Lanya Olmsted is the co-founder and creative director of Baalm, an online community for beauty. The Harvard graduate is a recipient of the 2019 Women in Digital Next Generation Award, was a model for the Keds 2019 campaign, and partnered with Land Rover and The Wing on a content series for Elle. She lives in Downtown Brooklyn with her boyfriend, two cats Choji and Lisa, and the latest addition to the family Udon, a Pit Bull-Beagle rescue.
Did you grow up with pets?
I grew up with two dogs. My first dog was named Oscar; he was a Cockapoo. My parents had him when they started dating, and he was an older dog when I was born, and he was the sweetest. We adopted another dog as my gift when I was born, and she was a small Havanese named Rexa.
So you’ve always known you were a dog person?
Yes, I always did. When I got cats in New York, I always had the secret feeling that I would rather have dogs—but I grew to love cats by having them. I had yearned my entire life for dogs because both my dogs had passed away before I was in college. It was something I always thought was missing in my life.
Why did you get two cats at first, then?
We got my first cat, Choji, because my boyfriend, Michael, saw a rat run across the room, and he called me and said, “We need to get cats to fend off the rats.” We live near the ASPCA. It was very impulsive. We found Choji because he was so cuddly and sweet, but also slightly scared ‘cause he had come in two days ago from the streets. He was a year old and so beautiful, and we fell in love with him immediately.
It was Michael’s first pet—he didn’t have any in Hong Kong, where he grew up. Lisa became mine because I was cat sitting for a friend who was traveling for three weeks, and Choji and Lisa were getting along really well. [My friend] basically told us that she didn’t want Lisa anymore, and that she thought Lisa would be better off with Choji. There were no papers—we just absorbed her into the family.
“I’ll bring Udon to the bedroom because I want her on my bed, and the cats will come up to her slowly. It’s cordial. They’re definitely not friends.”
Tell us about the decision to get Udon.
I originally wanted to go to a breeder because I wanted a puppy, so I had this Airtable spreadsheet mapping out all the breeds that I really liked. I did a lot of research on pricing as well as certain common behavior traits, like friendliness with cats. I was also a walker with Wag! in order to kind of learn more about breeds. But through a lot of conversations with Michael, we decided that we weren’t ready for a puppy. We didn’t have the time to dedicate to raising a puppy in the way that we’d want to raise one.
At that point, my top breed was a Pit Bull. Michael’s top breed was a Beagle. We decided that we wanted an adult dog, so we were looking through rescue organizations. I saw a Beagle-Pit Bull mix at PupStarz Rescue and that’s the perfect blend of the two breeds that Michael and I had already decided on. She was adorable. We fell in love with her photo and as soon as we met her with her foster [parent], I cried, and I was like, we’re taking her home.
It was love at first sight. Her foster mother kept singing her praises and I was very emotional and floored by the experience of Udon running up to me right away and jumping on me. Michael was more hesitant and wanted to spend a day thinking about it, but I knew she was ours for sure. He loves her too, though. But I knew instantly.
Your Baalm co-founder Mandi Nyambi, got a dog the same weekend. Was it a mutual decision or was it a coincidence?
We had both been talking about getting a dog, but Mandi getting a dog was definitely an impetus from me reaching out to rescue organizations. She had to adopt this dog that was found in the home that her boyfriend’s parents had just bought. She was part of the rescue of the dog and didn’t get to choose. But that lit a fire under me and when I saw Udon, who was named Pasta, and I had to have her.
Do your dogs get along?
Udon likes to roughhouse and [Mandi’s dog] Ozzie doesn’t—but they get along very well on walks.
As an entrepreneur, what’s a typical day for you and Udon?
It depends on whether I’m working from home or working from The Wing. My boyfriend and I both have the ability to work from home. So, we alternate days. I usually stay home on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’ll wake up first and feed the cats and Udon. I do my skincare while they’re eating. Then, I take Udon on a structured 45-minute walk. That’s when she is on her best behavior because I’m using her prong training collar—otherwise she’ll run towards other dogs. We’ll go to Fort Greene Park to practice holding positions, like sitting for a prolonged period of time with squirrels running around. That’s the training regimen that her trainer prescribed. When we get home, she’s tired and she cuddles with me on the couch.
I put her in her crate a few hours at a time because I want her to know that the crate is a great place to calm down and chill. I take her out to pee in the afternoon and then before dinner, I do our training session. It’s seven minutes of high-intensity training. I’m trying not to overtrain. There was a time when my trainer was like, you need to calm down. It’s no longer fun. So now, I use a timer to limit training to seven minutes.
Why seven minutes?
My trainer recommended five-to-seven minutes of training, so I picked the maximum.
Your dog’s going to Harvard, just like you.
Mandi says I’m a tiger mom because I’m very structured with our training.
What motivates you to do training? Is it fun for you?
Yeah, it’s my hobby now. My trainer, Kimberlee Cruz of Clarity K9, asked me what my goal is with Udon. My goal for her is to be off-leash reliable. I want her to be so well-trained that I don’t have to worry about her. I want her to be reliable so that we can spend every moment of our lives together. I want to set her up for success so we can have all these fun experiences together in the future.
