My social life has gone to the dogs. I mean that literally. Many of the friends and neighborhood acquaintances that I now have are because of Buster, a spunky four-pound Yorkie, and his friend at my local dog run in Battery Park. The benches against the wall face North Cove Marina, where the occasional warning blast from a boat coming in or going out sends the few timid dogs shivering back to their humans.
On a recent morning, I went to sit next to a web site designer who lives in my building, and Dot, a compact English Bulldog who’s built like a battering ram, hurls herself soaking wet into my lap, smiling like a demented clown. A 14-year-old wirehaired Daschund named Pilar was sitting regally on the bench next to her “mom,” wearing a black leather cape from her clubbing days; yesterday, she had her mustache waxed at a barber in Chelsea. Nemo, a dignified Katrina rescue Shetland Sheepdog Corgi mix, trotted in beside his “dad,” a chef for the dining room of a bankrupt investment bank who’s been dropping weight over the status of his job. Nemo surprised him the other day by following him up the ladder into his sleeping loft, suggesting an alternative career path in shrimp-boating.
Shenanigan, a mammoth Bernese Mountain dog, lumbered through the gate like the Trojan Horse, and everyone—conversations suspended—turned to look at her. She ambled over to the bench, clearing a swath through the other dogs, and sprawled at our feet. “How much does she weigh these days?” I asked her “mom,” an opinionated, down-on-her-luck actress, who told me “She’s a big woman, and big women don’t like their weight discussed.” A Teacup Chihuahua skittered over and bared his teeth, and when Shenanigan moved away, the Teacup chased her. A disapproving silence followed.
It was about a week later when I took Buster to the dog run to find that the unthinkable had happened. The park is closed for renovations, and instead of the fountain and happy faces there are mounds of dug-up dirt and broken concrete. The benches have been removed. We stare at the demolition, speechless and adrift, and then we stumble through the rest of our walk, skirting the marina and heading over to the Koi Pond. But we don’t meet anyone.
Before Buster, I used to be a cat person. While dogs are like action heroes, cats are deep thinkers, meditating for hours on life’s deepest mysteries (how many hours until dinnertime). They are territorial, and you are their territory. I lived in the West Village, the Lower East Side, the East Village, and Chelsea, and my neighbors were always strangers. Then I began noticing how many people in Manhattan had dogs. All kinds of dogs—big, small, sleek, shaggy—and all of them slap-happy, no matter what they were doing. Following their human into a drugstore—excited. Sniffing the leaves of a bush peeking through a metal fence—exhilarated. Playing with other dogs—ecstatic.
I found myself strangely attracted to Yorkshire Terriers. They are scrappy, little dogs who think they’re big, prancing through life puffed up with confidence. I aspired to their self-belief.
It was amazing how many different locations and how often I sounded the “Yorkie alert!” I introduced myself to hordes of Yorkies, talking my way into doorman-protected condominium lobbies, sidling up to strangers and asking for an introduction to their Yorkies: Bruiser, Trixie, Miles, Gracie, Rocky.
I researched breeders and admired puppy pictures. Finally, after a year and a half of Yorkshire Terrier pining, I found a local breeder and took the leap into puppy parenthood. Buster was born during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. We brought him home 10 weeks later—and my social life immediately changed. I owe it mostly to the dog runs, but I’ve met other dog folks in outdoor cafés, walking down West Broadway, window-shopping on Fifth Avenue, even at my dentist’s office.
Now, for the first time in all the years I’ve lived in Manhattan, I know a large group of my neighbors, but every time we go to one of the other nearby dog runs, no one familiar is there.
Weeks after the unsettling closing, I ran into a group of dog run acquaintances in the lobby of my building, and we took over the couches to catch up, our pack of dogs wagging and sniffing. Ronnie Blue, a Yorkie with ears so big he can probably fly, leaped onto my lap and rolled belly up, demanding a rub. His mom had an envelope of photos from our dog run, and we passed them around. This is a group of people who have pictures of their dogs on the iPhones and in their wallets, producing them proudly when others flash photos of their toddlers.
We dished about the two nearby runs on West Street and North End Avenue, but it was like we were talking about another country. Our run is like our village green. The West Street and North End Avenue runs are more like football fields where the big guys play and their people watch, scattered on widely spaced benches. You have to shout or huddle to be heard.
Buster still dashes to the closed run every evening, and sometimes I meet other people whose dogs also insist on checking out the renovation’s progress and staring bleakly through the gates. There’s no news of when the park will open, and I’m beginning to feel out-of-touch.
I enroll Buster in a Tricks Class at Animal Haven in Soho; it’s followed by a Small Dog Social. Forty to fifty small dogs show up every Saturday with their humans. It’s impossible to be unhappy in a large room filled with fur bombs and small bulldogs rolling around and running. I meet Trixie’s mom, a painter from Brooklyn who makes her own paper, and Coco’s parents, an unlikely actor and lawyer couple whose demeanor is as cheerful as their dainty Papillion’s.
While we wait for our dog run to reopen, my calendar begins to fill with events. There’s the Super Dog Party Bowl at Animal Haven and the Mix and Mingle Yappy Hour Paw-ty at Bideawee. Come to think of it, that conflicts with our Doga (or Yoga With Your Dog) class.
I’ve discovered a whole new underbelly to New York City, and it’s soft and furry.