As far as dog years go, 2020 may have been the best

During the pandemic, many canines enjoyed having much more together time with their humans

Emily Gibson and Theo, her 5-year-old boxer mix, look down the staircase at their apartment in Brooklyn. Instead of Theo keeping watch on his own, he now has Emily look over the stairwell with him. The two got to spend more time together during the coronavirus pandemic.
Emily Gibson and Theo, her 5-year-old boxer mix, look down the staircase at their apartment in Brooklyn. Instead of Theo keeping watch on his own, he now has Emily look over the stairwell with him. The two got to spend more time together during the coronavirus pandemic.

The year 2020 will not be remembered as a great year for humans. But Theo, a 5-year old “humanly expressive” boxer mix, knew nothing of pandemic struggles. All he knew was that his owner, Emily Gibson, was spending a lot more time in their Brooklyn apartment. Instead of waiting for Gibson’s odd days off to sleep in, they could spend every day together, cozied up or on a grand little adventure. For many dogs around the world, having their humans home made 2020 the best year ever.

Gibson, 27, got Theo as a puppy. He was a total goofball, she said, describing mischievous puppy behavior and a habit of moving items around the home; she would joke that he was redecorating.

But when the pair relocated from Dallas to New York, her endless hours as a freelance set stylist kept them apart. Then: the pandemic. Gibson was home.

“I think he really appreciated it,” she said. Their new reality meant more time together, and some lingering vestiges of his youthful anxiety faded.

Theo and Emily take in the moon light and strike a pose on a sand dune. Theo, a 5-year-old boxer mix, got to spend more time with his owner Emily Gibson during the pandemic. (Photo by Nava Derakhshani)
Theo and Emily take in the moon light and strike a pose on a sand dune. Theo, a 5-year-old boxer mix, got to spend more time with his owner Emily Gibson during the pandemic. (Photo by Nava Derakhshani)
Theo and Emily take in the moon light and strike a pose on a sand dune. Theo, a 5-year-old boxer mix, got to spend more time with his owner Emily Gibson during the pandemic. (Photo by Nava Derakhshani)
Theo gives Gibson a kiss during one of their first outings of the pandemic while a couple takes a selfie behind them.
Theo gives Gibson a kiss during one of their first outings of the pandemic while a couple takes a selfie behind them.
Gibson, who works as a freelance stylist, used this monstera plant on a set she worked on. The pandemic put the brakes on Gibson's job, so she got to spend more time at home with Theo.
Gibson, who works as a freelance stylist, used this monstera plant on a set she worked on. The pandemic put the brakes on Gibson's job, so she got to spend more time at home with Theo.
A photo that makes Gibson tear up shows Theo sleeping on her bed in Brooklyn, with crossed paws, head on a pillow and his signature “super-grumpy look on his face.”
A photo that makes Gibson tear up shows Theo sleeping on her bed in Brooklyn, with crossed paws, head on a pillow and his signature “super-grumpy look on his face.”

Theo found another friend when photographer Nava Derakhshani, 37, moved into the apartment in July. Both humans would take Theo on longer, more frequent walks, hiking trips and beach adventures, with lots of opportunity for play.

“Maybe it was a return to puppyhood for him,” Derakhshani said, describing his wild, ecstatic runs across the sand, his joy in chasing very good sticks, and moments of sweetness between him and Gibson. “He would also bring out my inner child.”

[Read more stories of dogs, humans and the relationship they share]

For Gibson, Theo tapped into her nurturing side, and caring for him got her out of her own head.

“Sometimes I can be a bit of a homebody, and it is definitely true that I would probably not even leave the house some days if I didn’t have to work,” Gibson said. Not having Theo to push her outside “would have brought me down even more.”

On the days when Gibson did leave their home without him, Theo would cross through Derakhshani’s room to watch her through the window.

Derakhshani started taking photos of the pair for a pet photography competition, but capturing Gibson and Theo’s playful antics became something more. In one image, Theo stands in the doorway watching Gibson pose with a mannequin she picked up to decorate the apartment, just like he used to — pleased to be a part of it all. A photo that makes Gibson tear up shows Theo sleeping, gentleman-like with elegantly crossed paws, head on a pillow and his signature “super-grumpy look on his face,” with Gibson’s tea sitting on the bedside table; she is there with him, even when they’re not pictured together.

Emily and Theo daydream in the afternoon. Emily found herself taking many naps over the lockdown, catching up on much-needed sleep. Theo, a 5-year-old boxer mix, got to spend more time with his owner Emily Gibson during the pandemic.(Photo by Nava Derakhshani)
Emily and Theo daydream in the afternoon. Emily found herself taking many naps over the lockdown, catching up on much-needed sleep. Theo, a 5-year-old boxer mix, got to spend more time with his owner Emily Gibson during the pandemic.(Photo by Nava Derakhshani)
Emily and Theo daydream in the afternoon. Emily found herself taking many naps over the lockdown, catching up on much-needed sleep. Theo, a 5-year-old boxer mix, got to spend more time with his owner Emily Gibson during the pandemic.(Photo by Nava Derakhshani)
Gibson — with Theo standing guard — poses with a mannequin body on the front stoop of her building. She found it outside and used it to decorate her apartment.
Gibson — with Theo standing guard — poses with a mannequin body on the front stoop of her building. She found it outside and used it to decorate her apartment.
Theo insists that Gibson play with him.
Theo insists that Gibson play with him.
Gibson gives Theo a kiss and he returns her affection.
Gibson gives Theo a kiss and he returns her affection.

Another favorite has Theo stretching toward Gibson as she holds him and kisses his head, a bright flash of light spotlighting their bond.

Theo is still living his best life, but back in Texas — Gibson moved home to support family members, including those who had brushes with the virus. Theo has a new dog friend to play with while Gibson works, and more access to the outdoors. She misses the time they spent together during the height of the pandemic but is grateful for the new balance they’ve found.

But the former roommates, now miles apart, look back on their time together with tenderness and gratitude for each other and Theo, whose sweet, silly nature gave them purpose, play and friendship.

“It was a sweet time,” Gibson said. “It really was.”

Gibson holds Theo as the sun sets over a beach and he looks around for seagulls.
Gibson holds Theo as the sun sets over a beach and he looks around for seagulls.
About this story

Reporting by Kari Sonde. Photos by Nava Derakhshani. Photo editing by Annaliese Nurnberg. Design and development by Betty Chavarria.

Kari Sonde is the editorial aide for the Food section, where she helps with recipes, cooking questions and food styling. She previously worked at Mother Jones as an editorial fellow before joining The Washington Post in 2019.