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Dogs Don’t Belong in New York City

NYC is the single most inhospitable habitat for dogs in America. Ban dogs, and set them free.

A collage of sad-looking, hand-drawn NYC dogs.

(Emily Bernstein)

The glorious vibes of a recent sloppy Saturday evening turned ashen in the East Village, as two of my good friends checked the baby monitor they'd left in their apartment to keep tabs on their two-year-old, 50-pound American Foxhound; let’s call him Wayne. 

Wayne typically stays locked up in a kennel while we're out drinking, because given his current youthful temperament, there is a decent chance he'd raze their snug, fourth-floor Lower Manhattan walkup to the ground if left to his own devices. My friends try to hermetically insulate Wayne from anything that could injure him, and yet, inevitably, he manages to circumvent those safeguards. That evening in question, Wayne materialized on that night-vision camera gnawing away at a stray Sonos cable, which immediately drained all of the conviviality out of the bar. My friends quickly stood up, paid their tab, and disappeared into the night to ensure that Wayne wasn't about to electrocute himself. They arrived home in the nick of time. Wayne was fine, for the moment—and I had another data point proving that New York City is the single most inhospitable habitat for dogs in America.

I have a cat and live with my girlfriend in Brooklyn. All he does is stare at birds flying past the window, and whine for wet food at 6:30 in the morning. In fact, I'd reckon that Hubie (yes, his name is Hubie) would possess that exact same lifestyle in any city on planet earth, because cats are incredibly lazy, gullible creatures. The living room is his entire universe, he displays an acute disdain for the outside world whenever we bring out the carrier, and his litter seems to magically disappear from his purview every night thanks to the clockwork chores of his parents. 

Dogs, meanwhile, are more complicated, in the sense that their daily bathroom breaks, frequent walks, and games of fetch must meld with the reality of their environments — even if that environment is, say, the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop. In practice, that means that the saddest dogs I've seen in my life have all lived in New York. For their own good, get them out of here. 

Do not pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about. You've seen them take their angry, aggrieved poops on the poured concrete instead of the natural embrace of green grass. You've seen them pace back and forth in hallway-sized apartments, bamboozled, spiral-eyed, as if they have been severed from God's light. You've seen them enact their wordless protests—like chewing up electrical wiring as a reverse hunger strike—in order to express the overwhelming incongruity of their lives.

Do you ever notice how so many New York dogs sequester themselves in the bathroom? When was the last time these dogs found a stick to chew on? I once lived with someone who transported their dog from Central Texas to Bushwick and you could see the bone-deep betrayal in his face, the rolling hills and oak trees he was used to replaced with idling U-Hauls, inexplicably black-hued snow piles, and the nightly rattle of the M train. It's like he thought he was living through the apocalypse, and I can't really blame him.

We have all the evidence we need for the state to ban all dogs from New York City; if dogs could vote, I'm convinced it'd pass with 80 percent of the electorate.

Some obvious caveats for those who have already gotten really mad while reading this: Yes, obviously, service dogs are still allowed. This policy specifically targets vanity pets, not utility pets, and specifically those that belong to transplants who came to the city within the last 10 years. I also think tiny dogs—like under 15 pounds or so—are basically fine, in the sense that dogs of that size should be formally recategorized as cats anyhow. Everyone else is out of luck. That traumatized labrador who vibrates with anxiety in the bowels of your cacophonous Crown Heights hellhole must be moved to a kinder zip code: Amherst, New Haven, Cherry Hill, take your pick. You could even talk me into Staten Island, honestly, so long as they never again suffer in the incarcerated madness of their existence. 

Dog ownership ideation should be the clarion call you need to start packing it in for a life elsewhere.

A lot of people leave New York City after deciding to have a kid, because the thought of raising children without a backyard and under the perpetual threats of the most mercurial landlords in the country is enough for anyone to start renegotiating their dreams. I'm convinced people bring dogs into their Brooklyn apartments to test that reality. "Can my living situation handle a baby? Let's use this Doberman as a dry run!" No dude! Dog ownership ideation should be the clarion call you need to start packing it in for a life elsewhere. Put up the "Gone Fishing" sign, and go back to your roots! 

And consider: This policy is what we need to retilt America's political demographic distribution back on its axis, millions of Brooklyn 32-year olds, schlepping to Des Moines or whatever, in order to give their Bichon the life it deserves while simultaneously engineering a tough map for Joni Ernst. A new generation of New Yorkers would take up residence in their abdicated apartments to experience the wild fury of their youth, until they too become washed up enough to want a dog. I understand this would be a tough sell for all of my Upper West Side octogenarians and their faithful basset hounds, but honestly, is this how you want to treat your alleged best friend? Locked up in an apartment all day? Shouldn't dogs at least have the opportunity to see what it's like to exist outside of New York City? In the same way you have a crisis of faith after hanging out in the converted basement belonging to your dental hygienist friend from high school? Justice must be served. 

You would be happier for it, I swear. New York City dog owners are consistently some of the most unhinged characters in daily life, specifically because they need to navigate through all of the roiling pressures that come with escorting a vulnerable animal through a place that actively refuses to make any concessions for them. I get it! I guess you could say we need to save them from themselves.

I have long given up on New York City becoming more bearable for human beings. The subways still rely on FDR-era technology and our apartments are always going to be covered in 10-inch thick layers of paint. I'm currently living out the final months of a COVID lease, and if the moving-truck traffic on our block is to be believed, I'll soon be downsizing into oblivion as my rent quadruples overnight. The problems here are ancient and intractable, but the least we can do is allow our dogs to thrive somewhere else. They didn't ask for this! Let your dog take a dump in the dulcet quiet of suburbia, let them disfigure a tennis ball in an empty park, and I promise you, when they snack on a speaker wire, it won't be a cry for help. 

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