Puppyland

I didn’t like dog people. But now I am one.

I live in Puppyland. That’s what my Brooklyn neighborhood has become. Amidst the bags of recycling on the curbs, empty storefronts, and masked teens trying desperately to socialize outside the pizza place, puppies dot the landscape. Mostly mini labradoodles, but also a baby dachshund named Hazel, a very small Boston terrier called Winston, and a fluffball goldendoodle who goes by Henry. My kids and I know their names because we became those annoying people who stop nearly every owner to ask, “Can we pet your dog?”

Full confession: I’d never particularly liked dogs. Or, I should say, I’d never particularly liked dog people. The way they anthropomorphized their pets, took over the park, and left poop smeared across the sidewalk outside my house irritated the crap out of me. I’m allergic to cats, but I’d always preferred their aloof cool to the blatant eagerness dogs displayed, which their owners seemed to mimc.

Darryl

But I’ve been reformed. Halfway through 2020, with the world feeling like a very dark place, we started spending time with my brother’s girlfriend and her golden retriever, Darryl. He was always happy to see us. He thought we were wonderful. Having him around was like having a giant quaalude parked on the porch with us. And so, like tens of thousands of other people across the country, we decided to get a dog ourselves. We needed some innocence and kindness in our lives. Plus, my husband and I figured, a dog would provide the more standard benefit of teaching our kids more responsibility. If only we could find one.

Like most children, my kids had been begging for a dog for years. I’d always figured that if we relented, we’d adopt a dog from a pound and rescue it from euthanization. Getting a dog would be an act of altruism; a mitzvah. But, as you may have read, by last spring, the pounds had been emptied. I put in a few applications, got on a few waitlists, even made donations in the hopes of getting some special treatment, but I never heard back from any of the shelters. And, as I started studying dog instruction books, I realized that was a lucky thing. As someone who’d never owned a dog — much less particularly liked them — I was not equipped to deal with one that needed me more than I needed them. Dog lovers, go ahead and chuckle knowingly when I tell you that I didn’t realize just how involved the process of introducing a canine into a home can be.

After reading manuals by Zak George, the monks of New Skete, and Mark Van Wye of Zoom Room dog training, I learned that what I really wanted for our family was a worker dog. Not one that would retrieve partridges I’d shot or sniff out rodents from my farm fields, but a dog that was bred to provide… lightness. I guess a therapy dog? More like a cuddle dog. Once again, Reader: If you’re thinking, duh, they’re called companion dogs for a reason, please understand: I didn’t get it. Before the pandemic, I didn’t experience the world in a way that made me need a furry, benevolent presence in my life.

We ended up finding a breeder through my sister-in-law. I feel sheepish admitting that we paid for a purebred Havanese: one whose lineage comes from Cuban aristocrats who, hundreds of years later, produced a puppy that loves lying on the couch as much as I do. And farts a lot. Perhaps I’m projecting, but I feel an interspecies connection when she looks me in the eyes. OK, maybe she just wants another chicken liver treat. And she’s definitely still working on her potty training. But there’s a sincerity to her that feels refreshing. I’m not scoffing at my dog-loving neighbors anymore. And I’m thinking of all those new puppies less like poop machines on every corner and more like pieces of glitter sprinkled over my little corner of the world.

I’m writing here every week. Please follow me and tell me things. To hang out even more, find me on Twitter, sign up for my newsletter, and listen to NPR’s TED Radio Hour.

Journalist, mom, Swiss-Persian New Yorker. Host of @NPR’s @TEDRadioHour + @ZigZagPod. Author of Bored+Brilliant. Media Entrepreneur-ish. ManoushZ.com/newsletter

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