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Musing

Dogs of New York, Part One

October 7, 2013

Tags: New York dogs, Louise Bernikow, New York City

The lovely Lilith
When I was a girl, my father would drive me beyond the New Jersey meadowlands to “the city” on the weekends. I loved Manhattan then and I love it now - although it’s changed over the years - Times Square more sanitized, the East (and West) Village more expensive, but it’s still one of the most interesting, energetic and creative places on earth.

And definitely a dog town.

If you venture beyond Times Square to where people live and work, you can’t help but notice the dogs and their owners walking everywhere. On this last trip, I really got a sense of how dogs rule in this city.

The occasion was a visit to Louise Bernikow, author of Bark If You Love Me and , the first author to send in a blurb for the back cover of Short Leash (her lines were an amazing affirmation of what I had labored so hard to write). Since I was already going to be in town and Louise and I had never met, I wanted to thank her in person.

To get there, I had to venture to the Upper West Side, a part of town I’d never been to before, taking trains I’d never taken, (but I did it - one more subway notch on my belt), and was astonished to find a great little neighborhood.

When I was young, my father would take me into all the commercial districts and explain how they were like little cities of their own- the diamond district, the flower district, the garment district- but what I am starting to understand by visiting New Yorkers like Louise and neighborhoods like hers, is that New York City is basically a big city made up of small towns. Within a four block area, you enter a place where people who know each other by name (or at least by sight), shopkeepers who greet their regulars, and dog owners who know each other’s dogs.

Louise greeted me at the doorway to her lovely building with her sweet Boxer girl Lilith on the leash. We headed off to Riverside Park (only a block away), a verdantly green expanse of trees and paths following the shores of the Hudson River for a late afternoon walk.

It was wonderful to see the park she writes of in “Bark.” Like a movie, I saw unreeling before me the place where she found the abandoned pup Libro and where they jogged, bonded with other dogs and owners, and forged their own unbreakable bond. It was my Quiet Waters Park, right here in Manhattan.

We sat by the river and talked, one of those fantastic conversations where you realize you’ve met a kindred spirit and it’s like you’ve each other forever. Lilith stood staunchly by our side, watching the goings-on in the dog park, keeping an eye on people and dogs while Louise provided a running commentary on the various characters parading by. She knew almost every dog, and let me tell you, there were a lot of them.

On the way back to her studio, we came across a man walking a gorgeous white and tan Pit Bull. Louise made her acquaintance with the owner (who she hadn’t seen before) and Litilth with the Pittie (“Just her type,” Louise said. “Young and male”). We crossed Riverside Drive passing more leashed dogs, a middle school soccer team (Louise knew most of the girls) and a neighbor planting fall flowers in a corner container. It really drove home what a tight community this was, what a lucky woman Louise what to live here. And how lucky Lilith - who was rescued from a North Carolina kill shelter - was to Live in a place where she had everything a dog could want outside her door.

I left knowing I had made a new friend. (Friends, I should say. I think Lilith finally accepted me). I also added a new neighborhood to my personal map of Manhattan. This time, when I boarded the “1” Local, I almost felt like a native. But I had more to learn. My encounter with the world of New York City dogs wasn’t over yet.
(To come: Dogs Of New York Part 2: Lost and Found)