Why Houseplants Are Better Than Dogs

Keeping my leafy roommates alive is my ideal way to be a caregiver

I come from a family of dog lovers—although my late mother never fed our pets table scraps, so I suspect she was as lukewarm about them as I was. And while I flirted with the idea of getting a cat just after I moved to my first tiny studio apartment in New York City, I quickly realized the litter box would never be out of my line of sight. So I headed to the local nursery to pick up some indoor plants for a little companionship. Little did I know that Phil and Charlotte, the philodendron and spider plant I bought that day more than 25 years ago, would still be my roommates all these years later. I guess even then I knew that plants are the new pets, a sentiment that, according to a recent survey, the majority of respondents under 40 agree with today. And in my case, they are a constant in your world for even longer.

I have nothing against people who adore their dogs—if pet ownership makes them happy, I’m happy for them. But as an extremely independent person, I find dogs too needy. (And cats = litter box.) When so many people adopted puppies during the scary lockdown days of the early pandemic, I turned my apartment into a greenhouse. At one point, I counted 53 plants keeping me company in my living room alone (that’s a photo of them below). My home became the tranquil oasis I desperately needed at the time, and even the thought of my air-purifying plants silently working on my behalf brought me a sense of peace. And never once did I need to double-mask to take a dog on a walk in the cold rain! And while a dozen or so of my Covid companions were eventually planted outside in my stoop garden, the rest of those plants are still hanging out inside with me.

Houseplants in the author's homeCourtesy Cathy Garrard

I realize that plants can’t sit all warm and fuzzy in my lap and stare at me adoringly. But plants absolutely have personality and need attention too. They just don’t show it by barking, howling or jumping on me. I’ve got a reliable peace lily, which I’ve named Herald, who flops over dramatically when he needs a drink, signaling to me that the rest of the crowd are probably thirsty too. He springs back up just as dramatically right after I water him, and he makes me feel so proud that I’m keeping living creatures alive. It’s a quieter form of caregiving and companionship than pets, but it brings me purpose and joy.

Phil and Charlotte have completely different personalities than Herald. They are uncommonly chill. They know and have kept all my adult-life secrets, and like any good roommates, they maintain a low profile. Overwatering, underwatering, fertilizer or no, a fancy new pot—they don’t care about any of it. They just thrive. I may not be able to take them to the dog park to mingle with my neighbors, but I have joined a community gardening group where all the members enthusiastically talk about their beloved potted friends too. So even if it seems unlikely, plants can expand your social circle just as much as a dog can.

There’s been more than one friend who has suggested I may be a Crazy Plant Lady, and if that’s true, I’m embracing it. I just discovered that Charlotte has a new grandbaby! I suspect that her longtime boyfriend Phil is just as happy about the new arrival as I am. Plants aren’t only the new pets, they’ve become my extended family.


Cathy Garrard
Cathy is a service journalist with 30 years of experience covering topics including psychology, health science and gardening. Beyond Reader's Digest, she has published hundreds of articles over the last three decades in national print and digital titles, including Prevention, Good Housekeeping, USA Today and Glamour. Cathy also teaches fact-checking and media literacy at New York University.