The Pandemic Loss I Didn’t Expect

Deena Shanker

I used to half-joke that I needed a dog-sized BabyBjörn to help me escape the apocalypse with my cockapoo. Barley was not good on the leash, and even though she would sprint on occasion, I knew that if we were racing away from zombies, she would, without a doubt, slow down our mad dash from Manhattan.

As it turned out, when we fled the island, we were driven out by a pandemic, not the undead. We left in a Honda CRV packed to the brim with food, luggage, toilet paper, a two-year-old, and a body-sized pregnancy pillow called a Snoogle. No BabyBjörn was needed: Barley sat on my lap. Nobody was comfortable. But we were safe, and very privileged to have my in-laws’ beach house at the Jersey Shore to run off to. 

Barley played no small part in our decision to leave. She required at least four walks a day, or eight trips in a large apartment building’s elevator, through its lobby and around the block, all in the epicenter of a lethal global pandemic

Our exodus must have felt familiar for the dog, who had left so many places with me during our thirteen years together. She joined me when I moved  from the East Village to Philadelphia for law school, and when I returned to New York each summer and, for what I thought was the last time, after graduation. Then she flew across the country with me when I slunk off to California, escaping a stunted career as a corporate litigator. She was with me on my final return to New York too. 

We lived in more than a dozen crappy apartments and a handful of decent ones. In the most recent, she curled up at my feet while I nursed my daughter and when my milk finally dried up, I put the baby in her crib and took the dog for a walk, a ritual I had mostly pawned off to my husband since the later stages of my pregnancy. My husband and I planned vacations around her, picking destinations with lakes for her to swim in, and grass for her to roll in.

Now, we were leaving the city again. And Barley’s age had begun to show.  Among the pasta, dried beans, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, and Cheerios we’d packed, we also had several pounds of rice and multiple cartons of eggs because my old dog had reached the point where I had to cook for her. 

When we were both younger, she begged whenever I ate — if Barley could say one word, observed one roommate, it would be, “please.” But now  Kibble was long gone. Canned food had lasted a few weeks. Soon after arriving at the beach house, she stopped eating the eggs too, and we started spending $10 for a pound of kosher ground beef to cook with her rice,  mixing in leftover peas and corn and apple peels and anything else, all of which she happily ate, making us feel better both about her health and our extremely minimal food waste.

But still, I worried. I stockpiled both rice and beef, worried we would run out. I cooked, I froze, I measured, I fed, and then I worried more.

Barley’s health problems began in earnest three years ago, when my Dad, a vet, found a mass in her abdomen during a routine exam. An ultrasound found a tumor and surgery revealed it was dangerously close to major blood vessels in her liver. Even the specialist couldn’t get clean margins. The tumor would come back. A little over a year later, we found another malignant tumor, this time on one of her back haunches. Another specialist. Another successful — albeit temporary — treatment.

Life went on, and we complained that Barley was waking us up earlier in the mornings, and asking for walks later in the evenings. In the fall, she stopped eating for a few days, even turning down treats, and we thought that the tumor was finally catching up with her. We sent her upstate to my Dad for an exam, but before she even got to the vet hospital, she pooped out the six inches of toilet paper that had been making her sick, and was back to her normal, jaunty self. Foolishly, it felt less like a dodged bullet and more like an affirmation that she would be with me always.

When we first arrived at our beach house/bunker, all had seemed well enough. She’d always  loved this house — all the space, the big backyard, the meaty meals so unlike the vegetarian food I cooked at home, the beach a very short walk away. 

Just over a week before her last day, she was running down the surf again, not coming when we called, my husband forced to chase after her and bring her back. Barley did not swim in the ocean like the Labs and the Goldens, but she ran along the surf to chase a ball, laid her tummy in the wet sand, and was always surprised when she got hit by a wave. 

My daughter and I watched, playing with sand toys, laughing at the silly doggie. We stayed out for more than an hour. 

But a week after that, I had to carry her for most of that very short walk. After a brief but valiant attempt at some digging, Barley started licking sand and then threw up. The whole thing was a disaster that, start to finish, lasted less than thirty minutes.  This would turn out to be her last beach trip. 

It was also the second day of Barley’s bad breathing, the thing that worried my Dad more than her occasional shaking or falling down the stairs or even her seizures. I took comfort in the fact that she was still eating. But the next day, despite three helpings of breakfast, she barely touched her dinner.

