When a friend called me recently to tell me that he and his team family welcomed a puppy into their home, I didn’t overflow with congratulations. All I could say was a half-hearted “that’s great.” I have been asthmatic for most of my life.
While talking about the breed of the puppy (doodle-something) and the name (Randy or Rosy or Moppy), I could almost feel watery eyes and an itchy skin. When photos of cute puppies started popping up on my phone, I thought of my 7-year-old son, who, like me, is allergic to feathers and fur. Then I mentally moved those friends to the category of acquaintances whose apartments I would rarely or never visit again.
The pandemic has also pushed other friends and family to love puppies. Some of them told me — without a dose of shame — that they cleverly recorded their furry threats as therapy animals, so they would have access to restaurants, hotels, and airplanes.
The numbers on dog ownership since the start of the pandemic are still somewhat patchy but, as a New Yorker, I have noticed more dogs between people’s feet and an increase in the cute and cuddly influence of the species on the city’s ecosystem. . All of this is perfectly acceptable to non-allergic humans who consider New York City to be dog-friendly territory and therapy animals are as typical as the brunch and the pizza. But the rest of us, the huff and puff type, find ourselves living in a booming bubble of puppies, where refusal to joke about a hive-producing canine, while adorable, is considered ill-mannered.
Here’s something dog owners should consider: When introducing your beloved companion to non-dogs, think of him 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’m drawing the ire of dog lovers everywhere, but keep in mind that my dislike of puppies is derived less from Cruella de Vil and more from allergy medication and hand sanitizer. I just think that, at least here in New York, we’ve gone too far: dogs in restaurants, dogs in strollers, dogs in buses and on the subway. And the uncleaned poop on the sidewalks suggests that both the dog and the dog’s owner have started marking their territory.
Nor do I mean to blame the poor dogs. It is the owners that concern me, especially with whom I interact. They have excessive and annoyed glee for their henchmen. They debate over how to name them. They squander money on your happiness. Why? I have a theory: while pets can bark, they can’t actually respond to or comment on their owners. If technology comes into existence that translates yowling and barking into constructive criticism of its humans, the pet industry, which is worth billions of dollars, will collapse in weeks.
My children, even the allergic one, adore dogs, which makes my disappointment more difficult. They are eager to pet dogs in elevators, gaze hypnotized at the dog tracks, and ask, almost every week, “When are we going to have a dog?”
I have been honest with them: never, I told them. And I will not give in. But when my oldest son brought a lizard named Bobby home from school to take care of him for the weekend, he exposed a small fissure in my anti-pet stance. I fell in love with the lizard.
Bobby was a chameleon. The children loved him. They hugged him. They bathed him and dressed him in kitchen towels. They made FaceTime calls to their cousins to tell stories of their cutest or most devious antics.
To be honest, I never detected any emotion on the face of Bobby the lizard. He didn’t do any tricks or show personality, he didn’t even wag his reptilian tail. He was the perfect pet.
It turned out that we were all happier with Bobby in the house. We sat around the tank, staring at him through the glass, waiting for him to jump, which he never did. We expected him to raise a claw or wink, which he also refused to do, very Bobby-like. We asked him if he was a good boy and he looked at us with Bobby’s blank stare, and we concluded that yes, he was a good boy.
When it was time for Bobby to leave, we took a family photo. Because during those days, Bobby was part of our family. He endured all the caresses, rubs and baths. He had no hair. I didn’t sneeze once. I love him for that.