An Ode to Dogs
The kin that often counts the most.
Words by Stefan Marolachakis, Photography by Ryan Pfluger
BEFORE HAVING A dog of your own, you might think you understand the emotional depth of an inter-species rapport — but you don’t. The more time you spend with a dog, the more you expand your mental catalog of every nuanced micro-expression: This look means she’s hungry; this one means she wants attention; this one means she’s content as can be.
All that unspoken communication. Is it affection? Projection? Dog people have their own opinions on the matter. And during the pandemic, as many of them saw their life rhythms becoming even more intertwined with those of their pets, those dialogues only continued to expand. All the newfound time heightened something that for so many of them was already apparent: Dogs are an indispensable part of our days; not mere pets, they are instead family members.
We feed them, bathe them, buy them stuffed animals, dress them up in raincoats, force them to don Evita costumes for Halloween. We cover two miles visiting not one, not two, but three parks until they find the perfect tennis ball that fulfills all of their dreams. We fall asleep hugging them and wake up to their stinky breath. And in return, we receive unconditional love in the form of an animal who acts just as excited to see us whether we’ve been gone for two years or two hours.
Here, we visit with a dozen dogs whose parents count them as family, exploring the idiosyncrasies that define each of these relationships.
Mucklebones, aka Muck
“We adopted from Pawsafe Animal Rescue in Patterson, New York. He’s a true mutt that comes from many generations of mutts.”
2 years old
Turn-ons: Meeting people, chasing flies, fenced-in yards.
Turn-offs: Playing it cool, getting kicked out of bed.
Family connection: “Definitely family.”
“We named him after the bog witch in 'Legend,' Meg Mucklebones. He’s a sweetheart. He spends most of his time sleeping and being cute, with intervals of extreme energy in between."
Sadie, aka Sadie Diamonds
Blue-Nose American Bully
9 months old
Turn-ons: Sleeping in, talking, making friends.
Turn-offs: Waking up, not being the boss, too much movement. (“She’s really, honestly, kind of lazy.”)
Family connection: “A whole child. Literally my child. Baby girl. We’re growing a family. It makes me feel super-happy.”
“Pitbulls were nanny dogs. I’m not aware of when being nannies translated to them being vicious, because they’re not like that. They’re really protective. When I walk her, they look at her like she’s scary. She’s the sweetest dog — don’t make my girl feel like that. It’s not that serious, she’s not like that.”
Rosie, aka Mrs. Wiggles, Nosy Rosie
9 years old
Turn-ons: Meeting people, getting on the furniture, yogurt.
Turn-offs: Swimming, peeing on cement, going to bed without her favorite poncho.
Family connection: “She’s our only daughter. She brings light to my life every day. She’s my BFF.”
“A day doesn’t go by that she doesn’t make us laugh. She is the most loving, happy dog. She’s a happy soul is what she is.”
Mutt (Pitbull plus)
2 years old
Turn-ons: Snow, disco lights, giving side-eye.
Turn-offs: Having things on his head, not knowing what’s going on with the neighbors.
Family connection: “This is my first child. I told my parents this is the closest they’re going to get to a grandchild from me.”
“He won’t respond to treats, or the words ‘going out,’ but a few weeks ago I did a drag performance and I was in the house wearing 10-inch heels and he responded to that. He was crying — he was moved to tears.”
2 years old
Turn-ons: Going to the park, sleeping under the couch, ice cubes.
Turn-offs: The heat, missing his weekly beach day, when someone stops scratching the right spot.
Family connection: “When he’s in pain, I’m in pain. When someone says something mean about him, I feel offended — even though I didn’t birth him. I keep asking when my parents are going to give him a toy and they’re like, ‘We’ll reserve that for when you have an actual child.’ And I’m like, ‘This is the current child.’ He is our son.”
“He’s been chill since he was 8 weeks old. He is not a normal dog in that sense. He’s never had zoomies. He’s never been rowdy. I feel like he speaks human.”
2 ½ years old
Turn-ons: Hiking, keeping a tight routine, trying to open the fridge.
Turn-offs: Cement, being left alone, when her treats are hidden away.
