A year ago, my husband and I had to make the difficult decision to euthanize our elderly Boston terrier. Afterward, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get another dog; I wanted to be free to travel, my ultimate goal being to divide my time between our home in California and an apartment my family owns in Stockholm, Sweden. However, a couple months ago, the director of the rescue organization from which we got our previous dogs got in touch, gently urging us to consider adopting a seven-month-old Boston puppy, an owner surrender.
My husband fell for him immediately; I was more skeptical, but by the time the coronavirus lockdown came around, I had begun to believe the dog was the only thing keeping me sane. I’d always been skeptical of the concept of emotional support animals, but now I understand.
So I am definitely the target audience for Laura Zigman’s Separation Anxiety, about a middle-aged woman who begins wearing her dog in a baby sling when her life starts falling apart. When I opened the book and saw that Part One is titled “Sheltering In Place,” a phrase I had rarely ever heard until earlier this month, when I started hearing it several times a day, it seemed almost eerie. (The title is actually a punning reference to the dog’s breed—she’s a Sheltie—and not any sort of stay-at-home order.)
The book’s main character, Judy, is technically separated from her anxiety-ridden pothead husband, who has moved into the basement of their home; her 13-year-old son is having trouble fitting in at school; her best friend is dying of cancer. The only thing that gives her comfort is the warm and satisfying feeling of carrying the dog close to her body: “Those hours when the dog is in the sling are restorative for me… wearing Charlotte is helping me get through the end of Teddy’s childhood… instead of turning to my husband with that overwhelming sadness and longing, I’ve turned to my dog.”
When she was younger, Judy wrote a wildly successful children’s book that was turned into a PBS series, but after many years of struggling with writer’s block, she now writes brief online posts for “a health and happiness website” called Well/er. (Judy’s story has parallels to Zigman’s own, according to this interview; the author turned to ghostwriting after her successful career as a novelist dried up.) Judy’s attempts to get her groove back include taking an in-person creativity seminar run by an Instagram influencer, which has disastrous results.
A lot of the things that happen to Judy in this book are pretty cringeworthy, especially that ill-fated weekend seminar, but Zigman writes about her with such obvious sympathy and affection that it’s impossible not to root for her. After finishing the book, I Googled “baby slings”—this was just a matter of curiosity; I don’t particularly want to wear my Boston terrier, and I sincerely doubt that my very energetic pup would let me do so—and was surprised to see that a couple of the Google image results showed people toting dogs in slings. Will Zigman’s book start a trend? People need all the comfort they can get at this difficult time, and if carrying your dog helps you through this, I see no reason to resist.