We photographed Udon in her ThunderShirt because she was anxious about the camera flashes. How did you first know about Udon’s anxiety?
It was our first thunderstorm. I also noticed it when she would strain away as we walked by construction. When there are loud trucks, she will run the other direction. She definitely has sensitivity to loud noises. She hung her head low and started shaking uncontrollably. That’s when I first ordered the ThunderShirt. There were unpredictable thunderstorms this summer, and there was this one time that was the worst experience I’ve had with Udon. We were [sitting] outside at a restaurant, and she was nice and chill. But then there was an unexpected thunderstorm, and she pulled her leash and ran under a parked car. She would not come out, I couldn’t reach for her, and there was pouring rain, and it was a very dramatic situation.
She’s definitely gotten better with thunderstorms over time. She realizes nothing happens to her.
How did your cats react to Udon?
We segmented a part of our apartment for Choji and Lisa. It’s basically the bedroom—we put a baby gate on it. Lisa loves the bedroom because they have access to these high windows where they can watch the entire apartment. They stare at Udon from up there, and I wonder what they’re thinking.
I’ll bring Udon to the bedroom because I want her on my bed, and the cats will come up to her slowly. It’s cordial. They’re definitely not friends.
She’s still getting accepted by her siblings. What are some of your favorite dog products?
I like the Wild One harness one a lot. Her body is a little weird, in that there’s a lot of extra space in the front, but I love the material. My walker uses that harness with Udon. I use the prong collar because that’s part of our training regimen. I put rubber tips on the prongs because she has sensitive skin—they make sure the skin is not irritated, but still stop her from pulling. I don’t let my walker use the prong because there’s a specific way to use it. We got the pink Wild One harness, but everyone still assumes Udon is a boy.
I switched to a leather leash, which I love—I like the grip on leather leashes more than on those nylon leashes.
We buy a lot of sweaters on Chewy because of their amazing return policy. They’ll send you a new size if it doesn’t fit, and tell you to donate the other one. Or I’ll give it to Ozzie, who is smaller.
We got the medium Casper Dog Bed. We’ve tried so many beds and it was hard getting the right size, because I read that dogs like small beds to feel cozy. But Udon actually likes to spread out. The top part is washable, and she likes resting her head on the raised edges.
You also work at REI and you love the outdoors. I saw that Udon goes hiking with you. What sort of dog hiking gear do you use?
I use Ruffwear because I’ve heard it’s the best. It’s specifically made for active dogs that go hiking or backpacking, and they have different sizes [for Dog Packs] depending on how long your trip is. I got the one-week Dog Pack because that’s my plan for her, to go backpacking for a week. It’s really high-quality material and is super breathable adjustable. There are pockets on the side for dogs to carry their own food, medicine, water, treats, and anything they need for backpacking. They also have these collapsible water bowls—you can put water and food into the same bowl and you just pack it up. It also has poop bag holders—I made Udon carry her own poop.
She has this Ruffwear Roamer Leash, which is great for dogs who aren’t ready to be off-leash yet. It’s like a bungee. It doesn’t affect your own hiking when she pulls. She could run around and still be attached to me. And I use biodegradable poop bags from Chewy.
“She’s never had a bad poop.”
As a beauty entrepreneur, what do you do about Udon’s grooming routine?
I wish she had longer hair! I wish I could bring her to a groomer for styling. We have Shea butter for her paws. We use Earthbath Oatmeal & Aloe Dog & Cat Shampoo but I want to try the Wild One Conditioning Shampoo next time. I put coconut oil on her neck area or on her rashes.
What does Udon eat?
My trainer recommended Royal Canin Medium Adult Dry Dog Food. My cats eat Smalls, which is a fresh food, so I’ve been sprinkling the cat food because it’s basically chicken, on the kibble. I love the kibble because all that fiber makes her poops so good. She’s never had a bad poop.
What are her favorite treats?
She loves Stewart Pro-Treat Freeze Dried Training Treats. It’s basically freeze-dried beef liver and it’s easy to break up into small pieces for training. And she likes chicken.
We also get the Barkbox Super Chewer [subscription] because she chews a lot. She eats all the treats that come in the box.
What is it like to watch your boyfriend, who has never had a dog before, fall in love with Udon?
It’s so sweet. I love it so much. I know he loves the cats so much, too. He’s the cat dad and I’m definitely more of the dog mom. Sometimes I’ll see him and Udon cuddling on the couch together, asleep. It’s the sweetest thing and it makes me love both of them so much. I actually had to do a lot of convincing to even have him entertain the idea of a dog because he knew how much work it is to have a dog. I drew up a contract between us in terms of all of the responsibilities that it takes to be a dog owner, agreeing on the splitting of responsibilities.
It’s been really cool to see him step up in ways that like the contract didn’t dictate. I think he’s learned so much about like what it takes to be a dog parent. It’s so special to see his heart grow.
Photography by Tayler Smith