My walks with Stanley begin like any other with a dog and their owner in New York City. I get dressed, grab his giant poop bags and his giant leash, grab my keys, phone and we’re off.
The difference lies in the moment we step outside and meet another human being. I brace myself for how they will look at us, what they might say to us. Our walks are spent managing the reactions of people who ask why I’ve chosen to have a dog this big in the city. We live at the Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy border in Brooklyn and folks here react just like anyone else in New York City. Someone once asked me what it was like to walk down the block with him; I liken it to what it must be like for Beyoncé to try to get down the block unnoticed.
As the Westminster Dog Show kicks off this week, I decided to reflect a bit on my life with Stanley.
Stanley is a 3-year-old American Mastiff and is 200 pounds and 37 inches at the hind. He is literally the size of a grown man. When I researched his breed I learned that these dogs are bred for their temperament and their loyalty; they are family dogs, apartment dogs, fond of children, sensitive and have traits like expressive eyebrows and enjoy watching TV. They also don’t stop growing until they’re 4 years old. Mostly what I recall reading about American Mastiffs was that they always want to be with you.
So when people ask me why I have such a big dog, I tell them just that. He’s all cupcakes and gumdrops and has never done anything wrong. I have no tales of destroyed couches or floors or chewed up designer shoes. I can barely yell at him. Once, a broom fell down in my apartment and he ran to where I was and hid behind me.
Now to the gawkers I’ve encountered…I hate to sound trite, but if I had a nickel for every time Stanley’s been called a horse, I’d be in gold. I’ve come to know that most people here in the city have either never seen a horse or are not able to recall what one looks like. I think we can make a direct correlation between how many times he has been called a horse and the poor state of education in this country. I’d estimate that Stanley has been called a horse about 1000 times, a lion maybe 50 times, a “third-world cow” once, a dragon and yes, even a camel.
What’s most remarkable to me is that people don’t hesitate to give me their opinions. People rarely ask questions without also offering a bit of advice or judgment. I always wonder if I can offer a bit of opinion in return, like on the size of their kid’s head or a questionable choice of attire or liberal use of cologne.
THEM: Did you know he would get so big?
ME (in my head): Would you send your fat kid back?
THEM: He must eat other animals whole!
ME: He’d never hurt anything, save for maybe that lilac bush he likes to chew on.
THEM: I hope you live in a mansion!
ME: Nope, 700 square feet.
I have to remind folks that Stanley is not a side show — not a practice in tolerance — your kid should not be trying to climb onto him. Stanley actually sighs now…
But sometimes, of course, people are wonderful. If they know the mastiff breed, which is rare, I’m praised for my choice with tales of how much they love or loved the American Mastiff they’ve known in their life. Sometimes people say he’s beautiful and majestic.
We were walking past public housing once and a giant rat ran past us — Stanley stole its thunder. People were more afraid of Stanley.
The oddest behavior I’ve had to deal with are the poop watchers. They remark on how big or small the poop is — and whether or not it met their expectations or if I should use more than one bag. All the while Stanley, as any dog would, is off to smell another tree, probably wondering why I am picking up his crap in the first place. I am amazed every time this happens. Poop inquisitioners tend to be 50-plus men whom I have no trouble telling that if they eat meat and weigh as much as Stanley, they can probably answer their own questions.
I recently took Stanley to work with me. When our driver arrived it was clear he hadn’t been advised that he’d be carting a giant dog. Not my fault, but I assured him that Stanley was well-behaved. I almost felt bad until the driver acted like Stanley smelled like a urine-logged hobo. The driver yelled at me the whole drive and had the windows down in 30-degree weather. I’d called a day ahead and asked for a pet-friendly driver with a pet-friendly car so I took no pity on him as Stanley clawed his seats and his mouth frothed on the leather. He rode in style like any good dog should. When our ride was over I tipped him generously and even handed him a roll of Bounty.
Julee Whalin lives in Brooklyn and prefers not to be referred to as an “animal lover” even though she loves her dog and cat. When not running a Meetup group in New York City for big dogs and their owners, she works as the head of marketing at a health care start-up called CarePlanners.