Monday morning, after a very hard night and another skipped meal, we went to the vet. Due to coronavirus precautions, an employee took our dog to see the doctor while we waited in the car. Then the doctor called us, and we listened, with my Dad conferenced in, to how sick Barley really was. She was anemic, there was probably internal bleeding and fluid around her lungs, she might have a brain tumor, too. Maybe it was heart problems but probably it was cancer. We could leave her there for a few days of testing and a 50/50 chance of coming home, still extremely sick, for a few more final days. Or…

We hung up. We cried. We called my Dad. We knew what we had to do but it didn’t make it any easier. My Dad, of course, had some Torah to share. It was a “chesed shel emmet” or a “true kindness,” he said, because she could never repay it. 

For thirteen years she had given me so many kindnesses. Through dumpings, firings, and moves, Barley licked the tears from my face.  Here was a last kindness I could give her. 

Even in coronavirus, they let you in for your final goodbye. Barley was happy to see us, and for a moment I thought she would walk right out, my happy doggie. Instead, we sat with her on the floor and we told her how much we loved her. We held her and we petted her and we said over and over again that she was such a good girl, and she kept up that labored breathing with her eyelids so heavy and I knew she loved us back but I also knew she was very, very tired and needed some peace. 

And now, here I am, in a pandemic, seven-and-a-half months pregnant, and there is death everywhere and I have no dog to lick away all these tears. My own little tragedy is, of course, minor compared to the massive one playing out all over the world. But within the four walls of our beach house, it feels boundless. I thought two full-time working parents with a toddler was stressful. I didn’t realize that having that dog sleeping at my feet also steadied them. Now we have broken hearts and I am crying all the time and my daughter says, “Mommy Daddy so sad miss doggie.”

And I am so mad at myself for not loving that dog better or appreciating her more or putting her on joint supplements or cleaning her teeth or getting her a little staircase to get up to our bed or sleeping on the floor with her that last night or just walking her longer or better or whatever I could have done to show her more that I loved her and I never would have made it through those unhealthy relationships and the short-lived law career and those hard, early days of motherhood without her. I should have at least filled up her bowl a little higher these last few weeks. In the end, I threw away five days worth of beef and rice. 

I know we will get another dog eventually, but it won’t be in a house that isn’t ours, and it won’t be with a newborn baby, and it won’t be Barley. It will be something else, and that will be good, too, I know. Until then, our family is just smaller, sadder for now, and, like the rest of the world, taking it one day at a time.

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

R29 Readers' Amazon Hidden Gems: Pet Week Edition

7 Beauty Brands That Also Make Stuff For Pets

Everything To Know About CBD Products For Pets

More From

  • WTF Is Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro Predicting About Joe Biden?

    Fox News is not exactly known for their nuanced (or accurate) takes on politic discourse. Jeanine Pirro, specifically, has a reputation for saying such nonsensical things that it’s earned her a running bit on Saturday Night Live. But on Wednesday, Pirro managed to cross a line when discussing the 2020 election and Joe Biden’s role in it.Pirro appeared on the Fox News show The Five on Wednesday night to discuss Biden’s first public appearance with his running mate, Kamala Harris. The hosts were discussing a poll from a right-wing news site that found over half of people surveyed did not think Biden would finish his first term, were he elected. Pirro then weighed in, making some confusing and outrageous claims about whether or not anyone would even get to vote for the Democratic nominee.“Joe Biden isn’t going to be on the ticket,” she said. “I have a sense that something’s gonna happen before the election and he’s not even going to be on the ticket. So don’t even ask me if he’s gonna make the four years.”> “Something is going to happen before the election and he’s not even going to be on the ticket” — Jeanine Pirro predicts something horrible will happen to Joe Biden in the next 2+ months pic.twitter.com/dVQ3ImHfb3> > — Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 12, 2020But before Pirro, a former New York State judge and District Attorney, tried to walk back her comment, one of her co-hosts pushed back by explaining that Biden was the confirmed nominee. “You’re saying he doesn’t make it all the way. The bumper stickers are already printed. It is Biden-Harris. He is going to be the nominee next week,” host Bret Baier said. “I respect Judge Jeanine’s opinions and her fiery passions about things,” he added. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino, who was also on the segment, can be overheard saying, “Oh, man” towards the end of Pirro’s comments. Pirro later assured viewers that she wished Biden “all good health” and clarified that “things are so crazy right now” and she “[doesn’t] know what’s happening in the Democrat Party.” But the damage had already been done. Pirro’s comments were ominous and entirely inappropriate, with people on Twitter pointing out that it sounded an awful lot like a threat, with many even suggesting the FBI or Secret Service get involved.But this isn’t the first time Pirro has made blatantly false — or even dangerous — claims about Democratic leaders on air. In 2019, she falsely reported that Nancy Pelosi was “partying with a bunch of Democrats” in Puerto Rico when she was actually in Washington, D.C. In March of that same year, Fox News suspended Pirro for questioning the religious beliefs of Rep. Ilhan Omar.Pirro’s track record on Fox News speaks for itself, but in such a tumultuous time, her comments about Biden are particularly alarming. To go on a primetime television show that gets millions of viewers and speculate on the health and livelihood of a presidential candidate without any evidence or facts to support your babbling is wholly irresponsible, even for a network like Fox News that isn’t necessarily beholden to the truth. When even your Fox News co-hosts are appalled by what you’ve said, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve gone way too far.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Why Republicans Are Mispronouncing Kamala's NameLiz Cheney Has Some Choice Words For Kamala HarrisKamala, Congratulations — & We're Sorry

