A Sad Story About a Good Dog, Adopted in a Pandemic
My wife and I adopted a ‘pandemic puppy’ to make self-isolating less lonely. It didn’t work out like that.
“I think we should get a dog.” This was my wife, Alex, our first night sheltered in place. I was on the couch, in sweatpants, eating a burrito; Alex stood before me in jeans and a black blazer. In the crook of her right arm she cradled a laptop full of research she’d conducted on Bay Area dog shelters. She twirled her free hand as she spoke, like a lawyer addressing the court. “And I think it should be a puppy. A young puppy. Preferably with floppy ears. What do you think?”
“I think it’s a great idea,” I replied quickly, aware that her question had not really been a question, and that it would have been unwise to offer my honest opinion, which was that I thought adopting a puppy to be a bad idea. My reasons were mostly selfish. For one thing, though several months of quarantine-style isolation did seem ideal context for puppy-raising, I had imagined spending those months in a starkly different way — like by investing bullishly in myself. I wanted to read the New Yorker, write a novel, acquire abs (burritos notwithstanding). I wanted to install bookshelves. And it was hard thinking of a better way to torpedo that dream than by adopting an animal predisposed to destroying furniture. I had also long suspected dogs’ love for man to be more transactional than man likes to admit — that what dog-behavior we interpret as love is, more often, hunger — and so more generally, I doubted whether the new-puppy destruction to which Alex and I would be submitting could possibly, ultimately, be worth it.
Then I met the puppy in question. Nola was a three-month-old, foot-and-a-half-long Lab/shepherd mix with a gold coat she hadn’t quite grown into, eyes that gleamed like large buttons, and a brow that conveyed, in turns, bemusement, befuddlement, and serious thought. (And her ears: Boy did they flop.) Alex and I met her inside the small, Band-Aid-colored front office of a dog shelter in Potrero Hill. She was standing at attention in a pen in the corner. Her cuteness was hypnotic. She cocked her head at us; we, helplessly, cocked our heads back. By the time I snapped out of it, Alex and…