[FoRK] Dog for Rent

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Mon May 24 19:07:40 PDT 2004


As in my dog for your rent. $1800 a month!
Owen

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>           May 25, 2004
>
>
>     Rooming With the Big Dogs
>
> *By ANDREA ELLIOTT*
>
> People talk to Ego Le Bow. He has the qualities of any good therapist 
> - he is calm, seems to listen and is not easily fazed. He is also a 
> hulking white dog who at times resembles a polar bear. "They whisper 
> in his ear, tell him their dreams," said Dr. Michelle Le Bow, a 
> psychologist on the Upper West Side who began involving Ego in her 
> sessions with patients eight years ago.
>
> The story of how Ego became a quasi-psychotherapist is as layered and 
> quirky as any New York tale, but has its roots in this basic fact: It 
> takes creativity to integrate a giant-breed dog into one's life in the 
> city. Ego, a Great Pyrenees, hails from a long line of ancestors bred 
> to guard sheep in the mountains. He needs to go on four ambling walks 
> every day, so Dr. Le Bow started taking him to work, five blocks south 
> of the apartment they share. "He gets two extra walks a day that way," 
> she said.
>
> In a city defined by small spaces - cabs, elevators, cramped 
> apartments and crowded sidewalks - it is often cause for bewilderment 
> that New Yorkers would willingly choose to live with Great Danes, 
> Newfoundlands, St. Bernards and Irish wolfhounds. Everything is 
> outsize: the hair, the smell, the pull of a passing squirrel, the 
> grooming bills, the food intake and its inevitable digestive exit, 
> which can summon spectators like some kind of street show.
>
> To enter a dog run is to induce a panic of King Kong proportions. 
> Hailing a cab to the vet is an exercise in rejection.
>
> Perhaps the greatest irritant of all are the comments from strangers. 
> "If I hear 'Scooby Doo!', 'Marmaduke!' or 'It's a horse not a dog' one 
> more time I will jump out of my skin," said Jaime Stankevicius, an 
> opera singer who shares a Chelsea studio with his Great Dane, Avalon. 
> "If you're really in a hurry, you have to put a hat on, keep your head 
> down and walk fast, because otherwise it takes four hours to walk 
> around the block."
>
> But, like so many other big-dog owners, Mr. Stankevicius is 
> religiously attached to his choice of pet. A smaller dog would "feel 
> like a purse," he said. Avalon stands 6 feet 3 inches tall on his hind 
> legs and weighs 140 pounds. His nails are trimmed with a Dremel rotary 
> power tool. He consumes $30 to $50 worth of food a week. The dog's 
> largeness lends him a certain humanity, a soothing thing in a lonely city.
>
> "We're just like roommates," said Mr. Stankevicius, 38.
>
> They do everything together, including sleep in the same four-poster 
> bed. There is no other bed suitable in size. For the same reason, two 
> Irish wolfhounds in Mott Haven, the Bronx, share a twin mattress. An 
> English mastiff on the Upper East Side sleeps on an eight-foot-long couch.
>
> "You can't play that, 'I'm the alpha, I'm the one in charge here,' " 
> said Ralina Cardona, 34, the owner of the two Irish wolfhounds. "It 
> has to be a coexistence when it's a big dog."
>
> In a city ruled by big personalities, big dogs fare well. Avalon's 
> daily trek through Chelsea is like a celebrity tour. It begins at the 
> Midtown Lumber Mart on West 25th Street, where he stands on his hind 
> legs and lifts his paws onto the counter. The store manager hands him 
> a block of pine, which he chews with relish. Customers stare in disbelief.
>
> "Does this guy live in a New York apartment?" asks one customer, Evan 
> Alboum, with raised eyebrows. Outside, a woman approaches. "Is this 
> Avalon?" she asks before he trots regally to his next spot, a toy 
> store on Eighth Avenue where again he stands up to the counter and 
> accepts a biscuit as if collecting a payment. The same thing happens 
