I have to admit that I'm a fan of nearly all dogs, but that there's a special place in my heart for larger dogs, like my own sweet golden retriever, Casey. If I lived in a shoebox-size apartment, I suspect that I'd be walking a much more compact canine: a French bulldog.
Woman’s Best Friend, or Accessory?
December 7, 2006
By RUTH LA FERLA
OH, the places Paige has been. Like all the top New Yorkers, she dines downtown at Mercer Kitchen, eyes the heart of palm at the deli E.A.T. on Madison Avenue and appraises the calfskin boots at Gucci. “We even drink together,” said Dina Lewis, a real estate agent and Paige’s constant companion.
At Plug Uglies on Third Avenue, “Paige sits on the bar stool and everything,” Ms. Lewis said. “It’s like having a very good-looking, very drunk friend with you all the time.”
Except that Paige is a doll-sized Chihuahua. She travels with her mistress everywhere, scoping out the world from the confines of a Balenciaga look-alike bag.
Paige is what is known as a sleeve dog, an emblem of status since antiquity. Once toted by fashionable women inside the folds of their gowns, diminutive pets have been the favorites of nobles from Marie Antoinette to Elizabeth II. The pseudo-royals of Hollywood also favor them, actresses and gossip-column fixtures like Tori Spelling and Mickey Rourke.
Now, thanks in part to their red carpet visibility, compact breeds are more popular than ever. “We’re seeing a nationwide trend toward smaller dogs,” said Niki Marshall Friedman, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. For example, registration of the Brussels griffon has gone up 231 percent in the last 10 years; Norwich terrier registration has risen 91 percent.
Flaunted as fashion statements, pint-sized canines are, to some minds, the fur-bearing equivalent of a pair of Louboutin pumps or other accessory. “I think of them as a handbag with a heartbeat,” said Robin Bowden, a vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, a real estate company in Manhattan. Ms. Bowden’s office on West 17th Street is a kind of home-away-from-home to a clutch of lavishly outfitted lap dogs belonging to various employees. “They have little beds and they scamper up and down,” she said. “I’ve seen brokers showing expensive SoHo lofts, turning up with these tiny puppy dogs in their designer bags.”
In some parts of town tiny pets as chicly turned out as their owners vie with BlackBerry pagers as on-the-go emblems of status. “People like the portability of a small dog,” Ms. Friedman said. They are also impressed by celebrities, she added, who like to show off their Charos, Freddies and Desirees on the red carpet.
Yorkshire terriers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, French bulldogs and papillons, which can live in small apartments, are among the most coveted breeds, according to the kennel club, favored by young women and baby boomers alike. “As the kids go off to college, having Fluffy around is a comfort,” said Bob Vetere, the president of the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association. “The pet attains an elevated status,” Mr. Vetere said. “To make ourselves feel better, we tend to reward it in human, not in doggie, terms.”
In the view of many owners, no amount of pampering is too much. They blithely ignore health ordinances barring dogs from restaurants. Muffin, a 3-year-old Yorkie, is a weekend regular at the Cafe Orlin on St. Marks Place in Manhattan. “I like to take her to brunch,” said Alex Revana, her mistress.
Ms. Revana, a freelance fashion stylist, has provided Muffin with her own doggie garment rack with miniature hangers to hold knitted, fleece and quilted cover-ups. Muffin’s toys include a rubber Chewy Vuitton, and she dines on California Natural, organic pet food.
Paige, Ms. Lewis’s dog, owns 40 outfits, among them an Hermès coat. Part of Ms. Lewis’s closet is designated for the dog. Like her mistress, she likes to make a fashion statement. “With the two of us it’s an equal opportunity thing,” Ms. Lewis said. “I sit up at wee hours of the night online to find that one store in, like, Canada or Switzerland, so Paige can have that one sweater that no New Yorker will ever have.”
Mr. Fudge, a 4-year-old Chihuahua who belongs to Wendy Kaplan, a fit model and personal style consultant in New York, owns a yellow Old Navy raincoat, a denim fleece vest and, for blustery days, an orange simulated snakeskin coat with a pocket “in case he needs a biscuit,” Ms. Kaplan explained.
Mr. Fudge travels in a leopard-spotted bag. “There are places I have to sneak him into — the post office, Gristedes, the neighborhood bakery,” Ms. Kaplan said.
No fan of ordinances barring pets from restaurants and other indoor public spaces, she demanded: “Why should that be? We are after all a doggie culture.”
To a degree, that seems correct. Designer boutiques, hotels, airlines and even neighborhood bars are quick to extend doggie hospitality. “All kinds of services present themselves that allow people who have pets to travel with them,” Mr. Vetere of the pet products organization said. “You’re talking about the Tinkerbells of the world as opposed to the Godzillas.”
Rebecca Rand, a spokeswoman for the W hotel chain, which offers a canine-friendly Woof program, said guests traveling with small dogs have become a significant trend. “People are treating them more like family, so we try to accommodate them as much as possible,” she said. That includes pet pillows with special treats placed on them at turndown time.
Lap dogs and others are tolerated, if not always welcome, at many offices these days. Some 20 percent of businesses polled in a survey by the pet products association last spring permitted pets in the workplace, Mr. Vetere said. And 38 million working Americans over 18 believe having pets at work leads to a more productive environment.
Melanie Lazenby, a real estate agent in New York, said that bringing Eva, her five-pound Chihuahua, to the office has even brought her clients. Recently the owner of a $3.5 million Greenwich Village apartment, also a Chihuahua owner, gave Ms. Lazenby the listing once she glimpsed Eva. “It was all on the basis of doggie love,” she said.
All this canine-human togetherness can raise eyebrows. No one is more mindful of the potential absurdities of a lap dog than some owners. “To some people in the office I could be considered borderline tragic,” Ms. Lewis said with a laugh. “I figure life is short, so why not enjoy the frivolous, ridiculous side of it.”
Not everyone is amused. The sight of Ms. Lazenby, tall, impeccable and fair-haired, dressed identically with her dog, has the potential to engender sneers, she knows. “It’s the classic ‘Legally Blonde’ situation,” she said. “If your dog has on a really fancy jacket and you have on a fancy jacket, too, it makes some people smirk.”
It also gives some dog trainers pause. They point out that pets are not accessories, and treating them like prize possessions, no matter how well meaning, can deprive an animal of what it needs. “Socialization, training and exercise are paramount,” said Bash Dibra, a trainer based in New York. “Otherwise you have a problem.” An overly coddled dog can become territorial and aggressive, Mr. Dibra said. “Sometimes the dog goes into a rage. It’s not a happy situation.”
Patty LaRocco, who brings her Yorkie, Dylan, to business and social gatherings, acknowledges that doggie socializing has its limits. “A banker in a nice suit doesn’t want Dylan jumping up and down.”
On the other hand, pets can be a social icebreaker.
Ms. Lazenby, who moved to Manhattan just weeks before 9/11, recalled: “It was very hard to meet people. The whole city was in a depression, and it wasn’t really a social time.
“I bought the dog because I was so lonely, and she ended up bringing tons of people into my life.”
It does not surprise Ms. Kaplan, the fit model, that Mr. Fudge is a people magnet. Tricked out in a pink rhinestone collar, he accompanies her to parties, where “people who might not otherwise talk to you, talk to you,” she said. And why wouldn’t they? “My dog makes better eye contact than some of the people I know.”