A Better Post-Pandemic You?

By Gretchen Lieff   |   December 14, 2021

Holidays bring a jumble of emotions and 2021 is no exception. But there’s a particular grimness this season and I find myself lingering in the shadows of Thanksgiving for illumination.

November in Santa Barbara: Why have there been so many deadly traffic accidents?

Just earlier this month we saw dark smoke along Highway 101 and watched horrified the helpless efforts to save two dying people whose car had hit the wall and caught fire at Garden.

A few days later driving by the makeshift shrine of flowers at Cathedral Oaks and Cambridge where a drunken vehicle had plowed into and killed two others. Then on Carrillo, a young drunk driver with no headlights and another innocent death. And then a 71-year-old on a motorcycle at Cota and Salsipuedes, the impact so great his body was tossed nearly a block. Another life lost; another innocent DUI statistic.

Why is it happening?

Why is every kind of crime up nearly everywhere? This past weekend, I took a holiday road trip to my beloved San Francisco, which hinted at near anarchy with immense homelessness. Even the magnificent front entrance to the Fairmont Hotel was trashed when we arrived for breakfast early Thanksgiving morning.

COVID has worsened the stress, anxiety, and isolation of modern life.

The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal is often a resource of sanity, and I turned to an article titled “Five Principles for a Better Post-Pandemic You.” (Note the story assumes post pandemic despite new variants.)

In desperate optimism, I studied the five suggestions offered in the book review of Brad Stulberg’s The Practice of Groundness.

These are the things to do in order to “find well-being in an anxious world”:

Accept where you are. Don’t sugarcoat it. That only makes things worse.

Focus on the present. Let yourself flow. Be present in the moment. Get offline.

Be patient with yourself. Sometimes just resting for a little while is ok.

Embrace your vulnerability. Facing vulnerability helps us know and TRUST ourselves.

Find community. This is my favorite, as it involves our bonds with those we love that matter most.

My search for post-pandemic meaning takes me to a New York Times Metro Diary letter called “Unleashed.”

The writer is walking down a busy New York City sidewalk and spots an elderly woman dragging a dog leash. But there’s no dog attached. Concerned and troubled, the writer continues walking away. And on the next block she spots a small white poodle clearly lost. Without thinking she picks up the frightened pooch and starts running back toward the lady with the empty leash. Miraculously through the thick crowd, the “joyfully wriggling” pup jumps into her frantic owner’s arms.

Big breath.

I’m struck by the chaos, angst, and randomness of the story and wonder why it’s so compelling. 

A short time later, while driving along Montecito’s Coast Village Road, an amazing sight pulls me in the opposite direction of the New York dog lady story. 

Along the CVR sidewalk are dozens of purposeful people walking their dogs in military formation. It’s a group of dogs and owners taking this walk with utter seriousness. In near reverence, my car follows quietly past several intersections. My rescue shepherds are silent in the backseat.

K9 Solutions is a local dog training company whose motto is: “Any Dog, Any Age, Any Problem.” Owner Eric Smith said to a large following, “We reduce the stress and chaos in your life by helping teach your pup (and you) to behave and listen.”

“We’ve done more than 500 community dog walks over the past nine years… that’s about 15,000 dogs and their owners. Since COVID, I get two types of phone calls: ‘I got a puppy I don’t know what to do with’ or ‘I’m spending lots of time with my dog… and he’s acting like a jerk.’”

I sat down with Smith recently to ask him a few questions. 

Q. So, you teach the dog and client.

A. I teach dogs to behave and owners to give their dogs purpose.

In the chaos of life these days, how does this fit?

The majority of dogs in our program were reactive/aggressive. That’s significant… because when we walk, we walk together; and when we sit, we sit together.

I’m guessing you have a lot of experience with both dog and human impulse behavior?

Things are twisted… things that used to be right in the world are now wrong.

Interesting. What are the parallels?

I want to do what’s in the best interest of the dog. I don’t sugarcoat… that doesn’t help.”

So, a bit of tough love?

It’s all about tough love… we teach structure, discipline — like raising a child.

So, what’s the message during these troubled times?

Can you be a little more specific?

Sure, where’s the hope?

I feel hope every day. The building of relationships between people and their pets. Dogs don’t like conflict. They look to humans to keep them safe.

I guess we all want to feel safe?

My dogs know when they’re here together they stay calm. It’s the collective energy of the pack. It’s contagious. We are safer together than apart. For dogs and people.

Getting back to your question of what’s wrong with the world — the collective energy of humanity is off. Something has tipped the balance in the wrong direction. And that’s triggering people who don’t have enough self-control to manage themselves. It’s just my opinion.

So, if we have internal self-control and discipline, we can manage this current difficult stuff?

Yes… definitely for our human clients and for their dogs. Teaching trust.

What are we left with except ourselves and what my 91-year old dad calls our “character”? Dad still refers to the sayings of my Pennsylvania Dutch grandfather whose drive forward resulted in an AMA Presidency: “Make yourself necessary.”

Let’s make it through – together. •MJ


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