18 mins read

Meet the pandemic pets who helped New Yorkers cope with the ‘new normal’

Document speaks with five new dog owners about adopting during the pandemic, and finding equilibrium as the world opens up

Locked inside with nothing but time, thousands of Americans across the country turned to dogs for sources of companionship and comfort during the pandemic. The desire for dogs was so high in many areas that some shelters struggled to meet the demand, and prospective owners were forced to look far and wide. The phenomenon was so popular that the dogs were given a nickname—“pandemic puppies.”

These dogs were adopted, or bought, in one of the most stressful and disruptive times in recent history. The unique circumstances of lockdown—namely, shared experiences of quarantine-induced loneliness and excess time—prompted a wave of sudden interest, leading thousands to dog ownership. According to a survey conducted by Rover.com, the two most cited reasons for getting a dog were emotional support and a new source of positivity. This was especially true amongst young people, specifically millennials—the survey’s most represented demographic, which suddenly found themselves working from home, or unemployed. As reported by the same survey, an overwhelming majority of owners say their pandemic dogs markedly improved their overall happiness during quarantine and made working from home a more pleasant experience.

Now, a year later, pandemic measures are ending—but these dogs remain. As the nation eases back into “normal” life, many owners are adjusting to a new-new-normal, with pets that only know the routines of the pandemic. With many people returning to work, there is a fear of widespread pet returns. Fortunately, contrary to recent headlines, there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. Most owners remain happy with their decision to get a dog during the pandemic, and have no plans to part with their new companions. Still, returning to a pre-pandemic schedule often means more time spent away from a pet, which introduces new concerns for owners—particularly, separation anxiety and the need for additional pet support.

To better comprehend this uniquely singular period of pet ownership, I met with several young New Yorkers and their dogs to discuss their motivations for getting a dog during the quarantine, their ongoing owner-pet relationships, and how that bond is shifting, for better or worse, now that the city is reopening.

Riza, Leroy & Biggie.

Riza, Leroy, & Biggie

Benji: Why did you decide to get Biggie?

Leroy: We were talking about getting a dog sort of all along, and then with COVID… We felt that if we were going to get a dog it would be ideal if there was a period that I was totally home trying to train him full time.

Riza: Also, so many people got animals. Our friends, before we got Biggie, got a lot of dogs. I guess that kind of got us to think, ‘Do we want one too?’

Leroy: Yeah. We definitely saw a lot of people through the quarantine getting dogs. It just made sense logistically, and I was like, ‘Well, if they could do it, we could do it.’

Riza: Dogs are the new babies of 2021.

Benji: Is this the first pet either of you have had?

Riza: This is my first.

Leroy: I had two dogs growing up, but this is the first time I’ve personally owned a dog.

Benji: How did Biggie impact your lives during quarantine?

Riza: I’ve been working throughout the entire quarantine. I work in a nursing home with the COVID patients. It’s hard going into work where it can be so depressing, but then getting Biggie was like, ‘Guys, I got a dog.’ I get to tell all my patients about him. I get to tell everyone I work with about him. I’m in a better mood now that I have him. I’m excited to go home from work because when I come back, I see my dog.

It was definitely uplifting, but now with Leroy going to work so much it is a little stressful leaving him at home. We’re always like, ‘We need a babysitter, or we need to teach him how to be by himself for at least eight hours.’

Benji: Is there anything you guys are worried about moving forward? Like, anything you did during quarantine with him that you won’t be able to keep up, or any activities that you have to reconsider now that things are opening up again and Biggie is in your life?

Riza: Going to dinner. Oh my God, we do not go on dates. I would say now you make all your plans around the dog. We have to think about traveling in general. We still can’t take him to faraway spots. We would definitely have to find someone to watch him.

Also, now when we go to our parents or to hang out with our friends, we’re always like, ‘We need to go home to the dog or we have to bring him.’ ‘Can we bring him, is that okay?’ We have to bring all his stuff, then we have to go home because we forgot something.

Leroy: It’s not too bad though, the pros outweigh the cons. He has a good temperament. I think that’s what has made this all very easy. I had a dog growing up, the one I mentioned. My parents did a pretty good job training her, but they were never able to make her totally domesticated. She kind of maintained that she was a wild animal, so my experience with a dog was one that never listens to you. That was something I was really anxious about. I’m glad it all worked out. This has worked out so much better than I could’ve expected. We just lucked out that he is really, really agreeable.

