Column: COVID-19 pandemic isolation rekindles an ancient relationship

  • (Micki Colbeck photograph)

  • Micki Colbeck. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 1/11/2021 10:05:33 AM
Modified: 1/11/2021 10:05:12 AM

What will become of the dogs adopted in 2020, once we all go back to the workplace? They are now accustomed to numerous walks, snacks, cuddles and outdoor breaks throughout the day. My daughter, who works in human resources and sometimes volunteers with an animal rescue group, posits that many workers will never fully return to office life — life before COVID-19 — but will form a hybrid way of work.

The pandemic has forced us back to a far earlier way of living, with our little tribe around the fire cooking, telling stories, singing, being with canines, learning to get along with each other and teaching our children the skills they need to live in their world. Working from home, we no longer chip away at flint tools or grind grains but look at screens and push buttons with markings on them.

My two little brown dogs, the LBDs, are great companions on our walks in the woods. With noses sniffing, they alert me that someone (dog, fox, deer) has passed by this tall grass before us and that someone may be here now over that hill. My dogs do not understand the future tense. On days that I tell them we are going to get in the car and go see baby Molly and Buddy, the dog at my daughter’s, they become confused and look all around for Buddy (who is three times the size of each of them).

I think it might be refreshing to forget the future tense for a while.

Recent genomic research shows that dogs have been domesticated at least 11,000 years and possibly as long ago as 40,000 years. They were not with us when we left East Africa around 60,000 years ago and populated much of Europe, Asia and Australia. More gene sequencing needs to be done on ancient and modern dogs around the world to find exactly when they split with wolves.

A recent study published in the journal Science on the origins and genetic legacy of prehistoric dogs finds five early lineages that descended from wolf populations in Europe, the Near East and Siberia.

These dogs traveled the globe with humans. Their evolutionary history is deeply tied to ours, as our chances for survival were better with each other. There was no slow evolution of dog-wolves, no gray zone. Only dogs with no wolf tendencies could join in this journey. In the words of one researcher, a dog that tried to eat the baby would be bonked on the head and cast out.

By 11,000 years ago, dogs were fully dogs. Agricultural domestication was only just beginning. Cats were brought into the house full-time only with the invention of cat litter, around 70 years ago.

So, if you feel good being with a dog, you come by it naturally. Your people have been hanging out with dogs for thousands of years.

My own love of dogs may come from the fact that my mom was a believer in the curative powers of a sun bath. Every warm afternoon, she set me on a blanket outside to take in the sun. Our old white dog with a single black ear, Mugsie (who in my memory was always an old dog), stayed beside me, panting and keeping watch. I was the youngest of four and Mugsie was my Nana, my canine nursemaid.

May 2021 bring us joy in nature and loving relationships with each other. May we never forget what we owe to our dogs.

Micki Colbeck, of Strafford, is an artist, a conservation biologist and a member of the Strafford Conservation Commission. Write to her at

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