Taking care of a dog is a big responsibility, even with a partner who doesn’t mind cleaning up poop and vacuuming hair off the sofa. But what if you’re a single dog parent—walker and feeder, disciplinarian and cuddler—who’s also trying to maintain a love life?
“When you first get a dog, your dating life comes to a screeching halt,” says Adrian Gianforti, 33, citing all the responsibilities that suddenly take priority over happy hours and Tinder meetups.
One 28-year-old DC lawyer (who requested anonymity) says her Boston terrier, Riley, disliked a former flame so much that the dog peed in the house every time the guy came over.
Priscilla Cooney, 37, is in a relationship now, but during her years of solo parenting, her dog Marley ignored the men she didn’t approve of—a clear signal to Cooney to move on.
Still, the women agree that coming home to a furball who’s always happy to see you makes any romantic roadblocks worthwhile. Hookups come and go, but a dog is forever loyal, says Gianforti: “It’s this unconditional love.”
Which might be why the Humane Rescue Alliance—the area’s biggest animal-rescue group—says a significant share of its adopters are unattached. “A lot of people move here for work on their own,” says Becca Stern, who oversees the organization’s adoptions and is a single dog owner herself. “We’ve seen a lot of people in their early to mid-twenties adopting animals, having recently moved to the city, getting settled, and wanting a companion.”
Washington is increasingly built—literally—for these busy, solo dog parents. Tour any new luxury apartment complex and you’re all but guaranteed to find a dog run and “pet spa” on the premises, a jar of treats in the lobby, and a “yappy hour” on the calendar. Some buildings take it further, such as Navy Yard’s One Hill South, which offers a “Kennel Club” with on-site walking, grooming, and daycare for residents’ dogs.
Such amenities, if you can afford them, ease the workload of single dog ownership, but they don’t help much in the love department. “You have this image of meeting people with your dog, but half the time I take her out, I look like crap,” says the lawyer of Riley’s early-morning call times. And when a date goes well? “It drives guys crazy because I’m like, ‘I’m never going to spend the night at your place,’ ” she jokes.
On the flip side, needing to let the dog out is a perfect excuse to exit a bad date early. Plus dogs can make great icebreakers. “When you have a dog and take it to the park, you probably meet two to three people every time,” says Jake Sandala, 28, who has a mastiff/Shar-Pei named Mrs. Charles Barkley. Sandala dated a woman he met at the park for a while. Things didn’t work out, but their dogs are still friends, he says.
Like a lot of people looking for a mate, Sandala includes his dog in his profile picture on apps such as Bumble. It shows other daters they need not apply if they don’t like dogs. As a bonus, he says with a laugh, “it makes you seem less threatening.”
When a relationship turns serious, having a dog can be somewhat similar to having a child, says veterinary behaviorist Leslie Sinn. The new partner may have different ideas about raising and disciplining the animal. Boundaries could be overstepped, routines disrupted. What’s more, if the relationship ends, dogs may grieve, too. Says Sinn: “They can show signs of anxiety, as in difficulty settling or relaxing, or becoming clingy with the remaining person, possibly even showing signs of separation distress.”
But having a reliable second opinion around might help you dodge heartbreak altogether. Just ask the lawyer whose Boston terrier urinated every time her ex came over: “She turned out to be a better judge of character than me on that front.”
This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Washingtonian.