Last Monday, we co-hosted and moderated the Raising a Dog in NYC panel discussion, a conversation designed to help equip people with the resources and information they need to live their best lives with their best friends, at The Wing SoHo. We were honored and privileged to invite three founders in the pet care space: Dr. Zay Satchu of Bond Vet, Brittany O’Steen of The Barker, and Chelsea Brownridge of DogSpot. They are not only entrepreneurs building exciting companies, but also dedicated New York City dog moms themselves.
Contrary to popular belief, New York City is a great place to raise a dog (or a pack of dogs). “Elsewhere, a dog just goes in and out of the backyard, that’s it. In the city, you have a commitment to exercise the dog,” Gossamer co-founder Verena von Pfetten told A&A. “People are willing to pay for a dog walker. People neglect dogs everywhere—no matter where they’re from. But if you’re someone who’s taking care of a dog, I can guarantee you that the quality of life for a dog in New York City is higher than in many other instances elsewhere.”
Yes, most New York City dogs don’t have lush backyards to run around and lay out in the sun—chief canine officer Artemis relishes her morning walk to off-leash hours at Central Park for this very reason. But they have more off-leash dog runs per capita than any other comparable city, such as London, and more access to amenities and services, if you’re able and willing to spend, from fresh food delivery to boutique daycares (just in case your office isn’t canine-friendly). Above all, of course, remember that what your dog truly needs from you is unconditional love and stability. All the fancy baubles and trinkets are optional.
“One of the things that is important when you have a pup in your life is to recognize what kind of an owner you want to be or what kind of a pet parent you want to be.”
For over an hour, Dr. Zay, Brittany, and Chelsea shared their personal and professional insights to current and aspiring dog parents at The Wing. If you couldn’t make it to the event, not to worry—here are their top tips for raising a dog in New York City:
On the right time to get a dog:
“You are ready for a dog when your phone is full of snapshots and screenshots of other people’s dogs, when you tell everyone that you’re about to get a pup, when you do all of this research, you know what breed, what kind of environment you live in and what the dog is going to need. Sometimes, you just rip off that Band-Aid. It’s going to be tough. There’s always a transition period, but there is a lot of research that is necessary and recommended into finding the right support that you need to be able to make that transition easier for you, easier for your pup—because it is absolutely a lot of work.” —Dr. Zay
“It’s like anything in life. You can sit and think about it and plan and anticipate what it’s going to be like. But at the same time, no time’s a good time with a lot of things. It’s never a good time to get married or have a baby. We’re always so busy. There’s always a million competing interests. You make it work, right? If you decide to get a dog, you’ll find the time, and you will amend your lifestyle to make it work because they really do change your life.” —Chelsea
“Look into dog-friendly areas in the parks nearest you. Go there and spend time in the dog parks. See if you actually like spending time there, because having a dog is like having a child that never grows up, in the best possible way. Look into your working spaces. Look into your coffee shops. You’d be surprised how many dog-friendly coffee shops there are.” —Brittany
On finding the right dog for you:
“One good option, if you’re considering a dog, is fostering. If you want to try it out, see if [having a dog] fits your lifestyle, fostering is a great short-term obligation, just as a test run. The dogs need a place to stay for a little bit, and they get socialized that way.” —Chelsea (Editor’s note: Fostering dogs with a 501(3) rescue organization is also tax-deductible!)
“I decided to look into dogs that were hypoallergenic because I suffer from allergies, which is pretty funny considering I’m working with dogs every day. Budget is a huge thing to look into that most people don’t consider. Also, if you are more keen to adopting versus actually going through a breeder.” —Brittany
“I wanted to rescue for sure, just having had rescues my whole life and not having any allergies. But I did have this type that I was looking for—I wanted a scruffy terrier-type. There’s so many great resources out there, even if you have a type, or you want a certain breed—there’s lots of great rescue [organizations] out there even for breed-specific dogs. You can even rescue Doodles and such, so highly recommend considering rescuing for sure.” —Chelsea
On what to feed your dog:
“The grain-free versus non-grain-free issue actually has been a huge topic of conversation in the veterinary community because research was recently published outlining why grain-free is actually bad. I didn’t know this. I was feeding my pup grain-free prior to that. So, I don’t blame anyone who is also doing the same. What they found was the lentils that are in the grain-free foods actually bind to taurine, which is an amino acid that you need for your heart to function well. So, we’re causing these dogs to be deficient in taurine without even recognizing it. It becomes this disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)—a stretchy heart, basically. The heart chambers open up, and it ultimately leads to death. In early cases, it’s reversible. But it’s kind of scary when you think about that being the food that was broadcasted for all of us to purchase.
I switched over to another food that has grain, actually. My pet [Tillie] has G.I. trouble, so I went that route. But on food, I really like the fresh foods. There are so many brands that could something I would eat. That’s pretty awesome to be able to give my furry family member the same quality of care that I give myself—probably better, actually. (It’s fairly expensive.) ” —Dr. Zay
“I was making [my dog] Dublin’s food for a really long time. It was very time-consuming. He was the bougiest dog. He was used to salmon and sirloin. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t even eat this myself.”
