Jessica Dean Schiffer is a Local Union 157 carpenter, entrepreneur, co-founder of Spuni (a baby product company), and long-term West Village resident who is considering a run for city council in 2021. After graduating from Columbia University, Jessica adopted her Pomeranian, T-Rex, from eBay Classifieds (!), and began a career in real estate investment at Tishman Speyer. The San Francisco native recently bought a townhouse in the neighborhood—which is she is renovating herself. There will be lots of animal prints involved.
Did you grow up with any pets?
I grew up with a cat, Teaspoon. Teaspoon was my best friend. I didn’t like dogs as a kid. I was actually scared of dogs. I was a cat person, but I always wanted to cuddle with the cat and the cat never wanted to cuddle with me, which was a little disappointing.
“He definitely does not think he’s the size that he is. When he’s naughty, he’s Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
So you were an animal person?
I definitely was an animal person—I just wasn’t a dog person. I thought they smelled, and I couldn’t understand the “kissing the dog” kind of thing. My aunt had a lot of dogs—she was a foster parent for dogs, so she always had a lot of dogs running around. I think I was overwhelmed by all the animals.
What made you decide to get T-Rex then?
I saw a black Pomeranian, and I’d never seen a Pomeranian like that. I really just fell in love with this dog. Its name was Blue. Really cute dog. And I was like, oh, you know what? I could definitely see myself having a dog like this. The next step was an impulse purchase. I found him on eBay Classifieds, which doesn’t exist anymore.
It was a woman who had a litter of dogs on Long Island, and she said that she needed to leave on Saturday to go on vacation, but if I drove out there on Friday night, she would give him to me at a discount. I rented a Zipcar with one of my college girlfriends. We drove out, 10pm at night, to the middle of a Whole Foods parking lot. This woman showed up with a pickup truck holding T-Rex out the window. I thought, oh my God, this is the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen. What have I done?
You really thought that?
Did he look ugly in the photo?
No, not really—but Pomeranians have puppy uglies. He looked like a drunk pirate. He had weird eye goop, and he was throwing up all over himself.
I panicked. I had this thought of, oh my God, this is the next 18 years of my life. What have I done? But after three of four days, I was in love. I got him right before Hurricane Sandy, so I was down here [in the West Village] with no power for five days with a new roommate, so we had a lot of time to train him. That’s why he does all these funny tricks like “walk the dinosaur.”
Do you consider yourself a dog mom?
Oh, 100 percent dog mom. I get Mother’s Day cards from him.
From the daycare?
Maybe my husband has something to do with that. They’re signed by T-Rex. I get a card from T-Rex every holiday, so yes, I’m a dog mom. Along with my husband’s children from his previous marriage, I feel like I have three kids. Four, if you count my husband.
What does a day-in-the-life look like for you and T-Rex?
T-Rex sleeps right next to me. Sometimes, we share the pillow. He fights with my husband sometimes for territory. He gets up when he’s ready. I’ll get up, and make his food, and he still won’t get up until he’s well rested. If I’m working on a union site, I’m out the door by 6am and someone else will walk him. But lately, I’ve been able to walk him [to our under construction townhouse]. In the mornings, we’ll go together and check out what’s going on, and then I’ll drop him back off at home and I’ll go back to the job site without him. He has a hard hat.
Pomeranians actually were herders at one point, which I experience sometimes in the morning when he’s trying to get me to go from the bedroom to the kitchen. He’ll nip my ankles. He also loves to hike and run. I can run up to three miles with him. I started running with him as a puppy, but when we go hiking as a group, he’ll run to the front of the group and then run to the back and then keep going and make sure everyone’s still there.
What do you feed T-Rex?
Orijen—but he also had six teeth removed. So there’s the equivalent of an American Dental Association for dogs [called the Veterinary Oral Health Council], which I didn’t realize earlier, so I started using one of their foods, Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care Chicken Flavor Dry Dog Food. I mix it in [with Orijen] and his tarter was reduced—everything has gotten significantly better, even his breath. I also put a bit of chicken broth into the kibble.
Before you took T-Rex to the dog dentist, was oral care something you didn’t think too much about for him?
