Riley Samson, 18, and Annabel Newman, 18, of the West Village walked their dogs around the unusually deserted West Village this evening. Photo by Virginia Gunawan
Despite whipping winds and heavy snow, dogs need to poop and pee. So as Manhattan’s West Village streets started turning white this evening, dogs and their owners were taking care of business.
“It’s not like I really want to take them out, it’s because I have to,” said Riley Samson, 18, of the West Village. “My dog needs to pee and poo and do other stuffs outside, so I’m taking her out.”
Samson was out with her brown female Labradoodle, Wizhtle. Walking along them was Samson’s childhood friend, Annabel Newman, with her neighbor’s dog, Zack.
“The case is a little different for me, I got paid for walking Zack,” said Newman, 18, also of the West Village. For her service, she got $25 for one hour walk.
While Zack was curiously and carefully observing the snow, Wizhtle was exuberant. She wanted to explore every nook and crannie of the street and was vigorously sniffing around.
“It gets difficult sometimes to hold her because she’s got too excited with the snow,” said Samson. “I have to grip the leash tightly and be really careful with my steps too.”
Unlike other fashionable dogs in New York, Zack and Wizhtle did not wear sweater or dog boots.
“She’s a big dog and she wouldn’t let me put a sweater on her,” said Samson. “After all, she doesn’t need one.”
“The only thing that concerns us is the salt they use on the snow,” said Newman. “Zack’s owner has been telling everyone around the neighbor to use blue salt.”
Salt used as ice melt can damage dogs’ paws, leading to infection. Even worse, if dogs lick their paws and ingest the chemically unhealthy substance, it could be poisonous for them.
The two childhood friends walked around the neighborhood for almost one hour, before calling it a day as the sun set.
“I’m actually preparing for it to be colder,” said Newman.
She wore her ski jacket, snow pants and snow boots.
“I feel like everyone is freaking out for no reason,” said Newman.
Her mother had stocked up food and had thought of filling the tub in case they run out of water.
“But then, maybe we are underreacting to it,” Samson reminded Newman that today is going to be the first time subways were shut down because of snow.
These dogs aren’t curling up on couches with family members. They’re not sleeping in warm doggy beds, cradling dessert bones. They’re not running through green grass chasing tennis balls. Instead, they’re on kill lists at high-volume, high-kill pounds in the rural south, many of which have over 90 percent kill rates. Before Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue saves these dogs – one of many rescuing organizations – the dogs are on the chopping block, facing imminent death by gas chambers and heart stick, the process of a poison-filled syringe being jabbed through the dog’s chest wall.
View Stacey Kilpatrick’s multimedia project here.
On a typical morning, Erica Jones wakes up, eats a hearty breakfast, puts on her running gear and heads for the door.
Along the way she will pick up running partners, but not the typical type. Her cohorts aren’t people, they’re dogs.
Jones, 32, of Harlem, N.Y., is a professional dog runner for Happy Pants NYC one of the numerous dog walking services that don’t just walk dogs, they run them.
“You come in and they’re just knocking stuff over they’re so happy to see you” Jones said of the dogs she runs.
With over 1.5 million dogs living in the city, many being large breeds in small living spaces, many dogs are left with little room to release pent up energy.
But companies like Happy Pants NYC, provide a rigorous work out. Athletes are hired to take dogs on a vigorous 30-45 minute run during the day, a time when they might otherwise sit idle while their owners are at work.
Jones recently moved to the city from California after quitting a desk job in finance, because she really wanted a change of pace, she said.
“This is my full-time job now,” she said with a smile.
Jones said for her, it’s the best of both worlds. She has run in seven marathons, and combining her love of dogs and passion for running seems to suit her well.
“It’s totally perfect, I love running, I love the dogs,” Jones said. “I love being outside, running is easy and fun for me.”
She heard about dog running while still in California, and even tried putting up ads to seek out people who might be interested in having their dogs exercised, but she said it was difficult to find clientele in an area where open spaces were readily available and many people had their own yards for pups to run in.
So immediately after picking up her two dogs and moving across country, she went online and applied for a running position with David Haber’s company, Happy Pants NYC.
“I think the ad said something like, ‘Do you love to run? Do you want to get paid to run? Do you love dogs?” she said.
Checking yes to all those things, she met with Haber and was approved to proceed to the running test.
“He wanted to see if I could run basically,” she said laughing. Not a problem for Jones, who held her own during the 45-minute trial run around Central Park with Haber and one of the dogs.
Haber, 39, from the West Village, worked in marketing for years before starting Happy Pants NYC.
He wanted to try and do something on his own, less structured than his previous corporate jobs, and when he saw dog walkers around the city he’d wonder if it was something he could make a living out of doing.
Then, about four years ago, he began working as a runner for a company that specialized in dog running and did odd jobs on the side to make ends meet.
“After my commitment to them was finished, I basically went off on my own and tried to do something similar,” he said.
Haber combined his long-time love of dogs and his desire to run a business into Happy Pants NYC (“pants” as in the panting a dog makes when it’s happy after a long run).
At first Haber was the only runner, and with clients emerging in areas scattered around Manhattan, he was literally running all over the city.
Now he’s got multiple runners and clients all over the city. His business is doing well, he said. Prices start at $32 for a 30-minute run and clients choose how many visits per week they’d like, ranging up to five 30-minute visits for $115 per week.
“In the beginning it was just me and I was running sometimes up to six or seven times a day,” he said. “I think I was logging like 15 or so miles.”
Haber’s legs were so sore at night, he could barely sleep, he said.
