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Pepa's Day Out
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Pepa's Day Out

Pepa's Day Out


February 26, 2019 | By Dan Bamberger & Aaron Gordon


Making the Most of Murray Hill with Your Canine Companion
By Valeria Rotella
It was one of those obscenely cold Saturday mornings in January, the kind that make you want to reject the outside world and not leave the confines of your apartment until mid-spring. And yet here I was, circling a Murray Hill block just south of the U.N. building, hit with an East River wind chill that made me crave moisturizer and fear pneumonia with every step I took. Pepa shuffled alongside me. Her attitude was enviably positive, considering she’s from Miami and that this is her first true winter. Then again, she’s a five-year-old mini schnauzer mix with a shaggy coat and a heart of gold. The wind whipped back the hair from her face like a Pantene commercial, and I prayed that the Robert Moses Dog Run was not a figment of Google Maps’ imagination.
We’re still riding out the first year of our human-dog relationship. Pepa was adopted last May, and in the subsequent months, the New York we thought we knew so well has disappeared and been replaced with a far more satisfying—brutal weather aside—reality.
I’ve learned two important lessons so far: the first being that a little muppet like Pepa can do away with a layer of protective cynicism and replace it with a capacity for uncomplicated love never thought possible. The second is that no experience is more effective at changing your perspective on this city than having a dog. Not a new job, or a relationship with someone in a different part of town, or even changing apartments.
That’s because having a dog instills in you a heightened sensory consciousness. It’s almost contradictory to the tunnel-vision lifestyle this city can impose on residents. Places you never knew existed become cornerstones of your daily routine. You’ll be a lot more irked about the absurd amount of glass and gum the city leaves uncleaned on every street corner. Some of your neighbors will cease to be passing blurs and morph into actual people because your dogs, straining on their leashes for a butt sniff, force you to recognize the humanity in each other.
I was eager to put my new theory of dog-enlightened city living to the test in Murray Hill, which I’ve been writing about in The Bamberger Bulletin for the past half-decade. Thanks to its small size and my sheer amount of time spent walking these streets, I was convinced that I’d already uncovered everything there was to know about life here. The trainers, walkers, and store owners I spoke to this past January gave me a fresh new outlook on the neighborhood and what it has to offer to canines and their humans. With their suggestions, and my dog’s on-the-ground guidance that cold Saturday morning, I’m excited to share with you what I hope you may soon experience with your very own Pepa.
Hot Dog Destinations
Thankfully, we soon found the Robert Moses Dog Run (it was on the south side of 42nd Street and First Avenue, past the basketball courts). As far as public city spaces designed for off-leash dogs, it’s not one of the biggest or most intricate. It’s a slightly inclined, rectangular stretch of pavement, long enough for a dog of any size to pick up good speed should they sprint from one end to the other. If yours isn’t very social and the run isn’t too packed, it’s relatively easy to sit on a bench in the corner and let them run around on their own. It gets the job done.
Pepa is anti-anti-social. As soon as she got to the park, she beelined for the handful of other dogs and cold-braving owners to say hi and show them her belly. The benefit to the run’s small size is that it’s easy to keep an eye on Pepa from any vantage point.
Jason Schwartz, owner of dog walking service Pupology NYC, was quick to point out St. Vartan’s Park as another big human/canine neighborhood destination. Though they may not be able to run off leash as well as at Moses, it attracts enough people to make it an easy go-to for pets to get some social time.
Schwartz, himself a Murray Hill resident and human to German Shepard Lucy, understands how much the vibe of Manhattan’s grid changes from avenue to avenue. He was motivated to found a hyper-attentive dog walking service in 2012, after a traffic accident on the Upper West Side involving a walker claimed the life of his sister’s dog. He and his four full-time, first-aid-certified employees never pack walk, and tend to take local clients east of Third Avenue, where the pedestrian traffic diminishes, all the way over to a favorite stroll stretch along the East River.
A now-panting Pepa found me on a bench and hopped up on my lap. She gave me one of those “high time we leave” looks. We hooked her back on her leash and head back into Murray Hill proper, in search of local pet stores.
Aaron, also at the Bamberger Group and father to Pepa, brings her to work in the neighborhood a few times a week. When he does, he always gets her kibble at the Pet Central on Second Avenue and 38th Street. We’re both impressed with the range of brands this corner store carries. Post-Moses, we took Pepa in to get a better sense of their stock (it’s got pretty much everything you’d want, stylish snow boots included), and walked out with a stuffed giraffe. She hasn’t stopped dragging it around our apartment since. It cleans our floors better than our vacuum cleaner.