I am so grateful for the brands that are available. The fresh food brands definitely made my life a lot easier because I know that it’s healthy and it’s something that I would actually eat myself. Funny story, I actually tasted some of them myself to make sure that they were really what they said they were. They are [human-grade]. So, he’s on a fresh food diet now. I find it super convenient.” —Brittany
On training your dog:
“One of my favorite things about training is [that] it’s actually about training you. 90 percent of what a trainer will do is help you—because it’s about routine and consistency. If you are being inconsistent with your dog, they are getting mixed messaging. Having grown up with dogs my whole life, I didn’t get a trainer for Winston right off the bat. I did end up getting one for him a little bit later on for walking.
“[It’s important] because we live in a walkable city like New York. You’re just walking your dog a lot of places, and it’s a pain if they are a puller or if they are leash-aggressive in some way.” —Chelsea
“One of the things that is important when you have a pup in your life is to recognize what kind of an owner you want to be or what kind of a pet parent you want to be. I am extremely structured in my day. I know when I’ll be home. I know when I’ll wake up. From a training perspective, I did a lot early on—my pup actually came from a breeder where they allowed this two-week training course for her when she was eight-weeks-old. She came to me comfortable in her crate.
It changed my life. It meant that I could leave home and not worry about the neighbors hearing my dog bark. It meant that I could go to sleep and wake up knowing that if she had had an accident, it was contained in a small space and that it wasn’t all over my home. I think it helped her develop comfort in a tinier area. So, any time things are scary, that’s her safe space, which I love as well. I also think it taught her boundaries on the things that are acceptable in our home, and the things that aren’t. It’s hard to find that balance, but I think it goes back to the kind of pet parent that you want to be. I knew I was going to be really, really strict because, in general, my life doesn’t allow for anything else.” —Dr. Zay
“I found a trainer through Petco, who was a certified trainer, and she also was training dogs privately in her home. So, during the Christmas holiday, as much as it broke my heart when he was still too tiny to leave him, I knew that it would be best for him after because at that point, he didn’t know his name. He had just learned who I was, where his new environment was, so letting him go to Ashley gave [him] that structure. Knowing that when I came back from the holiday, that he would be a better version of himself, just helped us be our best selves together.” —Brittany
On helping dogs with anxiety:
“A tired dog is a happy dog. That’s definitely true for [my dog] Winston. I try to go on as many walks as possible, do as much activity as possible because when he’s tired, he’s not anxious.”—Chelsea
“The two [CBD] products that I’ve used in a veterinary setting that I like are ElleVet and Nutramax. Those are two that specialists in the vet space actually agree are good and work well. I just think it’ll be another year before we have very concrete evidence [of CBD’s efficacy] until we get there. I don’t usually recommend anything outside of those two products.
This is a perfectly acceptable question to ask a vet. You know, “My dog is suffering from anxiety. He goes into this area and he breaks things apart or he won’t eat unless I’m home or he just sits there trembling during a thunderstorm.” These are all totally normal questions that I get every single day. That’s the person that you should ask, especially when you try to do things and they haven’t worked—that’s where it should be escalated because we have the ability to say, “Maybe your dog needs Prozac.” And that’s an okay thing.”—Dr. Zay
On finding the right vet for your dog:
“The three things that I look for are cleanliness, friendliness, and a good support system that you can gather from that team.
Cleanliness: If you walk into a place and it smells like dog pee—that means the pride of the facility doesn’t necessarily exist, which I know can be taken with a grain of salt. But that means they can’t get the facility clean and it’s a medical facility, so that to men is an alarm signal.
Friendliness: These are people that you’re going to see again and again and again— the last thing you want is to be judged. You want people who are kindhearted. In most vet clinics, actually, they nail this. You want it from the beginning to the end of the team. Even at the level of receptionist or care coordinator, you want those people to be able to answer questions for you in a nice, calm manner where you don’t feel judged.
Support System: You should be able to pick up the phone, call your vet, text your vet, email your vet, and ask, ‘Hey, this has happened and I’m actually not even in the country. What should I do?” And they should be able to say, “Okay, I just looked it up and this is my suggestion for where you are based on your location.’”—Dr. Zay
On how to keep vet bills manageable and affordable:
“My one recommendation for any new puppy owner that walks in through my doors is to get pet insurance. If you are paying that month-to-month fee, even if you get it for a couple of years, realize you haven’t really used it and then stop doing it at that point, you have committed yourself to peace of mind should anything come up.
I’m a vet. I have pet insurance for my dog. I know another vet who is the poster child of pet insurance. Her dog went through these life-saving measures last year. $20,000 was the total amount of the bill at a referral hospital. She paid $1,000, which is a huge difference considering she is paying $40 a month.
“If you’re not the kind of person that wants to go full-fledged into pet insurance to make that commitment or if you have concerns, just set aside a little bit of cash every single month. You’ll use it inevitably for your pup—whether it’s in a couple of years for toys or food or something else. It comes in handy.” —Dr. Zay
On why your dog needs an Instagram account:
“There’s an amazing dog community on social media and I did not know that until I got the one, obviously, because before that, I was just screenshotting other people’s dogs.
Your dog has all of these friends and it could range from like other doodles to other pit bulls to a mutt that lives in Finland. There are also so many great social pages that cover events in New York City as well. So before The Barker came about, I was taking [my dog] Dublin to a lot of events that were concentrated throughout the city to help him adjust to a different lifestyle.”—Brittany
Photography by Nicole Potosme