> in restaurants and liquor stores. They all know Avalon.
>
> "It's indecent," said Mr. Stankevicius. "Every day is Halloween for him."
>
> There are certain psyches that take hold with owning a large dog. 
> There is the "only a big dog is a real dog" attitude, which owners of 
> smaller dogs abhor. There's the vicarious love of big-dog attention. 
> "I once counted 40 inquiries in an hour, but that's when the tourists 
> are here," said Arnold Lebow, Ego's other owner.
>
> There is big-dog-owner narcissism: the notion that even if these dogs 
> had acres of rolling hills or a sprawling home, they would always stay 
> near their owners. "I could have 10,000 square feet, and it wouldn't 
> matter," Mr. Stankevicius said. (It is true that many large dogs need 
> less exercise than smaller dogs.) And then there is the "I will 
> sacrifice anything for this dog" fanaticism that is almost universal 
> to New York pet owners, but often comes with a greater price when the 
> dog is big.
>
> Take Barry and Brutus.
>
> Barry Kellman is 35 years old and going through a divorce. Brutus is 5 
> years old and has already gone through his own divorce of sorts.
>
> "When my wife got pregnant, she threw Brutus out," said Mr. Kellman, 
> who lives on the Upper East Side and owns a medical management company.
>
> Brutus is an English mastiff whom Mr. Kellman bought over the phone 
> when the dog was not yet a month old. He arrived from Philadelphia the 
> following week and immediately started getting bigger. He now weighs 
> 160 pounds.
>
> "When my wife met him, she loved him. Then, once she moved in - look, 
> he's an animal," said Mr. Kellman. "He's a slob."
>
> "Beyond a slob," said the wife, Shane Markus-Kellman, 30, in a 
> telephone interview. Brutus, she said, was too much to bear in a 
> 740-square-foot apartment with a baby on the way. "The baby's whole 
> head could fit into his mouth."
>
> Mr. Kellman would not give Brutus up, so the dog went to live at 
> Biscuits & Bath Doggy Gym, which offers overnight boarding a few 
> blocks away from Mr. Kellman's Murray Hill office. On visits, he 
> sneaked Brutus his favorite treats: steak and beer.
>
> "We used to keep Brutus behind the front desk with us just to see 
> people's reactions to this big head," said Meyghan Hill, 25, a 
> receptionist.
>
> But nothing compared to living with his owner, and Brutus lost weight.
>
> "I think he sensed all along that he was traded in for a baby," said 
> Mr. Kellman, who has photos of both his baby boy and Brutus on his 
> cellphone.
>
> After three months, at $55 a night, the boarding bills piled up. So 
> Mr. Kellman did the next logical thing (in his mind): he rented a 
> one-bedroom apartment for Brutus last July and found him a roommate. 
> In exchange for living with Brutus, Mr. Kellman agreed to pay the rent 
> in full - $1,800.
>
> To meet Brutus is to appreciate the challenge of living with him. He 
> slurps water from his bowl like a horse at a trough. He urinates with 
> considerable force and stamina. "This goes for about 15 minutes," said 
> Paul D'Amato, the doorman of his building. "He's a tank."
>
> Brutus also drools constantly: when he walks, saliva swings like a 
> pendulum. When he shakes his head, it flies onto the walls, the front 
> door, Mr. Kellman's clothes (the dry cleaning bill is about $400 a 
> month), and in places not to be believed.
>
> "Every now and then you'll see something hanging from the ceiling," 
> said Mr. Kellman. He once found it in his shoes. But Brutus's charm is 
> undeniable. His trusting eyes and massive head bring to mind E.T., the 
> extra-terrestrial.
>
> Mr. Kellman's marriage ended last fall - not because of Brutus, he 
> said - and Mr. Kellman was also suddenly out of a home. He is now 
> sleeping on a couch in Brutus's apartment while they look for a bigger 
> place.
>
> "I'm a slob anyway," said Mr. Kellman. "We've got the band back together."
>
>
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