Last year, a guy named Ben Joergens made it a project to answer, in a very subtle way, some questions that seemed to be gnawing at him. First, “What was the dog population profile in New York City like before COVID-19?” He wrote on Medium, where he posted the results of his research. Second: “How has Covid-19 affected interest in adopting dogs in New York City, especially compared to other types of pets?”
To do this, he consulted the information provided in the Ministry of Health’s dog licensing system; Data from Animal Care Centers of New York City, a premier shelter and adoption service; He studied Google Trends searches coming from local IP addresses for “dog,” “cat,” “guinea pig,” and “rabbit.” He went on to create visualization units that revealed, for example, that while there were plenty of dogs named Lola in Manhattan and Brooklyn, there were no Lolas in Queens, the Bronx, or Staten Island. Bellas (and mutts) are well represented throughout. There were other surprising conclusions.
To the casual observer of pet life in the city, the pandemic seemed to have made nearly everyone a dog owner. Was this a product of our selection bias? Mr. Jurgens’ research suggested that it might be. Its data showed that adoptions for both dogs and cats in 2020 were higher before the pandemic in January. But while cat adoptions rose more or less during the initial phase of the pandemic, dog adoptions steadily declined, then more or less declined from May through December 2020.
There are caveats, of course: In affluent neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, which are already crowded with dogs, some people got their new pets through breeders or pet stores rather than rescue agencies. Moreover, the dogs are expensive to care for, New York’s maintenance is particularly difficult and the complex pandemic life is all–all of which certainly give context to Mr. Jurgens’ counterintuitive findings.
Could it have been that covid did not raise our dogs’ emotionality but instead reduced it? At Chelsea that seems to be the case. Early this year, Eric Butcher, a newly elected council member to represent the neighborhood, had a vision of a strip of Hardscape running through Penn South, a 60-year-old mid-income co-op that stretches six blocks in the West 20s between Eighth Avenue. and ninth. For years he was furious every time he walked down the aisle. He told me recently, “There was no life in it.” “It was an unused patch of asphalt in midtown Manhattan.” Sometimes it became a link to drug use.
Although the land runs through the Penn South campus, it belongs to the city’s parks department. Mr. Butcher thought it would make an excellent temporary running place for dogs while the main site of the area, Chelsea Waterside Park, farther west, was closed for refurbishment. A petition circulated to stop it even before the project took hold. Working with the Parks Department, Mr. Butcher succeeds in his ambition, opening a dog race in the spring.
However, opposition mounted. Noise complaints were submitted to 311; The dogs were very noisy. However, there were hundreds of supporters on the other side who were moving to have the dog run permanently. Funds have already been raised for the effort. To address complaints about barking, the pro-dog faction asked volunteers to approach owners and “politely” ask them to lower the size of their pets; They put up signs and “lay out” a model for how to discipline dogs that bark themselves. Volunteers were cleaning leaves. “We set up container bags every 10 feet,” a supporter noted on a local community council special panel a few weeks ago. He insisted that they change the “culture” of the dog park.
However, this was not a consensus of opinion. “The frequent, uncontrolled barking that occurs from 8 am to 8 pm every day,” as one of the speakers at the meeting put it, has left residents of buildings adjacent to the park at risk, she believes, of stress-related incidents, including “hypertension and interference with speech, hearing loss, sleep disturbance, and loss of productivity.” There were nuns in a nearby convent. Has anyone asked them if they want to run a dog?
Furthermore, there has been disagreement about how dog running affects the older population of Pennsylvania, who are considered a “normal retirement community”. One view opined that dog running was “too messy with big dogs running around” and that seniors were afraid of getting hit, while another contended that dog running was necessary because the round trip for older or disabled pet owners to different dog parks was long Very stressful. There was a contradiction about what those distances actually were. One mother mentioned that her 13-year-old daughter often walked the family dog; Going somewhere else would get her half way homes, and that was ‘not cool’.
Some have suggested that with the windows closed, the barking wasn’t as bothersome – and that much of this tends to be exaggerated. The dog-running adversaries’ position essentially boils down to what one resident speaking at the community meeting described as “the common law right of stockholders and human beings to peacefully enjoy possession of our flats”. The truth was that more and more people were working from home and looking for a kind of serenity that urban life was not set up to accommodate.
Social isolation and psychological fallout have caused some of the worst collateral damage from the pandemic. Aren’t dogs and active public spaces an antidote to this? The strongest argument made by the park’s proponents is that it provided a happy, damn barking interaction. “When I walk by,” said Mr. Butcher, “I see the neighbors talking to each other and laughing together.” “It’s not something you see too often these days. It’s a place where neighbors meet each other. We need more spaces where people can connect and create community.” In the middle of a community board discussion, held on Zoom, a young man in a plaid shirt appeared with a Husky by his side to make the case even more emphatic: “If there was a world where this would be shut down entirely — no.”