Didn’t think about it at all. I actually got him a teeth cleaning. They did the X-ray and he had all this bone loss. The doctor said we had to remove the teeth.
So you’ve had T-Rex longer than you’ve known your husband. What was T-Rex’s involvement in the courtship process?
T-Rex was, and is, very territorial over me. I think a lot of grown men are hesitant over little dogs, but my husband fell in love with him almost immediately, and so did his daughters. T-Rex definitely warmed up to him.
Where did the name T-Rex come from?
I love dinosaurs. One of my yoga instructors used to call me T-Rex. My arms are a little short for my body. I also do kind of growl at people occasionally—and so does he, so he’s definitely a big personality. He definitely does not think he’s the size that he is. When he’s naughty, he’s Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“I’m a dog mom. Along with my husband’s children from his previous marriage, I feel like I have three kids. Four, if you count my husband.”
You have a great wardrobe. How does T-Rex’s compare to yours?
I have two drawers for him. One is a costume drawer. He’s got a hats section. Last Halloween, we did the whole family costume. We were Full House and he was Michelle [Tanner]. He had little pigtail braids. I had a Studio 54 party and he was Bianca Jagger riding on a white horse. He was the white horse and we had a little doll that was Bianca Jagger that rode him.
Is T-Rex a party animal?
He likes company in that he gets to eat their scraps. He does get a little growly around large groups and food and children. Sometimes, I’ve got to watch him. Usually, though, he’ll just end up finding a corner and passing out.
Sounds like me. Where do you shop for T-Rex?
Tell us about the ways that you spoil T-Rex.
I let him spend time with my mother. She always sneaks him everything. Cheese and turkey—anything you could possibly imagine.
Are you the stricter one?
Yes, I’m the strict parent. I crack the whip. I do spoil him a little. When I first got him, I used to cook him steak every morning.
How did you go from working on the investment side of real estate to building homes for some of the most interesting people of New York?
Well, when I graduated undergrad, I actually got my dream job, which was working in real estate development. I wanted to build buildings—but I realized that I was building buildings behind an Excel spreadsheet. I wasn’t really out there creating anything. I’m definitely more of a brick-and-mortar person, so I dabbled in some other more concrete stuff, a few startups like Spuni. It was actually my husband, who I plan to go into business with at some point down the future, who suggested that the best way to learn the industry is to do it from the ground up. So, I went through a pre-apprenticeship program called NEW, Nontraditional Employment for Women, which places women in construction, utility, and maintenance. From there, I fell in love with [construction], and I got placed in the carpenter’s union, and I’ve been doing union work now for four years.
T-Rex has been living in the West Village for as long as you have! How did you and your husband find your dream townhouse right in the West Village?
We weren’t even in the market for it. We had been talking about it for years, but we saw it was exactly what we dreamed of and had potential for what we wanted to build, and I knew that I could be a part of it from the very beginning. I’m on it every day, and I’m helping run the project, but I’m also learning a lot. I didn’t grow up with any family members or anyone I knew in construction, so it’s all very new to me. No matter how much you know about construction, there’s always going to be more to learn. And it’s also very different to do it on a small-scale residential [building] versus doing some of the high-rise buildings that I worked on.
How physically intensive is it?
I had one job where I was walking eight, nine miles a day and 100 stories within a seven hour period. And you could be carrying a 60-pound bucket up and down the stairs. You could have a whole day where you’re just moving materials.
What are some of your favorite dog-friendly venues in New York? Where do you take T-Rex?
Oh, we take him everywhere. He was our ring bearer at our wedding in Croatia. My husband and I will change our dinner plans around where we can take him. We love sitting outside at Extra Virgin—anywhere we can sit outside.
If you have a baby-sized dog like me, I recommend getting a baby sling. I put T-Rex in it and hop on the Citibike together.
Did having T-Rex help you meet more neighbors?
It opened up a whole other world. Probably for three or four years, I met all these new neighbors that I had never met before because I was meeting their dogs. I have a piece of art in my bedroom called “Stop to Talk” by the artist Meg Aubrey, and it’s basically someone stopping on the street with their dog. You stop and you interact and you learn about the dog— you also learn about the people.
Photography by Tayler Smith
Wedding Photography by Belathée