One sun-soaked morning in September, we met up with Maggie at Spot. The staff greeted The Observer warmly, but did not offer us one of the gourmet Stella & Chewy beef-flavored treats on the reception desk. A 16-ounce bag sells for $30. “Pretty much the most expensive treat you can get,” Mr. Mandell told us.
Nor were we invited into the playroom. Being neither a certified trainer nor an approved dog, we might disrupt the room’s meticulously managed social dynamics.
We were allowed to peer through the windows, however, and we watched several other dogs as they mingled and dozed on orthopedic beds, stumpy metal frames with green canvas stretched over them. Mr. Mandell said the beds are better for a dog’s skeletal structure than the puffy kind, although he admitted that they were a little expensive, at several hundred dollars a piece.
A few of the dogs gazed up at us, but they turned away when one of the trainers who continually walked the room asked for their attention. Christian Polhamus, the day care supervisor, explained that the trainer was constantly reasserting his alpha position with signals and commands. If he sees two dogs engaging in prolonged wrestling—not an aggressive interaction in itself, but one that could lead to a fight—he will ask them to stop for a moment and look both of them in the eyes. A hairy eyeball is all that’s needed to diffuse escalation. Dog owners have described watching the playroom as mesmerizing—one woman told us that she had trouble getting any work done because she couldn’t stop staring at it, but after 10 minutes we were growing a little bored, so the Mr. Mandell took The Observer on a tour of the outdoor play area.
I love it back here, it’s so quiet, there’s no street noise,” he sighed contentedly. A gentle breeze ruffled his shaggy blonde hair and a faint urine odor wafted up from the Astroturf, mixing with the buttery brunch scents from a restaurant’s nearby terrace.
“This is where the majority of pees and poops happen,” he remarked, explaining that while the staff adhered to a strict “clean-as-you-go” policy, daily power washings of the AstroTurf were an absolute necessity.
Maggie then emerged from the building, blinking winsomely. She was wearing a simple paper collar with her name and breed scrawled on it—dogs remove their personal gear when they arrive, much as you exchange your clothes for a white robe and slippers at the spa.
The trainers threw tiny tennis balls, which a French bulldog named Pickle sprinted after enthusiastically, hoarding as many as he possibly could. Various breeds of toy and lapdog gathered at the trainer’s ankles, eager to be picked up and coddled.
“I thought Pickle’s owners were moving to Brooklyn,” remarked one of the trainers, brushing a clump of white hair from his black T-shirt.
“The renovations are taking longer than expected,” replied the other, as he bent down to pick a Havanese, who relaxed into his arms contentedly. Such cuddling was a frequent occurrence—a counterpoint to the routines and rigidity of pack life and more active moments of play.