Every Day Is a Holiday for Amir Arison’s Dog

The Blacklist actor on dog-rearing, Hanukkah, and his next project

There are people who merely “have dogs,” and then there are dog people. Actor Amir Arison is a dog person; he was a dog person even before he had a dog.

“I’ve always wanted one,” he says. “Growing up, my mom and I voted yes, and my dad and my sister voted no. So eventually my mom just got one on her own after we had moved out, and now my dad loves her.”

A few years ago Arison fostered a dog, but found his acting schedule incompatible with dog-rearing. “Suddenly you get an audition, or you’ve got to go somewhere, and you drive across town and you come back”  — he was in Los Angeles, so that drive could take anywhere from one to 900 hours — “and you’ve got to walk the dog three times. And I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.” When his foster dog found a home, he resolved he would one day have his own, but only when he had a partner to help him care for it.

Then, two and a half years ago, Arison was ready. He had a girlfriend who also wanted a dog, and he had a recurring role on NBC’s The Blacklist, playing lovelorn, tech-savvy FBI agent Aram. Arison and his girlfriend independently picked the same dog, a tiny black-and-white mutt with an occasional underbite. They named her Reina, but Arison calls her “baby girl” or “nugget.”

“My girlfriend gets jealous when I call her ‘baby girl.’ Because my girlfriend wants to be called baby girl. So now I call them my baby girls,” Arison says, laughing. “I posted a picture when we first got her. I said ‘Find someone you love and hold on tight.’ And it’s me and Reina as a puppy. And my girlfriend was legit upset.”

Arison has a lot going on. Besides his role on The Blacklist, he’s producing a documentary called Tati, following a young girl named Tatianna Bernard, who is being treated for a brain tumor. (The documentary is a film within a film: Tati’s star produces her own short film, documenting her experience throwing a fashion show.) Arison has become close to Tati and her family in the past 14 months, and says the experience — and spending time with his two nieces — has affirmed his desire to be a father one day.

“I don’t know how to explain it. I feel like I sort of go through my life with a certain level of anxiety and when I’m around those that are younger or vulnerable, I feel calmer because I just instinctively am outside of myself and just want to protect them.”

For now, he heaps his blessings upon Reina. Arison takes her to the pet store for treats and toys every few weeks, he says — he tells me this in the same voice I use when I tell my doctor I only drink “once in a while.” They go in often enough that when they walk by at night, after the store is closed, Reina sits in front of the door, pawing and crying. Arison has tried shaking the store’s locked doors to show Reina that it’s closed. He has to pick her up and carry her far enough away that she no longer yearns for the store’s treasures.

Though every day is a holiday for Reina, Hanukkah is often a windfall. “The first holiday we had with her, my friends came over to meet her, and they brought her a stuffed menorah and she loved it,” recalls Arison. He doesn’t consider himself religious-religious, but as an adult he’s tried to learn more about the faith — he always enjoys lighting the menorah for Hanukkah. “I was like, ‘This is amazing, my dog’s Jewish!’” 

The next time they went to the pet store, Reina selected a Santa Claus toy. The sales associate asked Arison if he’d like to buy it. “I can’t,” he told her. “Reina is Jewish.” He picked up a squeaking dreidel, and squeaked it until Reina abandoned the Santa. Faith crisis averted.

Lauren Larson is a writer and editor in New York City, aspiring to be a writer and editor in Bali.