Musings + Essays

Owning a Dog in Manhattan.

By: Jen Shoop

*Photo above by Sarah Elliott for St. Frank; our Tilly is wearing a Foggy Dog x St. Frank bandana and collar.

Scarcely a day goes by when I am not stopped on one of my walks with Tilly —

“What kind of dog is that?”

“Is this one of those -poos?”

“Oh my gosh, your dog is so cute!”

Our Tilly (short for Tilden, the name of the street I grew up on in Northwest D.C.) is an Airedale terrier, a breed that was once incredibly popular — President Harding had one in the White House in the 1920s — but has since lost favor and is now fairly uncommon, especially in urban areas. Airedales are ratters by breeding, and therefore handy on farms, but given the density of rats here in NYC (sick), she’s honestly right at home in this urban jungle. Oh the hundreds of times I have nearly face-planted as she’s darted after a squirrel or mouse or rat in Central Park…

A few weeks ago, my friend Christina asked if Tilly would star in a photo-shoot for a collaboration between her home decor company, St. Frank, and stylish pet product brand, Foggy Dog, and I immediately said yes. (All pictures in this post from the shoot in chichi TriBeCa by the talented Sarah Elliott.) Bribing three dogs to pose in synchrony with one another required a lot of treats, but we managed it. As we took an Uber home (dogs are not permitted on the subway unless they are service animals), I tousled Tilly’s hair and realized, with some measure of maudliness, how much she has sacrificed in the introduction of two children into our home over the past two and a half years. She is the lowest on the totem pole in our little pod at the moment, and yet she somehow completes the tribe–and on trying days, when I can wrestle her into submitting to a hug (terrier moms know what I’m saying), she makes everything better.

For the first year of mini’s life, I routinely told friends that raising an Airedale was harder than raising a child. That might sound crazy, but if you’ve ever owned a terrier puppy, you know what I mean. They are high-spirited, stubborn, mischievous, smart, and energetic. They require constant supervision and discipline. I don’t think she stopped moving for the first two years of her life, and she destroyed about half of our belongings in that span. She had a particularly naughty (and, in retrospect, hilarious) tendency to trot over to the leg of an armchair or edge of a rug, shrill-barking for our attention, and then hover over it with her mouth open, moving her head back and forth tauntingly, as if to say: “Just dare me. Just dare me! I’ll do it!” (And she usually did.)

A few months ago, during one of those hairy afternoons with two young children, as Mr. Magpie and I were navigating meltdowns, accidents, spit-up, and tantrums in an exhausted haze, I looked over and saw Mr. Magpie plunk down on the floor and wrap his arms around Tilly while both babies were screaming at the top of their lungs.

“Oh, Tilly. My one constant,” he said into her neck.

We later laughed at how far we’ve come with Tills, once the source of so much stress and destruction, and now the easiest of our “children” to manage. I ate my own words: raising children, it turns out, is infinitely harder than rearing a dog. Tilly’s now nearly four years old and though she still has the energy of a puppy (I once asked a fellow airedale owner “When do they calm down?” and she laughed and returned, archly, “Oh — you can give up on that. The answer is never.”), she’s a sturdy, predictable, and reliable companion.

I often joke that Tilly tolerates me, but Mr. Magpie is her person. She lives for Mr. Magpie. That makes two of us, Tilly. She (almost always) responds to his commands and she (almost always) leaps into his arms and presses her furry face against his for a nightly snuggle. She goes ballistic when he comes home at night, tail wagging and feet high-stepping around like a show-horse. She usually reserves that prance for her walks home from the groomer, when she positively struts. She knows she looks good. If you think I’m crazy, just the other day, a woman stopped me in the elevator up to our apartment and said, “My goodness, she thinks she looks good, doesn’t she?” She was so right. When Tilly is well-groomed, she literally springs around, paws extended dramatically, head held high, like a dressage horse.

Tilly has a huge personality and is extraordinarily bright. Even though we have literally never fed her “human food,” she routinely saunters by the dining table to observe what might be accessible to her in a casual stroll and then, the minute a back is turned, POUNCES to snag a scoop of pasta or grab a roll out of the bread basket or — as happened recently — scarf down three cupcakes in one fell swoop. She becomes agitated when she sees our suitcases out and will often refuse to eat in silent, Ghandi-like protest when she senses change afoot. (When we moved from Chicago to New York, she did not eat for four days. With this most recent move, she was also extremely finnicky, only eating a couple of kibbles out of her bowl at mealtime.)

