I wasn’t initially too worried about the impact the lockdown would have on my dog.
We live at the top of Courmayeur, a town with a population less than 3,000, in the Italian Alps, at the foot of Mont Blanc.
It’s a tranquil location, nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, with access to stunning mountain trails. The place has been heaven for me and Annie, my active Brittany mix, who needs long daily hikes to keep her happy, fit, and calm.
Then, people started getting sick and dying all over Italy.
In March, the government put the entire country on lockdown, and that included me and my little red and white dog. Here, based on diary entries and Facebook posts, is a glimpse of what lockdown has been like in our village.
March 10, Day 2: Playtime Goes On?
Last night it was announced that the whole of Italy will be on lockdown after the number of COVID-19 cases rose to over 9,000. The hospital systems are struggling and economically this is a huge blow to the country.
My region, the Valle D’Aosta, is heavily reliant on tourism. Now all the ski resorts are closed and even the busy hiking summer season will be under threat.
But at least for Annie and her doggy chums, it seems as if life will go on as normal, with hikes and playtime with Ara, Key, and her other doggy friends.
March 15, Day 7: We Still Have Our Marbles. We Do.
It’s day seven of the lockdown here in Courmayeur, and Annie and I haven’t lost our marbles—yet.
Nationwide cases topped 25,000 today and lockdown restrictions in our region have tightened. We can’t leave the house unless it’s for essential work, medical emergencies, or replenishing food supplies. We need to carry a self-certification form confirming why we’re out.
Even in our quiet community, the Carabinieri (police) are dishing out hefty fines to those breaking the rules.
Mountain rescue organizations are reminding outdoor enthusiasts to avoid remote trails. If rescue were required, it would put an extra strain on already stretched emergency services.
This means Annie can’t meet up with friends and there will be no more trail adventures. Maybe she’ll be OK.
March 19, Day 11: Music of the Kong
Annie, in an out-of-character move, chewed up my slippers today.
Thankfully, I have a stash of interactive toys, snuffle mats, and puzzle feeders to keep her entertained.
Why does the Kong Wobbler have to be her favorite, though? My lockdown Netflix binges are accompanied by the sound of hard plastic bashing against walls!
March 21, DAY 13: HEAVY THOUGHTS
I’ve had to cut back Annie’s food portions. Her exercise has gone from long daily hikes to very little. I don’t want her to be overweight by the time the lockdown is over.
We are now restricted to doggy pee breaks 200 meters from our house. I’m thankful we live somewhere with an abundance of green space. Annie can at least get some stimulating slow and sniffy on-leash exploration in the surrounding fields.
I’ve also made arrangements for her care should I get hospitalized—thank goodness for kind neighbors.
March 25, Day 17: Game’s On
I’m trying to keep some semblance of routine. We do circuits around our large terrace at dawn and dusk, when it’s cool enough for her. It’s also a great space for a game of fetch or a treat treasure hunt.
I’ve been doing trick training with Annie every night, and we’ve had great fun shaping behaviors around a big box that her food was delivered in.
We’ve also been known just to have a mad game of chase around the house. It’s fun, extra exercise, and we both enjoy being a bit daft.
April 9, Day 32: Schpenk on the Mend!
We saw Annie’s buddy Schpenk for the first time in a long time. Last year he was involved in a horrible accident. I helped his owner to get him to the emergency vet. It didn’t look good.
After two surgeries and a lot of rehab, Schpenk is back to his usual cheeky, chappy self.
With everyone inside, we haven’t seen much of him. But the other day Annie’s pee break coordinated with his, and I was allowed to throw a wee biscuit to him—from a suitable distance, of course.
April 12, Day 36: Happy Easter!
Surprise! One of my neighbors baked Easter pastries and then passed them up by pole via my bedroom window, observing both the holiday and social distancing rules. Normally, he’s a regular dog-walking companion, and his Swiss Shepherd, Ara, is one of Annie’s great chums. I brought Annie up to the window so she could say hello.
My neighbor is one of Annie’s favorite people. Whenever we walk by his house these days, she stares longingly, not understanding why we aren’t going for our usual walks with him and Ara.
We recently caught up with him and some other Italian friends for a virtual Aperitivo (pre-dinner drink). He shouted her name and she almost burst with excitement. She was so confused when he didn’t appear in front of her.
April 18, Day 42: Busting Out
I’ve been keeping Annie on a long leash, even when I take her to the field right beside us, just to be safe and respectful.
The other day I felt sorry for her and decided to let her have five minutes of freedom. It’s so quiet up here, what’s the harm, right?
Annie was ecstatic. So much so that she dashed off into the woods and disappeared. When she eventually came back, I totally did the wrong thing and joined in her fun game of “chase me if you want to catch me” in my panic to get us both back to the house quickly.
Back home I discovered she’d rolled in a fresh pile of deer poop. It was all over her face, neck, ears, and harness. Lovely!
After six weeks on a leash, I guess it was to be expected.
Recall training will recommence at the earliest possible moment.
April 28, Day 50: Safe Harbor
In the last few weeks, with COVID-19 cases reaching over 90,000, I’ve read about the increasing number of dogs being abandoned in Italy. Unfounded fears of them spreading the virus, hospitalization of owners, and financial strains have all contributed.
Prior to the virus arriving, I had already been considering fostering. Recently, an urgent appeal went out for help with an abandoned and malnourished little hound who was riddled with parasites. I agreed to foster her when she was well enough to travel.
From today, Olivia, the beautiful and droopy eared Segugio Italiano, can now recuperate in a safe home environment.
May 1, Day 54: A Glimmer
Eight weeks into lockdown and there’s hope on the horizon in Italy. The number of cases is slowly dropping, and the tough measures have been having an impact.
From the fourth of May, implementation of Phase 2 of the lockdown begins, and Italy will see a gradual reduction in restrictions.
In general, Liv has been a star—eager to please, super food-motivated, and she absolutely adores people. She just wants to be the center of your attention and is so desperate for love. Her stinky ears are clearing up great now too.
Annie loves her (as she does pretty much every dog). Liv does have some mild resource-guarding issues when it comes to her people. We are working on it.
In the meantime, she has a comfy spot on the sofa here with Annie and me. When the lockdown restrictions ease slightly next week, she’ll be introduced to some proper nice walks to build up the muscles in her back legs.
For Liv, the world after COVID-19—what we’re calling the “new normal”—will be so much better than her life before.
For the rest of us, fingers crossed that our economies can bounce back and, like Liv, we can work toward a new and happy normal.
Originally published in the July/August issue of AKC Family Dog magazine