Life

Coronavirus Diaries: Screw It, We Got a Dog

We were so unprepared.

a dog!
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here. If you have a story we should tell, please email coronavirusdiaries@slate.com.

The plan was to adopt a pup after our wedding on Memorial Day. That’d be the right time, we reasoned, during a period of calm after a flurry of planning. To tide us over, my fiancée and I window-shopped for dogs online. By the end of February, Kate had fallen hard for a middle-aged, skinny beagle mix she saw on Petfinder. I thought the dog was cute too, but I wasn’t about to abandon our responsible timeline. “Not yet,” I said.

At the beginning of March, we moved into a dog-friendly apartment in Brooklyn, step one of our careful dog plan. As we were wading through a sea of cardboard boxes, Kate informed me that she had applied for the dog anyway. Surprise! “Our” application had been accepted. I made my veto clear. The coronavirus had just landed in New Rochelle, just north of New York City, and it was only a matter of time before it made its way down to us.

“There’s never a good time to get a dog,” my fiancée offered up in response. But some times are better than other times—like the times that are not right after moving, and before a wedding, and also during a global pandemic. I informed the shelter volunteer of “our” ultimate decision. “Let me know if you change your mind,” she said.

Then, after the White House announced social distancing guidelines on March 16, we decided to postpone our wedding until September. [Update, April 7, 2020: Now it’s postponed until later than September.]I felt like whatever control we previously had over our lives was being laid to waste by the coronavirus. That Wednesday, as we were hammering away on our laptops, obeying our new work-from-home orders, I said to Kate: “OK, fuck it.”

We had to act swiftly: There were rumors that Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted to install a shelter-in-place order across the city within days. In our minds, getting a dog was now an essential activity, but we were afraid the new city restrictions might not agree. That afternoon we hopped in the car and drove to Manhattan to meet up with the family fostering the beagle mix. Everything happened fast. They introduced us to the dog on the stoop of their brownstone and suggested we go for a quick walk to discuss her personality.

To tell the truth, she was kinda funny looking—too lanky to be a true beagle, but too small to be any other recognizable breed like a lab. She zigzagged maniacally around the sidewalk, trying to sniff every new square inch of concrete. I looked uneasily at the foster mom, who was tugging on the leash, trying to get the dog to walk. “She needs to be shown strong leadership,” she said.

I turned to look at Kate, to give her my “I’m not so sure about this” face, only to find her on her knees, eyes closed, hugging the dog cheek-to-cheek. A few minutes later we were back in the car with our new dog.

We named her Fenner. We were very unprepared. She came with a leash and a three-day supply of food, but none of the other essentials we’d ordered online had arrived, and we were hesitant to leave the house for any in-person shopping. We converted some of our Tupperware into food and water bowls, and used old plastic shopping bags to pick up Fenner’s poop. As for a bed, she was perfectly happy sleeping under the covers between us. Like her Moms, Fenner committed quickly. Friends joked she too was a “U-Haul lesbian.” She waited until it was clear we were both in love with her to reveal that she roar-snored and contained an awful amount of gas for a 20-pound creature.

It turns out we weren’t the only ones who haphazardly embraced the coronavirus as the perfect time to adopt a dog. Shelters have reported sharp increases in adoption and fostering applications, according to the New York Times. To deal with the demand and the constraints of social distancing, shelters are having potential adopters meet pets over video.

The biggest perk of adopting a dog right now might be the fact that the usual drawbacks are absent. When bars are closed, having to take the dog out can’t cause you to miss drinks with friends. When you’re home all the time, there’s no scrambling to find a dog walker. We canceled our honeymoon to Japan—no animal boarding to worry about. During stressful times, dogs can help strip life back to its essentials: food and naps, plus light entertainment in the form of sticks and squirrels. They also require us to go on walks, which happen to be a great way for cooped-up people to stay sane.

One day we’ll have to deal with organizing our wedding and assessing dog daycare options. But for now, instead of feverishly refreshing my Twitter feed to get the latest bad news, I count Fenner’s chin hairs and wonder aloud if she’s going through menopause. I warm my feet up by placing them on her sweet fuzzy belly. It’s hard to worry about a recession when she’s asleep upside down, limbs all akimbo, on my lap. Even the farts are charming. I’m sure that soon, I’ll feel panicked and helpless again about our current state of affairs. Right now, I can’t be bothered, because my dog has just dutifully returned with a half-chewed ball that she now expects to be cast out again. Who am I to let her down?