Erica & Buddy.

Erica & Buddy

Benji: What led you to adopt Buddy?

Erica: My friend found him, he was tied up outside of a bodega. They went into the store and they’re like, ‘Do you know anything about this dog?’ The person in the store said no, he’d been there all day. My friends chilled with him for a little. A couple of hours go by and they’re like, ‘He’s really chill, let’s just take him and we’ll leave our information inside of the store so the owners can find us later.’

My friend who found him worked 12 hour shifts at night, so he felt kind of wrong having this dog. His roommate, who was a really good friend of mine, was like, ‘Well, maybe Erica will take him in the meantime.’ I took him in thinking we’ll put up flyers, I’ll take him to the vet tomorrow to get him checked for a chip, and maybe the owner will go back to the bodega and call.

I took him to the vet, he didn’t have a chip. I posted him on a couple of different sites, like Facebook’s ‘Lost Dogs in Brooklyn’ page, and also on the ASPCA. I was searching the sites everyday to see if anybody had posted a picture of him. A couple months went by and I was like, ‘Cool, guess I have a dog.’ That was like a year ago, almost exactly.

If he didn’t have his personality I probably would’ve rehomed him. I’ve never had a dog that I didn’t get as a kid, so I’ve never been the sole caretaker and trainer. If he wasn’t so chill, I probably would have been like, ‘We need to find you somebody who can handle you a little bit better, and get you in good shape.’

I’ve wanted a dog as an adult, but it’s never lined up. Pre-COVID I was the manager at a restaurant and I really wanted a dog, but I literally had no time. Finding Buddy lined up perfectly. I don’t think there would be another time in my life where I would have this [opportunity] to even get him comfortable in the home and learn to live together, because I would have been gone so much.

Benji: COVID afforded you the time to take in Buddy?

Erica: Yeah, because I wasn’t working when I got him. It was my first time not having a job for a long period of time as an adult. If it wasn’t for Buddy, I probably would have never left the house.

I would describe having a dog as a lot of getting up. Getting him made it so I started walking a ton, we get in miles and miles per day. Not to mention getting up early and needing to have a set schedule, which I think was a big problem for a lot of my homies. COVID mixed up everybody’s schedule. All of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, I have nothing to do.’ Having somebody that needs you to do things at a certain time was really mentally beneficial. It was still depressing as fuck, but it would have been way crazier without Buddy.

I moved to Washington Heights and I had a roommate who messaged me when we moved out saying, ‘Buddy saved my life. Without him coming around with his good attitude… I was so stuck sitting in my apartment not going out, not moving—stagnant.’ I think that’s why a lot of people did get dogs. When you have something to care about, whether that’s your job or whether that’s an animal, it helps a lot—it’s major companionship.

Also, I realized I was putting a lot on my friends and other loved ones during early COVID. Wanting people to be in your bubble with you, or whatever it is so that you’re not completely alone. Buddy doesn’t ever get sick of being around me. It makes me feel even worse when I leave him.

Benji: So what about now, are you back to work?

Erica: I’m working two days a week and also have some other stuff on the horizon that will take up a lot of my time, which is kind of scary. The two days a week I’m working are not so bad, because it’s like eight hour shifts, and my friend who works from home watches Buddy. He’s super comfortable with her because she’s known him since I’ve had him. He’s not being left alone at all yet. I’ve left him alone for more than five hours twice since I’ve had him.

Benji: Are you going to be able to keep that up, or are you worried when the time comes that you’ll have to leave him?

Erica: I think about it all the time, because I’m like, ‘Alright, what am I going to do?’ I posted on my Instagram not too long ago asking ‘What do people with dogs do when you have a job? Like, where are you putting your dogs?’ So many people said they just have to learn to sit around, basically. Is that really dogs’ lives pre-COVID? They just sit in the house while we’re out doing things? Their whole life is just waiting on us?

I’m trying to figure out how, once I go back to working five days a week, or whatever it may be, it’s going to reflect in his life. A couple of people I know put their dog in day camp, but I definitely don’t want to do that because it’s a high risk activity. I think I’m just going to get a dog walker and maybe have my friend watch him the two days a week I’m working.

