We got our dog during a hurricane.

Well, actually it was two days before the hurricane, but it felt like it happened during a hurricane. Thankfully, our house was fine, my family was fine, and the dog was fine. But after a tree landed in our pool, the powerlines all came down, and a transformer fell across our front lawn, we decided our home-sweet-electrical hazard was not the best place to be. So, we packed up the dog and a boatload of puppy wee-wee pads and ended up at a pet friendly hotel twenty minutes away. We spent two weeks there with and five-year old, a seven-year old, and a dog that turned into a garden hose every time he peed, all the way down the hallway, into the elevator, and past the front desk, until we got to the front door of the hotel where the spigot magically turned off. So, that was fun.

Eventually the dog was housebroken, and we didn’t encounter any more Acts of God of note, so life went on.

A month earlier when we had picked the dog, he was a sleepy little fellow who seemed like he would be a gentle addition to our bustling household. But the breeders must have pulled a fast one because Monty was an absolute monster at first (hence the name Monty). He ate the moldings, chewed up the carpets, and shredded our underwear. And that was just the first month.This went on for two years and then suddenly he calmed down and became a model citizen, er, dog, of society. It was like when your kids are little and they are maniacs, and then suddenly they turn nine or ten and become real people. It’s nice while it lasts because once they hit their teens, they become maniacs again.

Not that this happened to me. Okay, a little. Actually, this is completely what happened to me.

Since the kids were now busy with school and activities and needed me less, I had the thought that Monty could be a Certified Therapy Dog. He was an exceedingly loveable Golden Retriever, well-trained, and loved to have his belly rubbed. He seemed like a natural. He passed the behavior test with flying colors, we were trained as a Therapy Team, and then we spent many days in schools, senior centers, hospitals, and even at the airport helping people calm down when their flights were delayed or cancelled. I think, actually, Monty was only in it for the belly rubs, but we pretended he was there for the people in crisis.

Then came the pandemic.

Suddenly, more than anything, I was glad to have a dog. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Within weeks there was a huge surge in dog adoptions and dog buying and dog rescuing. I completely understood why. People were feeling lonely and isolated and needed comfort. Who better to fill those criteria than a dog? Of course, you may have said “spouse” or “partner,” or “llama,” but truly, no one loves you unconditionally like a dog, and dogs generally don’t spit like llamas do. And unlike a person, Dogs are not judgey. When you’ve gained ten pounds from eating too much of the chocolate chip banana bread that you obsessively baked, your dog will not be bothered by your weight gain. Not only will he not be bothered by it, he will be thrilled that there is more lap for him to climb into. And when you decide to lose the weight, he will happily go for more walks with you, chase more balls with you, and bug you to play with him when he notices you have sat down on the couch to watch “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Not that this happened to me. Okay, a little. Actually, this is completely what happened to me.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband was a wonderful pandemic partner, as he has been in non-pandemic times for nearly thirty years. But there is something so comforting about having a dog to pet, cuddle, or hold when you’re scared and you feel out of control… kind of like during a pandemic.

As the days stretched into weeks, and the weeks into months, we stayed inside nearly all the time except when Monty had to go out. Once an outgoing confident person, I morphed into someone who was fearful and anxious all the time. When I was outside, I shrank away from everybody who passed me, those who were wearing masks and and those who weren’t. I washed my hands, my groceries, and my wallet and credit cards obsessively when we got home and made sure to never touch my face or mouth. We watched the news waiting for something to give us hope and there was nothing. I upped my depression medication, but I could feel myself falling into a dark hole. So, I turned to Monty for help.

Author Kristan Higgins once said, “When an eighty-five-pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.” Monty was actually ninety-five pounds which made for a hefty load in my lap, but it was a warm welcome of comfort in a frightening situation.

Five days before our vaccines, we thought we were about to cross the finish line when we got Covid. We had been so careful, and yet it found us anyway. My husband got sick first and was better in a week. I was not. I lost my sense of taste and smell, felt a crushing heaviness in my chest, and could not stop coughing. When I couldn’t catch my breath, my husband called an ambulance and I willingly went to the hospital. I was one of the lucky ones – I was discharged fairly quickly. But it took me nearly six weeks to fully recover. During that time, Monty never left my side. He seemed to know I needed him, just to be next to me, and silently reassure me that, at some point, I would get better and we could go back to playing with tennis balls, making banana bread, and hanging out while I watched “Grey’s Anatomy.”

When I’ve heard people say their pet is their best friend, I used to scoff. I did love hanging out with my dog before the pandemic… but best friend? I wasn’t so sure. But something changed during the year and I realized that the dog had not only become by therapist, my coach, my confidant, and my cohort, he had indeed become my best friend.

After I got my vaccinations, I went out for a doctor appointment that I had put off for a year. I left the dog at home and was out for three hours. When I got home, he bounded over to me, knocked me down, and covered me with kisses and a great deal of dog slobber, as though I’d been gone for three weeks instead of only three hours. If a dog could embrace you, this one did. Our reunion lasted for nearly five minutes and when it was over, he followed me into the living room, and lay down to ask for belly rubs. He looked at me with his soft, brown eyes, and that’s when I realized something.

The dog needed me, too.

Tracy Beckerman is a syndicated humor columnist, author, and most importantly, dog-mom to Monty. Her latest book, Barking at the Moon hits shelves June 29th, 2021