Until you’ve lived in New York, you can’t imagine how tough it is to be a dog: no summer porch or backyards, no mailmen to terrorize at the front door, no fire hydrants on secluded suburban corners. When it comes to doing your ‘business,’ you have to perform in front of hundreds of people.
Being a dog in New York means you wait all day by the front door of your shoebox apartment, panting for the sound of the key turning in the lock, signifying that your parent or the dog walker has arrived. With tongue hanging, tail wagging and that “you-made-me-wait-all-day-and-I-held-it” look, barely containing yourself from peeing on the kitchen floor, you happily let the newly arrived human collar, leash or harness you up, for whatever the great outdoors may bring.
You can always tell the parent from the hired dog walker. The hired dog walker looks bored, and usually struggles with several leashes of various-sized dogs, from Bulldogs to Collies, all of whom usually end up walking him. A parent usually walks the dog very early in the morning or late in the day. This is serious business, as the parent juggles a diner carry-out coffee in one hand, and a leash with two Afghan Hounds in the other. The climax of the journey comes when the parent has to bend over, without spilling his coffee, to pick up the poopies left behind, because, well, it’s the law (at Trump Plaza they have these convenient little plastic bags in “Fido’s house” that you can grab on your way past the delivery/security door).
People with dogs virtually own Riverside Park. Dog parents usually ignore each other unless their leashes get tangled because the Rottweiler is sniffing a Shih-Tzu’s tail, which in turn gives the Shih-Tzu’s owner a meltdown.
Dogs tend to look and act like their parents (unless, of course, the dog is a miniature Bull Terrier. There couldn’t be a parent that ugly.). A golden-haired Cocker Spaniel is usually shiny and well-groomed, and parented by a sensitive person or a gay man (my friend Scott is a gay professional photographer. His Cocker Spaniel is named “Nikon”, perfect).
Weimaraners are parented by very tightly wound people. Type-A’s – disciplined sorts with cropped hair and J. Crew-style suits in basic beige. English Setters are dragged around by down-to -earth, slightly under-barbered professors. This goes for German Wirehaireds too – white-haired, disheveled dogs with white-haired, disheveled parents. A Labrador Retriever is a real athletic dog parented by a real athletic guy, dragging surfboards and rollerblades from the roof rack of a Land Rover that the dog just jumped out of. The Lab chases the requisite Frisbee and wears the signature bandanna. Basset Hounds have rather shy parents, and they both look abashed about it. Beagles have fat parents, skinny parents, young parents, old parents, pretty parents, and ugly parents. They seem to be New York’s universal dog. A Chihuahua is so tiny that no leash seems delicate enough. Why walk him? Just stick him in the cat’s litter box.
Riverside Park Dog Run is a penned-in area for doggies only – sort of a Club Med where pooches and their people check each other out. The lazy ol’ hound dog wants to sleep, while a dachshund madly races around it. The Dachshund is usually parented by some rich old lady who has the same attitude about her expensive Park Avenue penthouse: her Dachshund owns this park.
Greyhounds have sleek parents, and they (and their parents) usually cruise the exterior of the dog run along the fence, the same way they chase those fake bunnies at the racetrack. Then there’s the mastiff who spends his entire dog-pen time trying to sniff out the Schnauzer or somebody much smaller. He’s the pen bully. But you’ll never see a Pomeranian or a Maltese in a dog run. They might get their paws all dirty. These are very clean little dogs, usually stashed in a Gucci bag. The only way we know there’s a dog inside the bag is the bright pink ribbon that sticks out from its little head as it lets out a snippy ‘YELP!’ They’re more an accessory than a pet. Like Prada.
When the outdoor adventure is over, the dog goes back to the apartment, which brings us to the biggest question of all: if you have a German Shepherd, do you let him tromp across your parquet floors with his big, dirty paws? A local pet store owner says he sells a lot of collars, but just as many doggie booties, plus wipes for feet. Somehow it’s hard to visualize the coffee-juggling parent wiping the feet of a German Shepherd. The pet store guy, by the way, also sees a lot of dogs in baby carriages, the better to avoid paw prints. And exercise.
So why do we even have dogs in a city that’s already hectic enough? Because they’re our companions? Because they’re man’s best friend? Because you think that if you can do it in the country you ought to be able to do it here, too? Maybe, or maybe because it’s New York and it’s just a way of life.
Note: No dog parent’s feelings were hurt in the writing of this article.