Pandemic Pups

                                                                Zane

 

By Cindy Atoji Keene

 

Of course, there’s a dog named Kennedy in Lexington. And pups named Fenway, Boston, Fig Newton, and Sox. There must also be many owners who like food, as other dog names in town include Hashbrown, Cucumber, Tofu, Creampuff, Maple Sugar, Marzipan, Noodles, Clementine, Juice, and 14 dogs named Cookie.

Perhaps the longest dog name we saw on the town clerk’s list was Maximillian Sir Pugs A Lot (imagine calling that in a dog park). And the most popular dog’s name in Lexington? Looks like it might be the 40 or so dogs named Charlie.

Abbey to Zuzu, the 2114 dogs licensed in Lexington last year are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole, as the quote goes. “Dogs are one of our purest loving relationships; they are just so eager to connect and love and please. We share a very particular intimacy with dogs,” said psychologist Amy Briggs Bledsoe who shares her Frost Road home with her family and dog Maisy, part Jack Russell Terrier, dachshund, mini pinscher, and a mix of other breeds.

It was Bledsoe who got the idea to form a Facebook group just for dog owners during the height of the pandemic. She had moved to Lexington and found it a very dog-friendly town, but there was no dedicated social media site for the community of dog owners. If a dog was lost, or neighbors had questions about vets, leashes, or dog food, they had to ask on other town forums.

So she started chatting with fellow dog owner Cindy Savage about forming a Facebook group simply called Lexington Dog Owners Group. The group now has over 800 members in less than three months and is a resource for everything from dog adoption, pet food recalls, free crates, groomers, coyote sightings, flea collars, dog ophthalmologists, and much more. What to do about a carsick dog? Or a sheepadoodle who gets the zoomies, or a lost dog?

The Lexington Dog Owners Group especially coalesced around a dog named Zane, who escaped from his owner in February. Zane had just been brought up to Lexington by a Texas rescue organization and was in the process of being adopted when he got spooked and ran into the woods. For almost a week, Zane was spotted running around Lower Vinebrook and attempts to lure him were in vain. Missing Dogs of Massachusetts, a non-profit organization that works to locate missing dogs, got involved and some volunteers even went door to door with flyers, asking others to help find the dog. Zane’s story stirred people who were worried about the dog shivering in the winter cold with no shelter. Savage, who was actively involved in Zane’s rescue, said she even had strangers coming up to her in the grocery store, asking, “What’s going on with Zane? Is he okay?”

Amy Briggs Bledsoe with Maisy and Cynthia Savage with Prince. Both dogs are rescues. COURTESY PHOTO

The capture of Zane was almost made for the movies; it was so serendipitous. There were many Zane sightings, and then amazingly, Zane approached a woman walking her dog Rudy in Lower Vinebrook. She knew it was Zane but didn’t have a collar, but her husband happened to look down, and amazingly, someone had left a collar and leash right there on the ground. Zane was captured and adopted by another family, and the Zane saga ended. And yet, it didn’t because the whole episode brought the Lexington Dog Owners Group Facebook group even closer together.

But there’s another angle to this story, one that ties Lexington to southern states like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, as well as Caribbean countries like Aruba and even overseas in places like Qatar. These are all locations where homeless dogs are rescued, transported to the U.S., and then adopted by families, including here in Lexington. Savage, for one, had never known the joys of owning a dog until she adopted one from a shelter; then, completely enamored, she began looking for ways to help abandoned dogs in other countries. When she and her family traveled to Aruba for vacation a few years ago, they brought home four puppies in carry-ons, who all found new homes in the area. There are also dogs in town who might have formally been street dogs in places like Turkey, Puerto Rico, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, and more. In most developing nations, only about 5 percent of dogs have owners in the Western sense, compared to 95 percent in the U.S., according to reports from the Humane Society of America. The rest are strays who rely on handouts, or ferals who feed at landfills, vacant lots, or slaughterhouse waste piles. Potcake dogs from the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, for example, are a familiar sight in Lexington; a name given because locals feed the caked remains of a cooking pot to the dogs. The dogs typically look like a mix of hound, mastiff, spaniel, terrier, or retriever and are typically smart, loyal, and loving.

In Lexington, as across the country, there was a pandemic puppy boom during the pandemic. COVID-19 lockdowns spurred a scramble to secure canine companionship to fill the void. The Lexington Dog Owners Facebook group reflected the boom in dog ownership. Many new puppy parents posted questions and photos, including pictures of dogs napping during Zoom calls. One overwhelmed dog owner wrote, “Anyone else out there totally love their new fur baby, but also overwhelmed by the demands of their new puppy?!” She wanted to commiserate with other pet parents, but did she have regrets? Absolutely none.

For Bledsoe, whose clinical psychology practice in Cambridge has been booming during these ruff (pun intended) times, it has been a relief to be able to come home to her four-legged friend. “The pandemic has been so painful and isolating, and to be able to come together around the love of dogs and share with others who have that passion has been extra special during this time which is otherwise so dark,” she said.

No doubt the dog community in Lexington will continue to grow, and maybe even someday, the town will get a dog park. In the meantime, according to the list of names maintained by the town clerk, there is even a dog in town named Lexington. But dog owners, take note: there’s no dog named Massachusetts! Maybe it’s time to name your new pup after our beloved Bay State.

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