“I think it actually matters that when I’m walking in public, the fact that I have a cute dog makes people feel more comfortable,” Carrington, an associate professor of African American literature at Drexel University, told NBC News. “I don’t think it would be as easy for me to avoid scrutiny in public, especially wearing my mask, if I didn’t have Banneker with me.”

Greg Iwinski, a comedy writer in New York City, who, like Carrington, is black, says he also takes added precautions to avoid drawing unwanted attention to himself while going outside during the coronavirus outbreak. While Iwinksi doesn’t have a dog, he finds strapping his 1-year-old son, who is biracial, in a stroller before venturing out is an equally effective “mitigating factor.”

“It’s sending a signal: ‘Look, I have a cute baby. I can’t be that scary,’” Iwinski said. “And so I go with him whenever I go grocery shopping, partly because he is going insane not being able to go to the playground, and partly as a buffer.”