My petition for full custody was rejected, not by a judge, but by a volunteer at a non-profit pet adoption group with a sleek and active social media presence. My month long struggle to rescue a ‘less-than-50-pound animal’, as dictated by my building’s unofficial pet policy, had been thwarted. The argument against my case hinged on a single off-hand comment from my building manager to the effect that the rental company would not have an issue with a dog provided the animal ‘did not bark all day’. New to the cut-throat world of New York City animal rescue, I did not anticipate what a grave misstep those words would come to be.
‘Here’s the approval from my building manager,’ I emailed them, unaware that the message would only take me further from my goals.
‘Denied,’ they wrote back. ‘We cannot guarantee the dog won’t bark all day.’
‘But I would take it to doggy daycare,’ I argued, to no avail.
When I had begun this process, I had been told that some dog groups in New York were strict enough to make home visits. Had the organization in question arranged a home visit to my apartment, they would have learned from various cues around the rent-stabilized building that this was not a space where tenant complaints were addressed. They would see the overflowing curbside waste bins and the mysterious blood-like splatters on the first-floor walls. They would hear my upstairs neighbor’s puppy mill mix barking continuously without any apparent action being taken.
‘We are not comfortable with any situation where there’s a risk of a dog subsequently having to be surrendered,’ they said.
I felt they had made a terrible mistake.
For months after I first moved into my neighborhood, I had often seen a man with a giant, fluffy husky mix. The dog was more recognizable than the man, a gray sweatsuit serving as his uniform. He must have a huge apartment, I thought when I saw the hound and his owner lumbering across 22nd Street. And his roommates must be super chill! One morning I switched-up my preferred subway route. There, inside the station in front of the turnstiles, was the man and the beast, surrounded by the kind of cardboard structures that suggest a transient residence. There was even a metal dog bowl. From the dog’s perspective, he did indeed have a huge apartment. In some ways, the nomadic existence of his owner might be better for pet ownership: He could spend all day with the dog and he didn’t have any landlords who would evict him for barking-related reasons.
I had just strolled through midtown with my visiting mother, and was in the sort of frail emotional state Times Square inspires in the summer: concern about the state of humanity, physically overheated, emotionally vulnerable.
‘Don’t get a dog,’ my then romantic companion advised me. ‘Lonely women in New York get dogs.’
The source of this advice calibrated his life with the precision of a foreign sports car engine: A tasteful watch on his wrist; a collection of Italian cashmere and leather goods of which Patrick Bateman would approve; each piece of furniture in his West Village apartment proportioned appropriately for the space. He dedicated his free time to the pursuit of the city’s best Campari cocktail, prizing the clarity and size of the ice in the drink above all else. His derision contained two assumptions: that loneliness was a failure and that a pet was a bad solution. He wanted to have one child, a boy, to whom he would give his own name. This did not appeal to me, although I did enjoy the cocktails.
‘Wait until you’re settled,’ he suggested. Hidden behind the ‘you’re’ was a ‘we’.
Walking down Third Avenue while formulating a plan to break up with him that June, I stumbled upon my ideal canine companion. I had just strolled through midtown with my visiting mother, and was in the sort of frail emotional state Times Square inspires in the summer: concern about the state of humanity, physically overheated, emotionally vulnerable. A woman was walking a tiny four pound brindle chihuahua mix outside a hair salon.
‘He’s up for adoption—but there are already a bunch of applications in for him,’ she told me.
I held the tiny puppy, who I had already named in my mind after a guard dog in The Almanac of the Dead, and knew I would have to acquire a dog.
As anticipated, that dog was adopted before I could complete my application. To add insult to injury, the shelter had arranged for a photographer to take photos of me holding the dog and these images still exist online, haunting me like some G-rated revenge porn.
Even though baby Nitro, as I had planned to call the chihuahua, was scooped up by someone who was likely referring to herself as ‘mom’ while thumbing out captions on a new dogfluencer account, I decided to move forward with a general interest application. I could afford a dog walker and could work from home as needed. In the parlance of the shelter’s copywriter, I felt prepared for a ‘furever friend’. There were two other dogs that seemed compatible with my style and lifestyle, a cattledog, a spaniel, both of which the agency had been unable to place. After they rejected my application, they continued to post both of these dogs’ photos. Please adopt HANK!! or Ginger needs your help!!! would flash up on my screen. Hank was even featured on the cover of an issue of Time Out New York. I could not adopt Hank. I could not help Ginger.
Who should have a dog? In my opinion, me. The most common reasons for giving up a pet are unpredictable factors: moving, the introduction of a non-compatible partner (baby, allergic spouse). But the shelter did not inquire after my procreation or new boyfriend plans, because that would be discrimination. In a city where gender is a spectrum, monogamy isn’t a given and the nation’s financial overlords construct new instruments to part Main Street with its money, few behaviors are still morally reprehensible. Surrendering a dog might be the last great faux pas. If any shelter thinks I could show my face in New York after giving up a puppy, then they haven’t made an accurate assessment of my susceptibility to judgment. My only doubts are about my relationships with people.
‘Can you believe I had a child when I was your age?’ My mother asked me on the very morning I first saw Nitro and decided I needed a pet.
As the child she was referring to, I’d developed a strong sense for the response she sought (‘Your youth was stolen from you’) and an equally strong desire to withhold it (‘I believe abortion was legal then?’)
‘Yes, many adults in their late twenties make that decision,’ I settled in the middle.
‘When are you going to get a dog?’ My downstairs neighbor asked me, leading two of what appeared to be a rotating cast of aging mutts, unaware that this question was as triggering to me as asking the childfree about their reproduction agenda. I’m trying. Some people make it look so easy. They walk into a puppy store and buy a shihpoo like it’s nothing.
Three years later and still dogless, I traveled to Italy with a new man. On our way back from Lake Como, we shared a bottle of wine beside a canal in Milan.
‘Let’s go to Monte Carlo and get married,’ he said, only half joking.
‘I can’t. I have meetings.’ I was serious.
Back home in my apartment, this one more spacious and with responsive management, I noticed a post from the shelter.
Two days later I brought a seven-pound hound puppy home to foster.
‘I didn’t realize you wanted a dog,’ the man said as we walked the puppy through Madison Square Park. I could sense his mental math: impulsive marriage: no; impulsive pet: yes.
‘I always wanted a dog,’ I said.
Within a week the shelter approved my adoption request. I think it’s better to have a dog you want, than start a family you’re not sure about. When I hear people say relationships are hard, I think maybe. Or maybe it’s hard when it’s not the right one.
Then again, what do I know? I only have a dog.
Kara Panzer is a public relations professional based in New York City. Her humorous essays have appeared in the Reykjavik Grapevine and The Millerton News among others.