Family connection: “Oh yeah, that’s our child. 100%. Everywhere we go, she goes.”
“She’s so smart. She kind of looks into your soul. And she’s very calculating — when she hikes, you can see her thinking, ‘OK, what’s the best path here.’”
West Highland White Terrier
8 years old
Turn-ons: Chasing squirrels, staying in bed ’til noon, speaking her mind.
Turn-offs: Rats, peeing on concrete, visits to the groomer.
Family connection: “She’s definitely one of us, I’d say, and contributes to the craziness of my family. She’s a lot ... high-alert, always has something to say.”
“I moved to New York during the pandemic and was having a hard time transitioning. I brought her up with me and she really helped me settle in. She grew up in Florida and was used to a backyard, so for her it was also an adjustment. It was kind of nice because we were adjusting together. And we both really love Brooklyn now.”
11 years old
Turn-ons: Her independence, chasing lizards, romancing her stuffed animals.
Turn-offs: Bigger dogs, not getting enough sleep, sitting still.
Family connection: “She can pick up on personality changes before I even realize I’m feeling a certain way. I think the funniest thing is if I’m watching a movie that makes me cry, she will rush to my side before it happens. A minute later, I just start sobbing.”
“She has mini orgies with her stuffed animals. I’ll come home and they’re all on the bed in a circle, and I just hear her little bell jingling.”
3 years old
Turn-ons: Greeting the kids as they get on the school bus, having his morning song sung to him, going to Home Depot.
Turn-offs: Lack of attention, lack of cuddles, lack of belly rubs.
Family connection: “He is my baby. We’re pretty much together all day.”
“When I lived in Harlem, people would call him the mayor because of his little gait. He’d just march through the neighborhood like he owned the joint.”
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
2 ½ years old
Turn-ons: Sitting in the front seat of the car, eating grass, watching tennis.
Turn-offs: Sitting in the back seat of the car, sleeping alone, watching her parents hold other dogs.
Family connection: “I, truthfully, didn’t know if I wanted a dog. Then she fell into our laps when we found out she needed to be adopted. And she completed our family. And now she’s about to be a big sister.”
“She is loving — but feisty when she needs to be.”
10 years old
Turn-ons: Acting like a tough guy, duck rillettes from the farmers’ market.
Turn-offs: Cats, bad attitudes.
Family connection: “I’m a bit of a doomsday prepper. It used to always be that if there was some end-of-the-world event, I’d be the first person out of New York City. Now anytime I think about something like that, I think: I have to get Oscar. I have to run back and get my pup. I have a little go bag for him, and I also have a little BabyBjörn so we can be on the lam running together. He’s literally part of my family.”
“Oscar changed my life. I’m now a more affectionate person. The joke in my family is that Oscar is like a cute little stuffed animal, and I didn’t even like those growing up as a kid.”
Great Pyrenees mix with “just a teeny bit of Australian Shepherd”
2 years old
Turn-ons: Spooning, pouting, sleeping all day.
Turn-offs: Wearing his raincoat, coming home from walks, people not petting him.
Family connection: “It definitely feels like a co-parenting relationship,” says Ariana about raising Milo with her roommate Shaunacy. “We had to do some compromising and negotiations over training techniques, what kind of collar are we going to use, what kind of food are we going to feed him. Most people think we’re a couple at the dog park. We are partners — just not romantically.”
“Milo was instantly the perfect dog. He’s just very naturally chill and nice and friendly with everyone. We were like, ‘We can’t give that up.’ Look at him, he’s a majestic beast.”
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Stefan Marolachakis Writer
Stefan Marolachakis is a writer and musician from New York City. He was a founding member of Caveman, and made three albums with the band. As co-host of the “Open Run” podcast with Jesse Williams, he has interviewed the likes of LeBron James, Desus and Mero, and The War on Drugs. He is currently at work developing another show.
Ryan Pfluger Photographer
Ryan Pfluger is a photographer from New York with an MFA in photo, video, and related media, from the School of Visual Arts. Pfluger is currently residing in Los Angeles with dog Sarah Connor.