She likes to be “comfy-cozy,” as we call it in this house, and will curl up on any stray bit of fabric she can find if all of the chairs are occupied. She is surprisingly dextrous in the sense that she will leap into an armchair and somehow methodically kick off every single cushion until there is more than enough space for herself, and then let out a satisfied “humph” as she flops on top. She will also use her paws to swipe at food left on the counter, just out of reach. And there is nothing more startling than walking into the kitchen and seeing an Airedale at the counter, on her hind legs, nearly as tall as I am, as she attempts to treat herself to a mouthful of rice or spare crusts from mini’s lunch. She gives me no notice in her pursuit of an afternoon snack, and were she wearing an apron, I might just continue on my way past her — so humanlike are her dimensions and movements.

Toys are not long for this world in her powerful jaws. She is what you might call “an aggressive chewer.” She will destroy a tennis ball in two seconds flat and then waltz around the apartment with neon yellow fluff stuck in her teeth and affixed to her muzzle. Even toys marked for “heavy chewers” do not stand a chance in her determined grip. And so she normally only has one or two possessions at a time, which, incidentally, is fine, as she seems happiest throwing scraps of her own destroyed towel to herself or — as happened recently in the move — chasing after a balled-up piece of packer’s tape, which preoccupied her for the better part of a day. Landon and I joked that it was the saddest thing we’d ever seen, like children in the Depression era chasing hoops down a street with sticks — such a pathetic excuse for a toy. That’s our Tilly: a gal of simple pleasures.

Tilly was meant for us. She is a perfect mirror and extension of our family — somewhat high-maintenance, particular, and opinionated, and yet faithful, affectionate, spirited, and — dare I say it? — stylish. In the third trimester of my pregnancy, she used to curl up at my bedside every night — something new and different from her usual routine of sleeping in a mound of pillows in the corner of our bedroom (she destroyed her dog bed and so we are excited to buy her a new one in our new apartment). I was touched to tears by her fidelity and concern — and also, as a borderline hypochondriac, mildly convinced I was sick with something undiagnosed. Why else would she be paying me so much mind when Mr. Magpie is her One and Only? She would rouse each and every time I’d get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (which was a lot), looking over at me with what I anthropomorphized as sisterly solicitude.

Now, I did not grow up with dogs. And owning a dog in Manhattan is a true labor of love — it is expensive (boarding her sets us back $100/night — basically, more than I used to spend per night at the Cav Inn in Charlottesville, VA), time-consuming (there are no backyards to let her “do her business in”; she must be walked at least three times a day), and often annoying (Tilly barks at every Tom, Dick, and Harry that walks by our apartment door, and there are lots of Toms, Dicks, and Harrys given all of the deliveries and service technicians and so forth). And don’t get me started about the misery of a sick dog in a small New York apartment — or rainy days, full-stop. (Try toweling off a large, shaggy, writhing dog in your galley kitchen. Hell. More often than not, we end up with wet dog smell and paw prints in our living area.) Beyond that, given the tight quarters in which Manhattanites live, owning a dog — especially a big dog like Tilly — is a true sacrifice of personal space.

And yet.

The columnist Caroline Knapp once wrote: “Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way.”

Just so.

When I boarded her the night before a recent trip, I was overwhelmed by the emptiness of our apartment without her large, lion-like figure loping around, and her bark punctuating my afternoon, and the eternal consideration that must be afforded her snooping, prying nose and seeming omnivorousness. (“Make sure to keep that bathroom door shut or she’ll tear through the trash!” “Keep her in the bedroom if groceries are on their way up or she’ll lose her mind at the door!”) She is so woven into the fabric of my existence, without her constantly underfoot, I felt as though I was constantly forgetting something. “What…was I supposed to be doing?” I’d wonder, and then realize I was just perplexed by the shock of her absence.

We love you, Tilly. All 55 pounds of your effervescent, occasionally emotionally withholding, independent, affectionate self.

You are ours and our lives are better for you.

Post Scripts.

+The best dog toys we have found: Fluff n Tuff plush toys tend to last a surprisingly long time, and somehow this snake has outlasted every other toy she’s ever owned. Kong toys are also pretty good, especially when we used to fill them with a mix of diced apple, kibbles, and water and then place the entire thing in the freezer, “sealed” at the top with a slick of peanut butter. We’d then let her work at getting the kibble/apples out in our backyard and it would keep her preoccupied for a good hour.

+We’ve used a dog shampoo that I actually can’t stand for a long time (it came in an industrial sized bottle and we tend to send her out to be bathed and groomed now that we live in NYC, so it’s lasted forever). Its smell gives me a headache. Might swap out for a fancier style because the scent tends to linger a long time on a dog. I’m eyeing this stuff from Aesop, whose scents I absolutely LOVE, and this bottle from Kiehl’s. Malin + Goetz also makes one that is compelling!

