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Love Of Pets, People And Safety In A Time Of Coronavirus

Western towns are dog crazy hamlets. As award-winning author Ted Kerasote notes, we need to think carefully about their social interactions, too

The author and his dog, Pukka, during a ski together in winter 2019 in Jackson Hole marking the occasion of both of their birthdays.  Photo courtesy Ted Kerasote
The author and his dog, Pukka, during a ski together in winter 2019 in Jackson Hole marking the occasion of both of their birthdays. Photo courtesy Ted Kerasote
EDITOR'S NOTE:
 Ted Kerasote, who makes his home in the Jackson Hole community of Kelly, Wyoming, is an award-winning outdoor writer and friend of Mountain Journal who has earned acclaim in recent years for his insightful books about dogs They make for great reads now during this time of imposed isolation and buying them is a way to support local bookstores. We think Kerasote's cautionary message here is one that dog owners everywhere would be wise to heed.

By Ted Kerasote

Like tens of millions of people the world over who are crazy in love with their dog, I don’t hesitate to go the extra mile for him. So as coronavirus continues its frightening march across the United States and the globe, I decided to be proactive and stock up on dog food, even though I already had a three-week supply.

Loading my yellow Labrador Retriever, Pukka, into the back of our Subaru Outback, I drove the 16 miles from my house in snowy Grand Teton National Park down to Jackson, Wyoming. As we turned into Martin Lane, where Pet Place Plus has its large, well-appointed store, Pukka began to make a low, excited hum in his throat. Had there been a bubble over his head, it would have contained the words, “Salmon biscuits, balls, Frisbees, stuffed animals!”

Putting on the blue surgical gloves that I now keep in the car for trips into town, I let him out and opened the shop’s front door. 

He immediately greeted the three women behind the counter, with a wagging tail. 

He’s known them since he was a puppy. Then he abandoned me for the toy aisle. Going to the back of the store, I grabbed two different bags of dry food, and as I took them to the counter, I saw, to my horror, that a woman in her mid-twenties had come in behind us and was kneeling alongside Pukka, rubbing his flanks and kissing him on the cheeks, while gushing, “Oh, what a handsome dog you are!” 

Her reaction isn’t uncommon. Pukka is a tall, lithe, and regal dog, with muscles rippling under his golden coat. He is sometimes mistaken for a Vizsla or Rhodesian Ridgeback by those unfamiliar with field trial Labs.

He lashed his tail and rubbed his face against hers, obviously throwing social distancing out the window. Then her boyfriend appeared behind them and began scratching Pukka’s flanks and butt.

That very morning I had read a study in The New England Journal of Medicine  documenting that coronavirus could be infectious for up to 72 hours on steel and plastic and up to 24 hours on cardboard. Sadly, the researchers hadn’t tested dog fur. 

Front and rear, Pukka was being massaged by two dog-loving people I had never met. I had no idea where they’d been and how many people they had been interacting with, but for all intents and purposes they were now sleeping in my bed, since that’s where Pukka would be sleeping that night.
Front and rear, Pukka was being massaged by two dog-loving people I had never met. I had no idea where they’d been and how many people they had been interacting with, but for all intents and purposes they were now sleeping in my bed, since that’s where Pukka would be sleeping that night.
I’ve always been an advocate of the precautionary principle, and it was clear that Pukka was going to need a bath, and his bed in the car would have to be laundered, as would his seat belt harness, but first we needed to get some exercise. We’d been in the house all day. 

Still wearing my blue surgical gloves, I loaded first the bags of dog food then him into the car, and we drove to Snow King Mountain, the town’s local ski hill, where I put crampons on my boots, took up my ski poles, and started hiking uphill. Right and left of us, but keeping their distance, people ascended on skis. Others whizzed down past us. 

Like the Jackson Hole Ski Area on the other side of the valley, Snow King had been closed because of coronavirus, but that didn’t stop the faithful from ascending on their own power.

I would have been on skis myself had I not gotten my right hip replaced at the end of January. Making turns was still six weeks off, nonetheless I congratulated myself on having gotten my hip taken care of before elective surgeries were being canceled left and right.
Ted Kerasote and Pukka when he was a pup just a day old.  Photo courtesy Ted Kerasote
Ted Kerasote and Pukka when he was a pup just a day old. Photo courtesy Ted Kerasote
Pukka and I climbed up to the mid-station, the hill emptying as the sun set. I knelt on the catwalk and stretched out my back, while sending good thoughts to the universe: recovery to all those who had fallen ill, health to all of us who hadn’t, wisdom to get through this unprecedented crisis, and my gratitude for Pukka’s companionship. Not a second later, the dog himself was squirming in my arms, rubbing against my chest and pressing the cheek the woman had just smooched all over my face.

“Oh, I love you so much!” he wiggled with joy, “and it is so good to be up on Snow King again!”

I thought of the hand sanitizer sitting in the console of my car. But I hugged him back and said, “I love you too!” Then I washed my face off with snow.

Down we went. At the car, I covered my face with Purell, wondering how much of the woman’s affection for my dog I had already breathed in.

Home we drove, and there I closed the dog door so Pukka couldn’t slip into the house and spread potential coronavirus everywhere.

Putting on surgical gloves, I stacked the frozen food in the freezer, and the dry food in the pantry, as a glum Pukka lay in the mudroom, giving me questioning glances with his lustrous, golden-brown eyes: “What’s going on here? I am perfectly clean. Snow is not dirty. It is not even close to mud season. Why won’t you let me in the house?”

Using alcohol, I swabbed off the doorknobs I had touched. I took off my clothes and put them in the washer, along with the cover of his dog bed and his seat belt harness. Then I led him into the downstairs bathroom and gestured to the tub and shower. 

He gave me an astounded look: “A shower? But I’m not dirty.

“You might be contaminated, sir,” I told him, “and we need to wash you off. Please get in.”

Again I extended my hand to the bathtub.

He sighed, and throwing me a long-suffering gaze, climbed into the tub. I climbed in after him, and then with very hot water I showered and shampooed both of us.

“Oh, he’s a clean machine!” I cried as I toweled him off, and he happily beat his tail.

After drying myself off and dressing, I fed him. Fetching a beer from the fridge, I sat on the couch.

“Cheers, sir,” I said, lifting my glass to him as he came into the living room.

I patted my palm on the couch. He jumped up and threw himself against my chest, pressing his face against mine, while his tail exclaimed, “Oh, what a great day this was! And how I love you!” 

Without any notion of the catastrophe surrounding us, he remained his usual joyful self, his exuberance and love the perfect antidote to my fear. 

“And how I love you!” I crooned, wrapping my arms around him.

POSTNOTE: Here is an interview with a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine posted at Science online, the site operated by the Association for the Advancement of Science. She addresses issues involving coronavirus and interactions between people and pets. 

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About Ted Kerasote

Ted Kerasote of Kelly, Wyoming has written about nature and dogs for many years. He is the author of the the national bestsellers Merle’s Door, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, and Out There, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. Learn more about Ted by clicking here to reach his website
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