It’s hella stressful, because it also means more money. You already spend a lot of money with an animal, and now you need to factor in somebody to walk him or watch him. I don’t know, we’ll see. I get so anxious leaving him with people. I’ll leave him for a day and I’m like, ‘Alright, here’s my cell phone number. Here’s the number for my job. Here’s his vet.’ I’m stressed out that something’s going to happen.

I’m really lucky because I do have such a good support system of people that love Buddy and itch to hang out with him. All of my friends are like, ‘Yeah, I’ll come get Buddy, I’ll walk Buddy.’ If I didn’t have that, it would be a lot harder.

Jill, Sean & Pierre.

Jill, Sean, & Pierre

Benji: When did you guys get Pierre?

Jill: We got him in November 2020 through Waggytail Rescue, which is a foster-based rescue in Manhattan. He’s a rescue from Alabama where he was in a kill shelter. We were looking for a dog for a while, but it was really hard to adopt a dog in the pandemic. I was about to give up, but then I saw Pierre. I applied for him because I fell in love, he’s just so silly.

At that point I think Sean had already given up. I know because I was showing him so many dogs. I applied to this one and this one, and I never got a response. It was like applying for a job in New York. It was really demotivating, but out of all the dogs I applied to we got Pierre, who was the cutest one. We did a little Zoom meeting and I immediately said yes. It went super fast. We picked him up in the Upper East Side where he was with a foster lady.

Benji: How did you decide to get Pierre? Did you always know you wanted a dog?

Jill: Yeah, we definitely already decided a while ago that we were going to get a dog together, even before the pandemic. It was because we moved in with our friends, who had rescued a senior poodle themselves at the beginning of the pandemic, that we finally had a living situation where pets were allowed. Before, we were living in crazy lofts with like eight other people.

Sean: And the green card.

Jill: Yeah, I had to wait for the green card.

Sean: We had wanted a dog longer already, but we had to wait for her green card. It’s so hard to apply for the dogs. There’s so much competition, they want to know that people are going to stay.

Benji: How would you describe him? What’s his personality?

Jill: He has a very strong character, for sure. He’s very quirky. He’s very, very sweet, super loving and trusting, and he likes everyone. He barely barks. He’s not aggressive at all. He’s just like a living teddy bear, I guess.

He gets so much attention on the street. People stop us all the time, like ‘Is that a real dog? Oh my God, he’s a teddy bear.’ Like, people really lose their shit. He’s becoming a little icon around the neighborhood, for sure. People recognize him at the doggy park in Tompkins. There are a few old ladies on the block that really love him. Everyone loves him.

Sean: He’s a puppy. He has the spirit of a puppy, but he’s also an old man for sure. He’s got the best of both worlds.

Jill: He’s definitely lazy. He’s had a long, long life.Ten years in Alabama, but now he’s a city boy.

Benji: Was there a period of adjustment when you first got him?

Jill: He adapted super fast, for sure, because he’s so trusting. He definitely went through a lot of trauma with the whole move, but immediately he was like, ‘Okay, this is my new life.’ He was very sweet from the beginning. He wasn’t scared or awkward or anything.

Benji: Are you able to be home with him during the day?

Jill: I work at a vintage store and I bring him to work sometimes—he really likes it. My boss loves him too, so I brought him to work yesterday for a change of scenery. He’s always with one of us. He’s never alone, basically.

Sean: He gets so much attention from everybody, always, that we do worry. I’m a musician, and when I’ll be able to play shows again or rehearse, when Jill’s working, he’s going to be alone a lot more. We’re wondering how he’s going to cope with that.

Jill: New York is the most dog-friendly city ever. I’m from Brussels, and there’s way fewer dogs. I had a dog in Brussels too. It was very hard to have a dog there, because she couldn’t come to work. In New York, because he’s so small, we can just carry him anywhere and he likes it. Some dogs are more anxious and don’t really like to be around a lot of people, but that’s Pierre’s prime time. He acts like he’s the mayor of the city in the park. So it’s kind of ideal, honestly. Still, with the separation anxiety I’ll probably—if Sean plays a lot of shows, I’ll probably take him to my work all the time. He’s very adaptive to any situation.

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