Aaron, also at the Bamberger Group and father to Pepa, brings her to work in the neighborhood a few times a week. When he does, he always gets her kibble at the Pet Central on Second Avenue and 38th Street. We’re both impressed with the range of brands this corner store carries. Post-Moses, we took Pepa in to get a better sense of their stock (it’s got pretty much everything you’d want, stylish snow boots included), and walked out with a stuffed giraffe. She hasn’t stopped dragging it around our apartment since. It cleans our floors better than our vacuum cleaner.
We also had a lovely time just a few blocks south at Happy Feet Pet Shop II on 36th street. If your dog enjoys a good squeaky ball, this store offers a variety that we didn’t know existed. While we paid for a pack, Pepa patiently went to work on some treats that the man behind the counter offered her.
While talking to Shelby Semel, owner of city-based Shelby Semel Dog Training, I picked up a useful tidbit of information: the iconic Sarge’s Deli, which I’ve patronized for years and whose cheesecake I’ve praised extensively in this publication, carries great dog treats. Neither Shelby nor I can speak to their quality personally, but the dogs we associate with certainly seem to enjoy them.
Our conversation brings to mind one of my constant sources of frustration: New York City law prohibits pets from entering cafes and restaurants. Sure, we can all reasonably understand the sanitary reasons for the ban, but I’m sure I’m not the only sleep-deprived owner with a mild-mannered dog who’s wanted desperately to stop in somewhere for a wake-me-up espresso when doing the morning walk.
Thankfully, there’s a plethora of Murray Hill café benches and terraces that are good dog destinations in warmer weather months. We’re big fans of Delectica on Second Avenue and 38th Street, Perk Kafe on 37th and Lexington Avenue, and Lucid Cafe on Lexington Avenue between 37th and 38th.
When I ask Denise Mange over the phone for any local destinations I may have missed, she mentions a surprising one: The Church of the Incarnation on 35th Street and Madison Avenue. Mange is the mind behind PetPrana, which offers a holistic approach to dog training. Though now based in Los Angeles, Mange still works remotely with clients all over the world, and first began her business when she lived in Murray Hill.
Mange always found great places to forge relationships with dogs—Bryant Park was a regular meet-up spot—and one experience she encouraged clients to partake in, regardless of religious affiliation, was the Blessing of the Animals held every of October at the Church of Incarnation in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.
But of all the discoveries we made, perhaps most exciting was the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog. While it’s not a dedicated space for your canine companions, this museum offers a four-floor love letter to the species on Park Avenue and 41st Street. Visitors can enjoy an in-depth look at centuries’ worth of breeds and stories, and most importantly, an unmatched collection of dog-themed artwork. The A.K.C. Museum opened its doors to the public on February 8 of this year.
Murray Hill’s Canine Footprint
An estimated 600,000 dogs live in New York city limits, but as of 2017, only 85,000 are registered with the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That makes it a lot more difficult to get a gauge on a neighborhood’s distinct dog population.
But if there’s a word to sum up a large swath of Murray Hill’s canine size, it’s small. At least when compared to dogs found in other parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. When Pepa goes on a walk around her Upper East Side home turf, she’s constantly getting up on her hind legs to greet other pups on the block. When walking around here, most of the dogs she runs into are of a stature much more suited for apartment living.

Schwartz backs up my observation. Because of strict pet weight limits implemented in many of the area’s co-ops, many potential pet owners gravitate towards companions weigh¬ing 15 pounds or less. Mange noted a lot of young couples bringing home small- to medium-size puppies for breeders as a major first step towards expanding their families.
As a result, puppies grow into dogs that become staples of the neighbor¬hood. Mange remembers Murray, the “George Clooney of Murray Hill,” and Chumley, a one-eyed bulldog, with particular fondness.
When working with Chumley, she’d often take him to sit on the steps of a brownstone on 35th street, where he would acknowledge the two stone lions that flanked the building before plopping down next to Mange to people-watch. 
When space is limited, teaching a dog to properly socialize takes on another level of importance. Local owners seem up to the task, with build¬ings like Stonehenge 33 creating happy hours that offer both dogs and their respective humans the opportunity to mingle. Mange put on a Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed costume party at Bryant Park for clients. And in a neighborhood low on space, Semel has created an opportunity for individual dogs to form connections in private homes when a regular dog park option isn’t available.
“[Murray Hill] doesn’t have as many dog parks or doggy day cares,” said Semel, “and because of that people are looking for alternative ways to keep their dogs busy.” 
Semel studies the personality of the dogs she works with and matches them with other animals of similar size and temperament. She’s been proud to see how many lasting human friendships she’s also helped form thanks to this type of matchmaking. 
But no discussion of Murray Hill’s pet community would be complete without a mention of Bideawee. Founded in 1903 as one of the first no-kill shelters in the country, this neighborhood institution has saved the lives of countless animals at their Murray Hill and Long Island locations. Its employees and volunteers care for and help match pets with a vast array of prospective owners. Their Manhattan office and adoption center can be found at 410 East 38th Street.
A Word from Valeria Rotella: Sometimes, the Dog Knows Things You Don’t
Our day in Murray Hill comes to a close, and we start the trip back home. As we make our way up 1st Avenue, I realize why I’m suddenly struck with an unshakeable feeling of déjà vu. This was the exact same trip we made uptown with Pepa the day we picked her up from her foster home. In fact, we settled on her name in the Lyft on the way home, stuck in traffic on the corner First Avenue and 43rd Street.
We first met her in a high rise on Fifth and 33rd on a rainy day in May, watching her play with her foster mom’s dog as we rattled off a series of questions about what she might need after her potentially traumatic kill shelter experience in Florida, the Empire State Building half visible through a fogged-up window. Pepa’s sweetness was totally apparent from the get-go. She was the dog we’d been looking for. We didn’t doubt our instincts. 
In fact, that first indication that we were in for a fresh look at New York hit us just a few minutes later, while we were still in the neighborhood. Before calling a car, we went into the Pet Central on Madison Avenue and 35th Street to get some basic supplies. And this little creature with an awkward haircut, who we barely knew and had not yet named, barged right in and started howling with joy at the ladies behind the counter. And they cooed right back, recognizing her from the trips she’d made to the store throughout the week. 
Since that moment, I’ve never forgotten that Pepa, like all dogs, has her own special relationship with her neighbors and community that exists completely independently of myself. As her owner, I play a huge role in shaping her connection with the outside world, but if I let my guard down just a bit and let her good will guide me through the day-to-day, I might get a sense of pure connection and positivity from people around me that I never would have noticed without her help. Thanks to her howling that afternoon, those lovely women opened up and gave us a trove of tips on acclimating a dog to a new home– advice that became indispensable to us in the following months. 
As we went home, this time over six months later, I wondered if Pepa was able to remember her first weeks in New York City, and the way Murray Hill welcomed her with open arms. I really hope she does.

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