Stalled Real Estate and The Dogs’ Days of Summer

Angelo Biondo, proprietor of K-9 Powerhouse Kennel in Park Slope, consulted last month on providing guard dogs for 659 Bergen Street. Today, there’s a “Beware of Dog” sign but no dog. Another sign announces that construction will be completed in July 2009. The unfinished residential development is silent.

“I could probably show you six more of these,” Mr. Biondo said.

His business—guard-dog rental—occupies a tricky place in today’s economy. Unemployment breeds crime breeds a desire for security. Financial problems and stalled construction leave real estate projects half-finished and vacant for months, tantalizing would-be vandals. Customers want the protection that a couple of Great Danes or Rottweilers provide, and guard dogs can be a bargain: depending on the area, two dogs (including fencing, care and all certification) rent for $1,750 to $2,000 monthly, a figure that Mr. Biondo says breaks down to lower than a security guard’s hourly wages.

But when the money is gone, it’s gone, and some cash-strapped developers can’t even afford to guard their properties.

A few blocks from 659 Bergen, on St. Marks Avenue, the condo development Vantage 238 employed a team of Mr. Biondo’s dogs, but recently let them go because of a tightening budget. Around the corner from K-9 Powerhouse, on Third Avenue, the Rottweilers Benz and Nite guard a future Marriott hotel. Construction is running 10 months late, and the company is three months behind on their payments to K-9.

“Brooklyn is the No. 1 area,” said Mr. Biondo, who does business in all five boroughs. During more prosperous times, his dogs were the scourge of yuppie Brooklynites, provoking heated posts on the blog Gowanus Lounge when they attacked a Carroll Gardens pet.

Brooklyn is the No. 1 area. – Angelo Biondo

At the K-9 Powerhouse offices, two signs outside the rows of dog pens warn visitors, “Do not enter beyond this point—not responsible for bodily injury.” The dogs—huge, loud and alarmingly bouncy—go berserk when a stranger steps inside.

“That’s exactly what they’re supposed to do,” Mr. Biondo said. If he were alone, they’d be quiet and nuzzling his legs. “I don’t want to have a gun in my house,” he says, “but I do like to have an 80-pound dog.”

Mr. Biondo wears five earrings, a Bluetooth earpiece, a gold necklace, and reading glasses on a cord. His office contains press clippings and framed certificates as well as a number of wolf posters. While K-9 Powerhouse is known for dealing with big dogs, his personal pets include a teacup Chihuahua.

“The Chihuahua don’t come here,” he said.

K-9 Powerhouse provides training and boarding as well as guard dog rental services, and while Mr. Biondo estimates that boarding a dog (a luxury) is down 50 percent since the financial crash, guard dog rentals (a precaution) are doing well. According to the city Health Department, which licenses guard dogs, there have been 200 dogs registered in 2009, compared to 469 in 2008, and 600 in 2007. Mr. Biondo has been a dog trainer since 1976, and says he feels secure in his niche regardless of the economy.

Protecting empty buildings: a sign of hope, or a weird way of mourning? On July 5, The Times Sunday Magazine published a photographic series by Edgar Martins documenting the real estate market’s architectural carcasses, leaf-scattered McMansions and the like. When it transpired that they had been digitally altered, The Times took the photos down. But it couldn’t change the implicit suggestion—that there’s something irresistibly compelling about the concrete and scaffolding of indefinite delay, something worth dramatizing via Photoshop, or guarding with 80-pound beasts.

Where the photographs courted an emotional response, Mr. Biondo deals in practicalities—business as usual, protecting future condos on the assumption that construction will eventually be completed and people will eventually buy.

Rottweilers are dogs for the downturn—and their trainers only buoyed by tough times. “There’s not a lot of people who do what I do,” Mr. Biondo said. Stalled Real Estate and The Dogs’ Days of Summer