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Dogsick: the Gen Z variant of homesickness

By the time this article is published, I will have been living in Massachusetts for almost three weeks, over three hundred miles away from my home state of Maryland. In addition to adjusting to a new routine and an overheated freshman dorm, I will have completed just over two weeks of my first college classes. Hopefully, I’ll still be texting those I care about from back home, including high school friends who stayed in-state or ventured south, to Coastal or Clemson or farther. I’ll still be sending my parents random photos from around campus to keep them in the loop of my new life, to which my mother usually responds with a cute comment or question. My father, on the other hand, with his combination of engineer humor and dad humor, usually attempts to one-up me with a picture of his own. 

The other night was no exception when I sent a picture of my dinner from Usdan to the family group chat (finally, they had chicken again!). My father’s response: a fuzzy close-up photo of a bag of dog food, brown kernels filling my screen.

At the time this exchange occurred, I knew that back home, it was my dogs’ feeding time. Usually, this was a chore placed onto me but now, those I left behind took on the task. Even from six states away, I could picture my three dogs crowding around the living room and kitchen, demanding to be fed with their chorus of barks starting anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half before their actual dinnertime–a daily routine that yes, gets very loud and annoying, and no, is not something that I particularly miss. At least, that’s what I told myself the first few days, until I did begin to miss it, shrill barks and all. 

In my dorm room, amongst my photos of friends and family hanging on the wall, I have many of my dogs. They were the most recent photos I took of them myself from throughout the summer, printed at Walgreens before move-in. Now, my current photos of them are from a FaceTime with my mother, when I positioned my index finger and thumb on the power and volume buttons, lying in wait for the next moment they came within the frame. My recent memories of my three dogs now are of blurry movement, wide eyes and confusion. My father is in the background of some of these screenshots, waving to the camera from behind the dogs while they pace around the room, trying to find the source of my voice. 

I know I am far from the only one that’s feeling this type of loss and emptiness at the moment. It is a feeling resulting from the combination of being away from home, a break from routine, living away from parents and missing the companionship of pets when for the first time in my life, I don’t come home to a fluffy friend every day. When I’m sitting in my dorm room, there is no wet nose pushing against my leg waiting to be petted. When I unlock my door, there is no exciting greeting or jumping up and down from my roommate, just as my three fuzzy roommates at home would do. There is no one to snuggle with at night, pester when I’m bored, or lay with when I’m feeling down. I know these gaps can be filled in other ways and I’ll find the missing pieces in time, but for now, I am missing my three best friends greatly. I simply miss being able to pat their heads whenever, something enjoyable for the both of us. 

I know I am not the only one feeling this because I can see its effects all over. In person, one of my new friends remarked how she is glad she doesn’t have pets at home because she couldn’t imagine being away from them. On social media, particularly Instagram, a wave of pet posts arose in the week following move-in, following story trends such as “tap in if you miss your pet” or “repost with a picture of your pet you left back home.” I didn’t partake in this act myself but clicking through stories to see pet after pet was definitely a stake through the heart yet comforting. It was a community adjusting to a new life and by sharing this small piece of suffering, we were making it more bearable for each other to see that we are not alone. 

Privately, I paid homage to my dogs in my own ways. I changed my laptop background from a selfie with my ex to a selfie with my oldest dog, Honey. Friends I’ve had over would remark about the pictures on my wall and when they’d realize that all the photos were of different dogs, they’d ask how many I have. When given the answer, the typical response was, “That’s a lot of dogs.” Yet occasionally, I still tell my parents that we could do with a fourth. 

I’ll admit that I felt a tad homesick the first couple of days after move-in. But after that feeling faded, another one lingers: dogsick. I can still talk to my family and talk to my friends from back home, but I couldn’t connect with my dogs like that. I need something tangible, something I can’t get right now. I can’t even go see the therapy dog at the BCC because of my class schedule, so maybe that’s something I’ll plan around for next semester. 

For now, blurry FaceTime screenshots and old pictures will have to suffice. Maybe I won’t entirely recover from dog-sickness, but I can cope the best I can. While I feel this gap on my end, I wonder how my dogs are doing back home, and I like to think that they miss me too. On the other hand, though, I know the attitude that Honey gets sometimes, so maybe she hasn’t really thought about it yet. I wouldn’t blame her for that though; she is only a dog. 

Thanksgiving break (or rather, long weekend) is still a few months away, but I’m holding out until I can see my dogs again (and have my own shower . . . and a homecooked meal . . . and a queen-size bed). Before that, though, my immediate family will be visiting for parents’ weekend, and there is an ache in my chest when I think about them returning home and my dogs can smell me on them, but not have me for another month themselves. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit (I did just say that they are only dogs) but thinking that they miss me too is somewhat comforting. I truly think that they do, in their own doggy way.

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