Astoria Characters: The Pup and the Pandemic

It began about a month into the quarantine when my 8-year-old Wheaten terrier, Zora, put her paws on the front wall of a house down the block to say hello to the puppy poking her head out the window.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Zora The Wonder Dog.

While Zora’s tail wagged like a hummingbird’s wings, the puppy got into play pose.

I watched in wonder – and shock.

Zora’s a dedicated dog despiser. When she spies or smells one of her own kind, she throws a tantrum that involves growling, barking and grabbing the leash and vigorously trying to rip it off so she can go after the offender. (She’s never been successful in this endeavor.)

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Titus and Zora break out of quarantine.

When we walk, I weave in and out of the streets, dodging dogs, so I didn’t need much practice to master maneuvering away from people when social distancing started.

In the beginning, Zora tried to pull me toward her peeps, but after a while, she seemed to catch on, and just like all the humans, started moving to the other side of the street to avoid close encounters of any kind.

So I was unprepared when she pulled me toward the puppy in the window. I was even more surprised that this would be only one of many attempts she has made to form new relationships while sheltering in place.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Having a pre-playdate drink.

I’ve read several stories on the therapeutic effect of dogs on people, especially during times of stress and solitude. And I’ve seen reports on how having their humans at home 24/7 makes dogs head-over-tails happy.

But I’ve yet to read an article about how the quarantine affects dogs psychologically, radically changing their behavior like Zora’s.

OK, to be totally transparent, Zora does have two canine companions. Daisy, a mixed breed, is her BFF. Born on the same date, they met in Astoria Park as puppies. It was love at first hug: They lay down on the sidewalk, wet nose to wet nose, and put their arms around each other until they were pried apart.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The Mighty Titus.

Titus, a yellow lab, is a big, bellowing brute. He’s Zora’s best beau – or at least he thinks he is.

But Zora tolerates Daisy and Titus only so she can get close to their humans. She’s so enamored of Daisy’s mom, Judy, that when I left Zora with her for a weekend, she all but refused to come home.

And when we run into Titus, Zora passes him up and jumps on Jimmy.

Zora’s a flirt – in her mind, no walk is complete without a pack of people petting her.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
So happy together!

She has her own fan club. Amaro, the counterman at the corner deli; Mary, the cat rescuer; and Sarah, the waitress who wants to be an actress. Then there’s Ellie, who caresses her and calls her “koukla,” and Marie, whose blueberry muffins she wolfs down when I’m not looking.

And the scores of strangers she sidles up to who can’t resist petting the fluffy dog who looks like Benji’s big sister.

These days, Zora has to content herself with sitting outside Daisy’s house, hoping her pal will make an appearance on the balcony. Or sniffing at Jimmy’s car, an old silver Honda with an ashtray on the dashboard and a sticker that says “Buffalo” on the back window.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The three-pack.

She noses around the wheels, drinking in the scent, then plants her front paws possessively on the door, peering in at Titus’ pillow and glow-in-the-dark tennis balls.

In between these not-very-satisfying activities, she has continued to make new friends. Lately, she has had her eye on an apricot poodle and a Yorkie who yelp in their back yard as she walks by.

For an hour or so, she recently sat with Cooper, a mixed-breed puppy who looks like a fox, separated only by a chain-link fence and human chaperones.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
All smiles.

The other day, just as we were finishing our nightly walk, Zora tugged me around the corner.

Like a guided missile, she honed in on Jimmy’s silver Honda.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
One pooped pupper.

The front window was open; Jimmy, seat slung back like a La-Z-Boy lounger, was taking a nap while waiting for his laundry to dry.

Before I could stop her, Zora lunged for his lap and kissed him awake.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said as he petted her. “I’ve missed you.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
When are they coming back?

As we headed home, we passed a cute little black French bulldog.

Zora threw a tantrum.

And for a split second, it seemed like things were back to normal.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling