What We Talk About When We Talk About City Dogs

Django

Django

My dog has health insurance, but I don’t.

Were we to cross a street and get hit by a taxi, he would certainly fare better than I. A lowly adjunct, I’ve been pleading my case to Medicaid for affordable healthcare for the last month, but within a day of welcoming home our new puppy Django (a Portuguese Podengo—yes, it rhymes), he had premium coverage for just $28 a month.

There’s a Seinfeld reference in there, but it also speaks to the strange dog culture in New York. In a city where one in 143 residents is homeless, there are hundreds of dog groomers, daycares, and luxury kennels to cater to the city’s canine contingent. On an unnamed dog spa website’s FAQ page, potential customers are reassured that clients are dried, post-bath, in a four-method manner, to ensure their pets are properly pampered. At the D Pet Hotel in Chelsea, a chain boutique hailing from Hollywood, the spa menu includes hot oil treatments, nail color and applique, coat gloss, and cologne. In a list reminiscent of the city’s other popular people grooming spot, Drybar, you can select a number of options from the “Look Book”—the Don Draper (a tie), the Suri Cruz (bangs and a bob), the Daisy Mae (braids), or the Rich Bitch (top knot). The website brags their Uber suites are “larger than most New York City apartments!”, though I’m not sure why that’s a good thing.

I laugh, and yet, after one stormy afternoon spent hunched over my trembling, tiny puppy with a giant golf umbrella, pleading with him to please just go to the bathroom already, the rain really isn’t that bad, look at Mommy, she’s soaking wet and she’s fine!—I perused “small dog raincoats” online.

There has to be a line, and I like to think I tow it—my dog is more than just a dog, but he still has to shit outside. Most fellow small-dog owners were surprised when my boyfriend and I explained that no, we weren’t using wee-wee pads, we were training him to go outside. “But what about when it snows?” they asked. “It’s so convenient,” they all rationalized. While I’m sure that’s true, I’m also sure that in a New York City-sized apartment, I don’t want to share my limited space with a roommate who goes to the bathroom on an absorbent mat next to the door.

Before Django, I was staunchly anti-city dog, and while I still wish we had a giant yard for him to run through, I’ve come to appreciate what the city has to offer its four-legged, furry occupants. Living in a city has forced my dog to be fearless; at three months, he’s encountered more sights, sounds, and smells than the average human, let alone animal. He fears no garbage truck, barely flinches at the sound of passing sirens, falls asleep despite the Third Avenue din that, at times, keeps me awake. He plays well with others, from the hulking Pyrennees Mountain Dog to the small yipping Maltese (who, it should be noted, sports both the Daisy Mae and Rich Bitch looks, at the same time). He loves toddlers (the surprise Cheerios they leave behind in the elevator might explain this) and doormen, and abides strangers in the street who occasionally ask for his picture. He chases pigeons and goes to the bathroom on concrete, though he appreciates the romps through nature a nearby park permits. City dogs might be groomed and coddled within an inch of their lives, but they’re also a badass contingent of pets who, like their jaded owners, have seen it all and barely bat an eye at the loud, strange world they live in.

While worrying about Django’s adjustment to city living, I failed to anticipate how much he would assist mine. I’ve lived in Manhattan for a little over two months, mostly feeling like an interloper; it wasn’t until Django joined us that I started to feel at home in the city. You haven’t lived as a true New Yorker until you’ve become intimate with every inch of its urine-soaked, gum-stuck streets. Until you’ve wandered its street in your pajamas, looking for the perfect place to go. Until you’ve reached in your dog’s mouth and pulled out a panoply of the city’s detritus: hardened chewing gum (no, unfortunately, not a rock), balls of human hair (more common than you’d think), other dog’s shit, cigarette butts, soda can tabs, pigeon feathers, plastic bag pieces. I might not know which line to take where, and I can still get lost in Central Park, but I also know our neighbor dogs by name, and when the fountains in front of our building shut off. I know what the city looks like at two a.m., five a.m., two p.m., midnight. I may not be able to point you to the nearest subway station, but I can certainly tell you where to find a trashcan, and what stores keep water bowls outside on especially hot days.

It’s not the glamorous New York life I imagined back in high school when I dreamed of making the city my own, but it’s a smelly, sticky version that, for both Django and me, is starting to feel a whole lot like home.

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