  • 20 Summer Outfit Ideas To Steal From Copenhagen’s Coolest

    Copenhagen Fashion Week looks slightly different this season. The sun is still shining, sure, but with a fashion industry in flux — further compounded by the global pandemic — designers have reexamined their priorities, putting community front and center. Ganni, in lieu of a runway show, presented its spring '21 collection via an exhibition in collaboration with creatives from its community, while Holzweiler shot its campaign with activists working across social justice, Black Lives Matter, and environmentalism, pledging to donate €30,000 (roughly $35,500 USD) to GLITS, Neighbors In Action, and Polluters Out. Most brands, from Baum Und Pferdgarten to Brøgger, embraced a return to smaller salon shows. While we're welcoming this slower pace and human focus, and encourage brands to examine their raison d'être in light of a pandemic and pressing climate crisis, one thing we're glad to see still thriving is street style. Copenhagen has been influencing the rest of the world's personal style for years now, but when lockdown days blur into one and loungewear seems to be our only outfit of choice, the flair and fashion seen on the streets of Denmark's capital feel even fresher. Don't donate or stow away your wardrobe just yet, there's a world outside your comfy co-ord — just take a look at the Danes, proving that there's still joy to be found in dressing up. Click through to see 20 looks inspiring our summer wardrobe, fresh from Copenhagen Fashion Week. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Ganni Has Collaborated With Levi's In The Best WayCopenhagen Fashion Week Calls For SustainabilityA Fashion Insider's Guide To Copenhagen

  • 11 Bestsellers That Outdoor Voices Can Hardly Keep In Stock

    Athleisure's been having its moment in the fashion spotlight for a while now — but 2020 is officially its biggest year yet. As we've collectively found ourselves stuck at home amidst a global pandemic, the casual-cool style is what we've been living in. Our go-to brand that checks the boxes of durable enough for a workout, comfy enough for the couch, AND cute enough for a Zoom meeting (all things we've been doing a lot of lately)? Outdoor Voices. The Austin-based athleisure-wear staple has continued to serve up cult-favorite styles from sports-bra crop tops to super-soft leggings and much more in an array of refreshing colorways — most of which almost always sell out. We combed through the site's ever-popular selection and pulled out all the top-rated styles that shoppers are continuously adding to cart (along with the raving reviewer praise on why). Whether it's a TechSweat T-shirt that one sweaty summer hiker swears by to keep cool or an Exercise Dress that another reviewer wishes she could wear everywhere, shop these OV bestsellers and more ahead — while they're still in stock, that is. Welcome to Hype Machine, our hit-list of the top reviewed products across the web — according to a crowd of die-hard shoppers. Call this your 4-star & up only club, with entry granted by our devoted-to-the-goods shop editors. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Outdoor Voices' New Collab Is Biking Goals8 Pairs Of Lighter Than Air Leggings For SummerThe Best Summer Workout Bottoms Are Bike Shorts

  • Everyone Is At Home Watching These 10 Shows & Movies On Netflix Right Now

    In light of the health concerns surrounding the coronavirus, people are still being advised to practice social distancing and stay home if they can to help "flatten the curve." But between the pandemic and the long overdue political revolution still happening right outside of our doors, the need for self care and rest is at an all-time high. And Netflix is here to help. The streaming platforms houses thousands of television shows and films that span every genre — including a helpful selection of anti-racist content to teach you about why we're fighting so hard to change our world — for your viewing pleasure. Netflix shares the top ten projects being streamed worldwide each day on each user's homepage, and though we're clearly spoiled for choice, it looks like Netflix users are gravitating to the same few titles. If you're in need of a temporary escape, why not check out what the rest of the country is watching? Ahead, the 10 TV shows and movies that Netflix fans in the States are tuning in to right now. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?You Can Still Watch Movies With Friends On NetflixBest Rainy Day Movies To Watch On NetflixPopular TV Show Filming Halted Due To Coronavirus