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Was the pandemic dog boom a myth?

Last year, a man named Ben Joergens set out to answer, in some fairly granular fashion, a few questions that apparently were gnawing at him. First, “What was the profile of NYC’s dog population like before COVID-19?” he wrote on Medium, where he published the results of his research. Second: “How has Covid-19 affected interest in adopting dogs in New York, especially compared to other types of pets?”

To do this, he looked at the information provided in the Department of Health’s dog licensing system; data taken from Animal Care Centers of NYC, a major shelter and adoption service; and studied Google Trends searches from local IP addresses for “dog”, “cat”, “guinea pig” and “rabbit”. He then created visualization modules that revealed, for example, that while there were many dogs named Lola in Manhattan and Brooklyn, there were no Lolas in Queens, the Bronx, or Staten Island. Bellas (and pooches) were well represented everywhere. There were other surprising findings.

To the casual observer of pet life in the city, it seemed like the pandemic had made almost everyone a dog owner. Was it the product of our selection bias? Dr. Joergens’ research suggested that might be the case. His data showed dog and cat adoptions in 2020 were higher before the pandemic, in January. But while cat adoptions more or less increased during the first phase of the pandemic, dog adoptions steadily declined and then more or less stagnated from May to December 2020.

There are of course caveats: in affluent neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, already densely populated with dogs, some people have acquired their new pets through breeders or pet stores rather than through through relief agencies. Plus, caring for dogs is expensive, keeping them in New York City is especially difficult, and the pandemic has complicated everyone’s life — which certainly gives context to Mr. Joergens’ counterintuitive findings.

Was it possible that Covid didn’t elevate our canine sentimentality but rather lowered it? At Chelsea, that seems to be the case. Earlier this year, Erik Bottcher, the newly elected council member to represent the neighborhood, had a vision of a strip of harsh landscape running through Penn South, the 60-year-old middle-income co-op housing complex spanning six blocks away in the 20s of the West. between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. For years, he had been vexed every time he crossed the passage. “There was never any life in it,” he told me recently. “It was an unused piece of asphalt in the middle of Manhattan.” Sometimes it became a connection with drug use.

Although the land runs through the Penn South campus, it is owned by the city’s parks department. Mr Bottcher thought it would be a great location for a temporary dog ​​park while the area’s main location, Chelsea Waterside Park, further west, was closed for refurbishment. A petition circulated to stop him before the project even materialized. In collaboration with the parks department, Mr. Bottcher succeeded in his ambition and the canine enclosure opened its doors in the spring.

Dissent is mounting, however. Noise complaints have been made to 311; the dogs were too loud. Still, there were hundreds of supporters on the other side moving to make the dog permanent. Funds had already been raised for this effort. To address barking complaints, the pro-dog faction asked for volunteers to approach owners and ask them to “politely” turn down the volume of their pets; they put up signs and “modeled” how to discipline barking dogs themselves. Volunteers were sweeping the leaves. “We have put up dog container bags every 10 feet,” a supporter pointed out at a local community council special committee a few weeks ago. He insisted they were changing the ‘culture’ of the dog park.

This was not, however, a consensus view. “The frequent uncontrolled, high-pitched barking that occurs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day,” as one speaker at the meeting put it, has left residents of buildings adjacent to the park at risk, she says, of related incidents. to stress, including “high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and loss of productivity.” There were nuns in a nearby convent. Had anyone asked them if they wanted a dog park?

Beyond that, there was disagreement over how dog racing affected older residents in Penn South, considered a “natural retirement community.” One view held that the dog enclosure was “too chaotic with large dogs running around” and that the elderly were afraid of being run over, while the other argued that the dog enclosure was necessary because the round trip for elderly or disabled pet owners to different dog parks was too long and cumbersome. There were discrepancies on what those distances actually were. One mother mentioned that her 13-year-old daughter often walked the family dog; going anywhere else would put her past halfway houses, and that was “not great.”

Some have suggested that with the windows closed the barking was not disruptive – this leaned largely towards hyperbole. Essentially, the dog-farming antagonists’ position boiled down to what one resident who spoke at the community meeting described as a “common law right as shareholders and human beings to enjoy peaceful possession of our apartments”. The fact is, more and more people were working from home and seeking a kind of serenity that city life was not designed to provide.

Social isolation and psychological fallout have provided some of the pandemic’s worst collateral damage. Weren’t dogs and active public spaces antidotes to this? The most powerful argument made by proponents of the park is that it allowed for happy interaction, to hell with the barking. “When I pass, I see neighbors talking and laughing together,” Bottcher said. “It’s not something you see a lot these days. It’s a place where neighbors meet. We need more spaces where people can connect and create community. In the midst of the community council discussion, held on Zoom, a young man in a plaid shirt showed up with his Husky beside him to make the case even more emphatically: “If there is a world where this going to be completely closed down – no.


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