+Tilly’s dog bowls are an older version of this set from Target, and they are perfect. I like that they keep her bowls in place (versus being nosed around the kitchen) and don’t look absolutely hideous. I had really wanted this set, but am so glad I went for the bargain version because Tilly chewed on the corner of her wooden stand as a pup and I wasn’t as annoyed as I would have been had I dropped $100 on it.

+I of course love dog toys for my children — things like this lacing toy, vintage Steiff dogs (we have a few of these), and this dog mobile, which was in mini’s room and will soon make its way into micro’s!

+Love these personalized dog collars.

+I mentioned this recently in my post on inexpensive ways to personalize your home, but Mr. Magpie and I collect dog portraits and canine decor. I love these hooks, for example. Would be a great solution for hanging Tilly’s leash.

+More on life in New York.

+We use this lead for Tilly, but I think we’re due for a new one — I like this one by Foggy Dog.

+We also need a new dog bed for Tilly. Eyeing this, this, or this.

+Cutest ornament.

+Speaking of Christmas, of course Tilly has her own personalized stocking that matches ours. We fill it with raw-hides.

+Love ceramic whippet statues flanking a front door.

+I am a sucker for dresses with dogs smocked on the front. Eyeing this for mini. (Look for less with this.) I also occasionally score epic vintage finds on Etsy along these lines — just snagged this jumper for mini. And how insane is this?! The details!

+Still looking for Halloween gear (just around the corner)? Check out this post. I also wound up ordering these “glass slippers” to complete mini’s Cinderella costume and O.M.G. THE CUTEST. These ones from the same shop would be perfect for a Dorothy costume! And these spiders are SO fun and dramatic for decorating the house.

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14 thoughts on “Owning a Dog in Manhattan.

  1. What a sweet post! Tilly sounds like such a fun, spirited, challenging-yet-sweet dog. I don’t have a dog at the moment, but look forward to hopefully having one in the coming years, once I am not traveling so much.

    P.S. The photos from her modeling stint are SO beautiful! I’ll definitely keep this collab in mind for any future dog gifting needs. πŸ™‚

  2. So many of Tilly’s traits remind me of Deacon, our 85 pound goldendoodle! He goes to doggy daycare with a tribe of Airedales and they always tell us that one of them, Penny, is his girlfriend. Nothing better than snuggles from a giant, fluffy dog!

  3. Oh I want to be friends with Tilly!! I loved this post, Jen. There is much to be admired in dogs and Tilly sounds like she sets a superb example of spirit and moxie. xx

    1. She is a nut and I love her so…! Moxie is the right word. I’m sure she’d love to be friends with you, too! xx

  4. What a lovely ode to your pup. I’m not a dog person myself, but whenever I go over to visit a friend and her new baby, I always make sure to heap extra love and attention on her dog! I know she’s been getting a lot less scratches these days, what with the baby in the picture.

  5. As a fellow Airedale mom I loved loved loved this! The description of the constant search for a comfortable spot followed by what we call “the grumble” especially! We also have a Welsh Terrier, and we get the same questions on every single venture out of the house. “What kind of doodles are those?” and “Look, it’s a mommy and baby!” (My favorite, because both of our dogs are male, and the Welshie is actually three years older than the Airedale!) I cannot tell you how often we are stopped by people to tell us they grew up with Airedales and how much they loved the breed. How sad it has fallen out of popularity, but perhaps for the best- I firmly believe that it takes a special kind of family to love a terrier! We are having our first baby next month, and I am so excited to see how that big Airedale heart our Murray has reacts to his new little sister.

    1. This is hilarious — “the grumble”!! So funny to think about the aspects of Tilly that are distinctive to her breed — and to imagine other airedale moms grappling with (and loving on) the same traits in their own pups. Thanks for writing this.

      I’m sure your Murray (great name) will be fantastic with your baby. (And congratulations!!!) I was surprised at how quickly and easily Tilly adapted. She just knew to be gentle with mini. Nothing will melt your heart more than seeing Murray lay down beside the baby’s bassinet, or lick the baby’s face (ahhh! but dog germs are good for little ones, apparently — helps build up their immunity!).

      Separately, my parents-in-law have a Welshie and they are just the cutest things ever. So animated and so loving.


  6. You could have been writing about our two dogs, Reagan and Kennedy, both Sheepadoodles (so yes – one of those ‘poos!). I could go on and on, but I won’t because you’ve already said it all! Love this post and agree wholeheartedly.

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