I first noticed the adorably energetic three-legged dog one night while out for an evening stroll with my husband. Our walks are one way we fight the boredom of spending so much time at home since the coronavirus pandemic began. Spending time outside, even though we have to wear masks and be concerned about getting too close to others, keeps us sane.
We are fortunate to live in the beautiful city of Coronado, California, where the outside is plentiful. We are not extremely well off, as one might assume by our zip code, but we make enough to rent a tiny apartment that gives us direct access to San Diego Bay.
We often take a stroll along the bayside walkway and one of our favorite things to do is meander on over to the Coronado Ferry Landing pier, where ferries pick up and drop off passengers coming and going between Coronado and downtown San Diego.
The pier is also a favorite spot for fishermen angling for sea bass, mackerel, bonito, or anything else that may bite. We love seeing their fishing poles lined up, watching them cut their bait, and see how they patiently wait for a bite.
One recent evening we were walking on the pier back towards the shore when we stopped to look over the edge. We noticed that we could see fish swimming alongside the pier close to shore during several recent night walks. The pier’s lights shone down into the water, making their dark bodies visible.
We were watching the fish when something else caught my eye.
I looked up towards the small, sandy beach along the shore and saw a dog happily running in the sand with its owner not far behind.
I curiously stared at the dog while it bounded in the most happy-go-lucky way — its tongue flapping wildly, tail wagging furiously, with one of the happiest dog smiles you ever saw. The dog was fast, too — zipping up and down the sandy beach in a blur of fur and unbridled bliss.
The dog amused me, and when I looked closer, I noticed something else about it.
“I think that dog has three legs,” I said, drawing my husband’s attention away from the fish.
“You think?” he responded, looking up.
“Maybe. It’s hard to tell in the dark. Look at that dog go,” I said. “If it does have three legs, that’s really impressive.”
My husband nodded in agreement.
We looked on for a minute or two before the dog, and its owner left the sandy beach and disappeared down the walkway. Then we went back to watching the fish swim beneath us, trying to guess whether they were sand bass or something else.
The next day was like most other days since the coronavirus pandemic swept over our lives.
My husband rolled out of bed and slipped into the living room to begin his workday. He is a city employee and most city workers, including him, are now remote. He is a person who loves being around people, so it was quite an adjustment for him. He is getting used to it, though, and is even starting to like it.
As for me, I am still heading into the office every day. I worked remotely for a short time at the beginning of the pandemic, but once businesses were allowed to reopen, it was no longer an option. So every day, I grab a mask from the pile and head out into the real world.
My husband and I feel fortunate that we are both still working amid the pandemic. We know that has not been the case for so many, and it pains us to see individuals and businesses struggle. My brother, who owns and operates two small, neighborhood bars in Oregon, says the events of 2020 have been maddening and frustrating. “I can’t keep operating like this, sis — open, closed, open, closed,” he told me despairingly. “It’s like the government put a giant target on small businesses, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
I don’t have answers for my brother, but I listen and offer my support.
Meanwhile, I grapple with my own feelings. I really do have it very good compared to others, and I shouldn’t complain. But a deep melancholy has settled into my soul since the pandemic began. It has become rooted in me.
I ache to visit my family, who live out of state. We speak on the phone, and I can hear the same melancholy in their voices that I feel in myself. I miss my parents and worry about what might happen if they contract the coronavirus. I miss my brother, and I worry about him and his family. I am concerned that he might have to shut down his bars for good.
I miss seeing people’s personalities — their facial expressions and their smiles. I know the masks are important, but they hide us and are a constant reminder of these distressing times.
I am tired of standing in grocery store lines where I have to make sure I am six feet away from the person in front of me — and that the person behind me is doing their part to keep their distance.
There is more to this sense of melancholy, so much more, but some of it isn't easy to describe. Our society, our communities, our lives are different now, and I guess the best way to describe it is ‘unsettling.’
Three days after I first spotted the three-legged dog, I saw the spirited furball again. This time it was running in a grassy area chasing something that its owner was throwing. And this time, it was in the daylight, so I could confirm that the dog did, indeed, have just three legs.
The dog had the same spunk and energy that it had when my husband and I first spotted it days before running around on the sandy beach at the end of the pier. I watched the dog zip around the same way it had before — as if it didn’t know it had only three legs. Its wild tongue was flapping about, its eyes were bright, and the pure joy on its face made me smile. I’ve seen plenty of happy dogs before, but somehow I felt this dog’s happiness transcended all.
I do not know the dog’s name or who its owner is. And I do not know if I will see it again. But I have been thinking about that dog for a week now.
The three-legged dog has been on my melancholy mind, pushing out the gloom and making me want to restore the enthusiasm for life I once had. That adorable dog has been happily bouncing around on its three legs in my mind, reminding me of joy.
Joy — it’s something we seem to have lost this past year. I saw joy in all its purity in the three-legged dog. And now I am noticing it elsewhere.
Like when I spotted a little girl holding her mother’s hand and playfully skipping alongside her as they walked into a store. I was coming out of the store and couldn’t see much of the girl’s face because of the mask she wore, but I swear I saw a sparkle in her eyes when she looked at me.
Or when, with amusement, I listened to my co-worker’s bellowing laugh when I cracked a joke she found insanely hilarious. Work has been stressful with the masks, daily temperature checks, and protocols to keep us safe from the coronavirus. It was wonderful to hear that big of a guffaw.
I hope the three-legged dog sticks around in my head for a while, and I hope I see it around the neighborhood again with its tongue flapping wildly about as it runs its little heart out. That dog is definitely doing me some good.