during the pandemic.

Lorna was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, and had surgeries and treatments in 2020, with Rocky there by her side during the ordeal.

Rocky would sit at her feet, protecting Lorna, Liam said.

"We had to go through all of this during the pandemic and Rocky was always there, curling up at Lorna's feet," he said.

When Lorna was trying to get Liam's attention and he couldn't hear her, Rockey would bark to alert Liam to his wife's needs.

""They're good comfort," Lorna said.

"Dogs don't judge. They just want to be there for you."

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette