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Beneath the Dog Star


So, right now you can’t go to a bar, a cafe or a barbershop; you can’t shop in a bookstore, go to the movies or a yoga class; forget about going to a library, a museum or a bowling alley; you can’t go to a club to hear music or workout at your gym.

What you can do is adopt a dog.

Bide-A-Wee, Animal Rescue and The ASPCA are suddenly overwhelmed with requests.

People sheltering on their own or with their family are suddenly looking for steady and non-judgmental companionship.

How likely is it that your wife or kids are going to happily sit through that second New Riders of the Purple Sage album again?

Your dog won’t mind a bit!

Is your husband ready to curl up and watch eight consecutive episodes of Top Chef, including the one where Padma references five different U2 songs to explain her theories of exotic but homeopathic home cookery?

Your dog is ready!

Step outside for a moment.

See all those people with masks and gloves, not making eye contact, keeping a safe distance, hugging the sides of the buildings, and nervously assessing anyone coming their way for the cough or the sneeze that might topple their world.

Now look down.

The dogs they’re walking are dancing down the street with nothing but joy in their step, tails wagging, like every day is Christmas.

A dog’s idea of heaven is for nobody to leave their side. Ever!

Whoever came up with the idea of sheltering in place loved dogs.

And it seems like you’re in very little danger of getting the virus from your pet, and very little danger of infecting them.

Yes, there was a story in the paper about two cats who appear to have come down with very mild cases of the coronavirus, but then again, these are cats, so how reliable is that information? You have to ask.

And how did they get tested when we can’t?

Years ago, I was sent to Siberia on a story. I met with a digital shaman who could fax the dead, with sorcerers who could realign the breath of the world, with hustlers who could make money magically disappear. And almost every place I went, from Novosibirsk, a city of two million people where there are only three restaurants, to Irkutsk, all the way in the East, where the rain just hangs in the air, waiting for instructions, and almost every place I went, the second or third question people would ask me was did I have a pet? A dog? A cat? A monkey?

I mentioned this in passing to my translator. I thought it was funny. He didn’t.

"Oh, maybe you haven’t been here long enough to notice. People are fixated on their pets. They let their dogs and cats eat from their plate, they spend more time talking to their pets than to their lovers. Go into enough homes, you’ll see." He took off his black-rimmed glasses and put them down on the table, directly between our two cups of tea, and they glinted and shone for a moment with the wild, indecorous light of a passing strobe.

"You can’t have 75 years of repression and not have it affect you at the deepest level. We lived in an atmosphere of absolute mistrust. You couldn’t be sure of your family, your teachers, your neighbors, your lovers. Everyone was a potential enemy. So people learned to talk in code, to find ways of saying everything and exposing nothing. So who do you talk to? Your dog! Your parrot! Your hamster! Your monkey! They’re the only ones who can’t turn you in, who can never betray you. They are your safety, your refuge.

“When there is nothing, they are everything.”

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Brian Cullman is a musician and music producer. He has written for The Paris Review, Details, Rolling Stone, and others. He's our music editor. He also wrote and performed this song.

Walk The Dog Before I Sleep : Brian Cullman

A few more dog songs. (Brian likes dogs. He's not prejudiced. He likes cats, too.)

Marvin Pontiac : I’m A Doggy

Rusty Kershaw : Stop Kicking My Dog Around

The Three Keys : That Doggone Dog Of Mine

John Hiatt : My Dog & Me

Charlie Feathers : I’m Walking The Dog