Pandemic Puppy Owners, We Need to Talk

When a friend of mine called recently to announce that he and his family had welcomed a puppy into their home, I didn’t exactly gush with congratulations. A halfhearted “That’s great” was about all I could muster. I’ve been asthmatic for pretty much my whole life.

As he chattered on about the puppy’s breed (something-doodle) and name (Randy or Rosy or Moppy), I swore I could feel the onset of runny eyes and itchy skin. As the cute candid puppy photos started pinging on my phone, I thought of my 7-year-old, who, like me, is allergic to feathers and fur. Then I mentally shuffled these friends into the category of acquaintances whose apartments I would rarely, if ever, visit again.

The pandemic has also driven other friends and family to puppy love. A few informed me, without a hint of shame, that they cleverly registered their shaggy menaces as therapy animals, giving them access to restaurants, hotels and airplanes.

Data on dog ownership since the start of the pandemic is a still a little spotty, but as a New Yorker, I have noticed more dogs underfoot and a ramping up of the species’ cute and cuddly influence on the city ecosystem. All of this is perfectly acceptable for those nonallergic humans who regard New York City as dog-friendly terrain and therapy animals as typical as brunch and pizza. But the rest of us wheezing, sniffling types find ourselves living inside a puppy bubble, where the refusal to gush over a hive-inducing, albeit adorable, canine is considered poor etiquette.

Credit…Photographs by Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

Here’s something dog owners should consider: When introducing your beloved companion to non-dog folk, think of it instead as a wild animal. Don’t ask: Would you like to pet my adorable pug? Instead ask: Would you like to pet my direct descendant of the gray wolf?

I know I am inviting the wrath of dog lovers everywhere, but please keep in mind, my puppy aversion is less Cruella de Vil and more Benadryl and hand-sanitizer derived. I just think, at least here in New York, that we have gone too far: dogs in restaurants, dogs in strollers, dogs on buses and subways. And the unscooped poop on sidewalks suggests that both puppy and puppy owner have taken to marking their territory.

I don’t mean to blame the poor dogs either. It’s the owners who concern me, especially those to whom I am related. They have an excessive and annoying glee about their minions. They labor over what to name them. They spend lavishly on their happiness. Why? I have a theory: While pets can bark, they can’t really talk back or express pointed observations about their owners. If there is ever technology that translates meows and barks into owner feedback, it will dry up the billion-dollar pet industry in weeks.

My children, even the sniffly one, adore dogs, which makes my disenchantment more difficult. They are eager to pet dogs in elevators, gaze mesmerized at dog runs and ask, nearly every week, “When are we getting a puppy?”

I’ve been straight with the little guys: We’re not, I told them. And I’m not going to budge. But when my eldest son brought home a lizard named Bobby from school to babysit for the weekend, it revealed a small fissure in my anti-pet stance. I fell for the lizard.

Credit…Photographs by Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

Bobby was a chameleon. The kids loved him. They held him. They sponge-bathed him and dressed him in paper-towel robes. They FaceTimed cousins to tell stories of his cute or devious shenanigans.

To be honest, I never detected an instance of emotion in Bobby’s lizard face. He did no tricks and showed no personality, not even wagging his reptilian tail. He was the perfect pet.

It turned out everyone was happier with Bobby in the house. We sat around the cage ogling him through the glass, waiting for him to perform a flip, which he never did. Waiting for him to lift a claw or wink an eye, which he refused to do and which was so Bobby-like. We asked him if he was a good boy and he looked at us with his blank Bobby stare, and we concluded, yes, he was such a good boy.

When it was time for Bobby to leave, we took a family picture. Because for those few days, Bobby was part of our family. He hung in there through all the petting and rubbing and sponge baths. He had no hair. I never sneezed once. I love him for that.

The author with his family and Bobby the lizard.Credit…Jon Methven

Jon Methven is the author of the novel “Therapy Mammals.”

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