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Manhattan mastiffs and mutts may be more mentally mighty

November 2011

Uptown dogs from across the world exhibit themselves in the classy Westminster Dog Show each spring, with breed names as rare as their fashions: Brussels griffons, bichons frise, the Malagasayan coton de tuléar, the embarrassingly named dandie dinmont terrier.

These dogs are especially well-behaved thanks to well-funded dog schools, and dog education goes on for years.

Typical is New York’s All About Pets. This school begins with puppy kindergarten, “socializing and basic puppy skills.” Then basic obedience and a seven-week course, which includes “pre-therapy” and “canine good citizenship.”

Dogs can get a post-graduate education in jumping hurdles, running through tunnels, weaving around poles and more. Add to this are symposiums, art shows and parties, for Ye Complete New York Dog. (And presumably all of this paid by a platinum Masters Card.)

Today, cashing in on uptown fashion, Dublin-based publisher Michael O’Doherty is producing a glossy magazine called New York Dog. He explains that, while dog fashion would be highlighted, it encompasses dog horoscopes, obituaries, dieting tips and pup-psychology advice.

Uptown dogs also enjoy posh, catered birthday parties and dog astrologers.

“The practice is the same for dogs and humans,” astrologer Lauren Edmond told me. “I know the birthdate, read the sun signs, and then do the chart.

“A Leo needs discipline, Virgo dogs must have a schedule for each day, Cancer dogs like treats, Sagittarius dogs enjoy adventures and height, Pisces are a little shy …”

While shunning these things, my girlfriend, writer Stella Dong, insisted that Coco go to a “telepathic communicator” who would “channel” the minds of dogs.

Rosanne Aratoon reads dog minds. For $20, I discovered that Coco enjoys running, eating my food, playing with stuffed toys, is healthy, likes me but doesn’t like larger dogs. Aratoon makes a living with these prognostications. Only in New York!

The dark side of being an Uptown Dog is the law. Or lawyers. New York may be the most litigious city in the world, and many are the attorneys who work either for cash or pro bone in complex cases. More than a dozen law firms specialize in dog law, with the most complex cases, according to attorney Darryl Vernon, between landlords and dogs.

“In Europe, dogs are accepted everywhere. But New York, apartment houses have elaborate laws, depending on their status. Dogs can even be used as excuses to throw out tenants, or sometimes dogs are deemed a nuisance when they aren’t a nuisance at all. That’s when we have to go to court.”

This N.Y. pup looks pretty content, but could probably do with a psychic reading.

Almost as common are partners who separate and fight over dog custodial rights.

“The dogs are not called in to testify,” Vernon says disapprovingly.

Downtown dogs don’t do litigation, but the beatnik dogs did create a revolutionary innovation in 1990. Those “pretty-pretty” dogs had disappeared in the Depression, and had made a heroic comeback during the Second World War as members of the trained K-9 Corps.

They would parade around Central Park, usually with tight “paw-bands” containing pockets, presumably for compasses and canteens to help the war effort.

After the war, New York dog-owners searched for new identities. In 1960, the Bohemian poets of the East Village clothed their dogs with the dandyish regalia of their owners. They were dyed in psychedelic swirls of green and yellow, and (to paraphrase the song of the period) “wearing flowers in their fur.”

After the war, dogs from Tibet, South America and Africa were prized, but they were still confined to their leashes. But in 1990, the left-wing hippies and beatniks of Tompkins Square Park rebelled. The park sign “No Dogs Allowed” was reactionary, counter-revolutionary. To beat the government, they built their own dog run inside the park. Not only has this particular run prospered, but it spawned more than three dozen dog runs throughout the city.

Today, dog runs are literally the great leveling fields between uptown and downtown dogs, where they are off their leashes (it is a crime to walk a dog unleashed) for hours of socialization.

Musical dogs will play in Washington Square amid guitarists and bongo-drummers. Artistic dogs romp in the Chelsea artists-section high-tech dog run with running fountain, climbing rocks and faux logs for shade. The most “natural” was built on the site where General Washington kept his hunting dogs.

In Central Park, dogs go unleashed in early morning and late evening. And (shhhhh!), in the summer, dogs go swimming in the fountain. It’s against the law, but the police have enough on their hands without arresting dripping dachshunds.

Dogs must be leashed in the Big Apple. But a backpack will do, too.

But in this most democratic city, we still must take into consideration the inner-city dog, the dispossessed dog with a questionable lineage and no Kennel Club designation.

For those healthy mixed breeds who, like Oliver Twist, somehow find their way to the Big City, plenty of orphanages abound, as well as individual philanthropists who keep databases of lost or abused dogs. This was where Coco was adopted, and is the tradition south of 14th St., in Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca. Rare is the dog-owner who brags about “buying” his pet.

So this human companion had the chance to ask the famed dog behaviourist Peter Bruchelle how country dogs can deal with New York traffic, chaos, incivility and eccentricity. Bruchelle is sanguine about Manhattan dog life.

“For 15,000 years,” he says, “we dogs and people have mutually evolved with each other. We need each other. Dog life is not with other animals, their life is with us. Whether on a farm, in the desert or in the middle of Manhattan, dogs are—dogs must be—the most adaptable of animals.”

So that is how New York’s estimated 125,000 mutts, pooches and purebreds—about one for every 10 families—survive. Uptown and downtown. Adaptable, adoptable, adorable. As New York’s unofficial anthem goes: “If dogs can make it here, they make it anywhere.”



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