Soon after he began to build a larger clientele, he started hiring runners to help take the load off, he said.
“The key criteria is definitely someone who loves dogs and has a great temperament to them” he said.
It is important that his runners are able to withstand running long distances, which is why he typically hires experienced athletes, but more important to Haber than athletic ability being able to trust them with the dogs.
“We develop such a close bond and relationship with the owners, and their dogs,” he said. “They’re affording us a lot of opportunities and sort of trust to be in their home and take care of their dogs that people value sort of at the same level as their kids,” he said.
One such client who entrusts her pooch about three times a week in the care Haber’s company is Dr. Nina Mohr, a veterinarian at City Veterinary Care in the Upper West Side.
Mohr, 41, from the Flatiron District, owns a yellow mix-breed named Banana. She said he had some behavioral issues before exercise was introduced into his routine. Mohr started running him years ago, but doesn’t have the time to do it as often as she’d like, so about three times a week, one of Haber’s runners at Happy Pants take’s Banana out to run.
She said dog running is a great alternative to dog parks and dog walking, which don’t offer the energy release that running does, especially for working breeds like retrievers and schnauzers, whose natural instincts are to be moving and working.
“They’re in an apartment, they sleep when we’re gone, they don’t do anything,” she said.
As a result, dogs do sometimes develop behavioral and even medical issues like arthritis and weight problems, but those who can get enough exercise, usually see improvement in these areas, she said.
“I think there are tremendous benefits, cardiac benefits, orthopedic, all kind of things,” she said.
Mohr believes strongly in exercise for dogs. Not only does she recommend running and other forms of exercise to patients, she also swears by it with her own pooch.
At 11 years old, Banana is still in great health and has the spirit of a young pup, Mohr said.
“Before I started running with him, he was sort of more destructive, “ she said. “He had separation anxiety.”
But the running has mellowed him out, she said.
On the first day of spring New Yorkers flocked to parks to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. But it wasn’t just city residents out in the sunshine. New York dogs were out in force in Tompkins Square Park Tuesday and their owners say the weather is cheering up their pups.
Closer than best friends, Carmen Greico and her golden retriever, Bud, spend every waking moment together, and when she’s not awake, he’s lying nearby to ensure her safety. But this relationship is much more than one of companionship: Greico is blind and Bud is her guide dog.
“He is a pet and he is a worker,” she said. “There’s a very strong emotional attachment, very strong; there has to be, because you put your life, you put your safety, in this animal’s care.”
Greico, 64, of Levittown, Long Island, has been blind since she was 4-years-old and was diagnosed with retina blastoma, a cancer of the retina.
For years she used a white cane to help her get around. While attending college in the city, she said she didn’t feel the need for a guide dog because of the all people around to help her across busy streets.
But when she moved to Long Island, things were different. The streets were quieter and there were less people around to help, she said.
Years later, Greico is with her fourth guide dog and she said they have completely changed her life. The dogs have provided Greico with a chance to go where she needs to without fear, she said.
“I enjoy having the independence of being able to move around in my environment without having to necessarily ask for sighted assistance,” Greico said.
Most foundations that train the blind with guide dogs won’t do so until the person is 16 years old, but it wasn’t until her late twenties that Greico began to explore the idea of using a guide dog, she said.
“I wasn’t ready for a guide dog at that age,” she said. “In some ways I didn’t want to have the responsibility of traveling with a guide dog while I was going to college and graduate school.”
Greico first became interested in the idea when she was invited to an event for the Guide Dog Foundation. It was there that met a golden retriever.
“[He] was so calm and so, you know, not what I thought a guide dog was,” she said. “It kind of turned me around.”
And so began her longstanding relationship with The Guide Dog Foundation of Smithtown, Long Island.
The foundation, which is completely run on donations, not government funding, offers an in-house program to train the dogs and their new owners, she said.
“They know who you are, the environment you live in, the kind of work you do, and you’re interviewed personally, as well as having references,” she said.
Bill Krol, communications manager at The Guide Dog Foundation, said the entire process, from room and board, training, to the dog itself, is free of charge to the blind or visually impaired.
The foundation trains their clients for four weeks at their campus and also takes them to shopping malls and real world situations, to acquaint them with using the dog in public, Krol said.
“I love hearing them say that they have the freedom now to go wherever they want,” Krol said.
It worked wonders for Greico, she said.
“The guide dog right away enabled me to move faster, with less stress on myself, [not] considering everything what might be in my way,” she said.
Greico enjoyed the experience so much that she and long time friend Debbie Nicolay, 58, of Levittown, Long Island, began raising and eventually breeding their own puppies to be donated to Guide Dog Foundation.
Nicolay began raising puppies, with Greico’s help, in the late 1990s. Nicolay had a background in dog training and wanted to put it to use, she said.
“It was a way to combine those skills and help others,” she said.
Volunteer puppy raises will have the dog for the first year of their life, and then give it back to the foundation for formal training as a guide or service dog, Krol said.
Giving them back is the hardest part, Nicolay said.
“And then the tears start, the water works begin, because you’ve had this dog for a whole year, you love her,” she said. “So we always say, you’re going away to college, that’s the way we can cope with it.”
That may be why she and Greico own six dogs of their own, including Bud. All of their dogs have either been guide dogs and retired, or were trained to be but didn’t make the cut for reasons like size and ability to guide on harness, Nicolay said.
After raising them for years, Nicolay got her black Labrador, Jo.
They began breeding Jo so they could donate puppies to the foundation to be trained as guides.
“She’s a great mom, she’s just such a good mom,” Nicolay said, smiling. “And we love working with the foundation.”