Amanda Richards is the editorial director at Universal Standard, a size-inclusive fashion retailer with locations in New York, Houston, Portland, Seattle, and Chicago. She is a former senior editor at InStyle and fashion and beauty features editor at Bustle. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn, New York with her North Shore Animal League rescue dog, Paul, whom she co-parents with her ex.
Did you grow up with dogs?
Yes—the first dog I had was Daisy, a chocolate lab. I was eight, and my brother was four. I don’t think my parents had ever had a dog in their adult lives before, so it was pure chaos. After a year, my parents decided that they couldn’t handle three kids and a big dog in a tiny house. She just needed more space. They eventually gave up to a farm upstate. I realize that’s the euphemism for putting dogs down, but she actually went to a farm and lived a long, happy life. Three years later, we got another dog named Holly that I had growing up, and she was great. When I was in college, my mom got her dream dogs—one English setter and one Gordon setter.
“[C]oming out was a big gift for him because he gets a constant parade of lesbians and queers coming into his house and bringing him presents. I have so much more of a community now, and that means more friends for Paul.”
At what point in your adult life did you decide that you were ready for a dog of your own?
I was living abroad in Seoul, South Korea, for six years, and I knew that as soon as I moved back to the States that I would want to get a dog when I was settled. I moved to New York, so it took a couple of years. I was subletting for awhile, and all these terrible New York things happened — bed bugs, problematic roommates, and then my apartment burned down. There were all these different stressful things that were not conducive to having a pet. When I finally moved into my current place, I knew it was perfect for a dog. I started looking at all the shelters. I met a bunch of different dogs at these shelters, and none of them really felt like the right fit. I would learn that they had some sort of very extreme behavior problem, which obviously doesn’t mean that they’re not good dogs—it’s just that I wasn’t equipped to deal with that sort of thing. For a while, I gave up.
Then, I went to North Shore Animal League in Long Island to record a podcast about shelters for Bustle. I wasn’t really worried about getting a dog because they said they had exclusively puppies, and I didn’t want a puppy.
And that was the day I took Paul home.
How did you know Paul was The One?
So, we’re looking at all these puppies, right? All puppies are cute, so they kind of look the same—they all blend together at some point. We were recording all these dogs who were barking, interviewing the people at the shelter, and walking around this huge facility. We ended up going into the veterinary center, and they had cleaned out the back to make room for more dogs that weren’t actually sick. I turned a corner down this hallway and saw crates.
Paul was in a crate with a sign that said “Contaminated.” I asked if there was something wrong with him, and they said, no, the sign was there before he got there. He had a little white beard and he was only five months old. He just looked so different from the other dogs. My friend and colleague said, “Amanda, I feel like this might be your dog.” I felt the same way.
Why did you name him Paul?
At the time, I actually adopted Paul with an ex who co-parents with me now. He came up to the shelter to meet Paul. Someone asked me—it could have been my ex, it could have been my colleague—“Hey, what’s his name?” I swear to you, it just came out of my mouth. I didn’t even think about it. He looks like a Paul, right? He’s got a beard. I have a lot of nicknames for him, but he looks like an elder fisherman. It felt like a very mature name.
What are some of your nicknames for Paul?
I call him Fisherman. Backpack Boy because his harness looks like a backpack—whenever he goes somewhere, he looks like he’s ready to go on a little trip. This is extremely embarrassing, but I call him my Needy Sweetie because he is very needy. I call him Turkey because his hind legs look like they belong on a turkey.
Tell us about a day in the life with you and Paul.
I get up at 5 A.M. and I take him to the dog park because, I don’t know how this happened, but I somehow ended up with a dog that needs four-to-five hours of intense cardio everyday to function normally. I pack him four different Kongs and hide them strategically around the house so that he doesn’t get bored. Then, I come home, we do the same thing over again, and we go to bed.
On weekends, we go to Prospect Park for off-leash hours, and we go to the farmer’s market. He makes a big scene because he likes the guy there who sells bones.
When I was living abroad, I was super depressed and I felt really disconnected from the world. By the time I got Paul, I had already come out of that, but he was just the cherry on top. It might sound annoying to get up at 5:00 A.M. and take him to the park, but I enjoy that. I feel way more connected to my neighborhood and my community.
Tomorrow, I’m actually taking my first road trip with Paul alone. We’re going to Maine. I’m excited.
Have you traveled with Paul before? How about on a plane?
I’ve never taken him on a plane. I don’t think it would work on well. He would have a meltdown if he couldn’t greet everyone. But he loves the car.
Do you identify as a dog mom?
Absolutely. Are you kidding me?
It can be a controversial question!
To each their own, but I don’t understand people who do not slowly assimilate their dog’s identity.
“It might sound annoying to get up at 5:00 A.M. and take him to the park, but I enjoy that. I feel way more connected to my neighborhood and my community.”
I understand. I try to tell people that when I identify as a dog mom, I’m not trying to take away from the seriousness of human motherhood or from the relationship between you and your child. I think a lot of dog parents take their roles very seriously—it’s not a joke to us! So, does your son get any of his traits from you?
I think his ability to get along with everyone no matter what is something we share. We’re just happy-to-be-here creatures! We’re always in a good mood. But he’s more anxious than me.
What do you feed Paul?
I feed him Blue Buffalo dry food with something special at each meal. For example, a splash of olive oil or an egg. It’s never just the dry food. He expects to the point that if I don’t have anything, I’ll spritz it with a little water and he thinks it’s gourmet.
Tell us about how co-parenting Paul works.
Getting Paul was my idea. My ex didn’t really want a dog and wasn’t interested in dogs, but you know, live with a dog for a while and you’ll become very attached to it. I’ll have Paul a week, and he’ll have Paul another week. He only lives a mile away.
There was an op-ed in The Guardian about co-parenting a dog with an ex, and how it helped their relationship.
It’s a bit perplexing for people because the reason I broke up with my ex was because I came out—I’m gay. So they’re like, “Why do you co-parent a dog with a man?” And I’m like, “In order to answer that question fully, you’re going to need two hours.”
And Paul was there for the practice of me coming out, which was really special. In fact, coming out was a big gift for him because he gets a constant parade of lesbians and queers coming into his house and bringing him presents. I have so much more of a community now, and that means more friends for Paul.
Has Paul been helpful during the courtship process at all?
He’s an embarrassment on dates because he cannot handle anyone being physically close to me until he gets to know them. He’s not territorial, but he just gets very anxious and he will physically wedge himself between us and then stare at my date.
Photography by Tayler Smith