It’s a cool morning in May when he cuts me off. Smartly dressed and driven, he veers across three lanes of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk, from the curb to the threshold of a doorway. A woman, three steps behind him, hurries to keep up. His head projected forward. He hesitates, not a moment, and charges into the building.
I follow him. He wears a tri-color Argyle sweater ringed with ribbing. I glimpse a leather cord dotted with ruby-red jewels around his neck. He glances from the floor to the walls to an invisible current of air that leads him, toenails scrambling on the floor, to a cat, hissing under a shelf. He’s a Jack Russell terrier, and he’s arrived at the pet store. Should anyone claim that dogs do not know geography, we have ample evidence to the contrary. Your dog knows the way to the nearest half-dozen pet stores, by car or on foot—as well as any cafes or banks that supply a biscuit or treat on your route. Pet stores are the compass points for any urban dog, sellable from a distance, just the way the dank odor of stress emerges from a veterinary clinic. But pet stores really exist because those of us on the other end of the leash want for our pups what we want for ourselves: to buy stuff.
I watch the terrier’s exploration of the space. After a moment’s investigation of the cat, he neatly drools in a bin of pigs’ ears, mouths a rubber ball then runs to a high counter and stands up on his rear legs, two-stepping. For this performance, he earns a small treat tossed in the air. His tags jingle as he jerks himself forward with little leaps, the retractable leash from his neck to his owner, forming a tripwire that another dog, a miniature collie, neatly hurdles. Each surveys every bin along the floor filled with impossible varieties of rawhides, rubber chews, and dog-food samples, while their owners’ gaze lingers at the pink, red, blue, and green toys at eye-height. Both reach for a soft toy shaped like a squirrel with a maniacal look on its face.
The clever terrier could go online. “Lifestyle for dogs: Spring is here!!! Go Shopping” greets the visitor to the website of Canine Styles, which bills itself as “New York’s oldest and finest dog emporium with world-class grooming and an exclusive line of products.” A testimonial from a happy customer reads “I just received your four-legged pink fleece tracksuit for my Shih-Tzu Joey and it is by far the best coat I have bought her in 12 years!”—implying, clearly, that Joey has many, many tracksuits.
Canine Styles’ apparel section is spectacular. Apart from the polar-fleece tracksuits, there are cable-knit cashmere sweaters in red, hot pink, and herringbone. There are puffer coats and both neoprene and tartan rain jackets. There are hoodies, tennis dresses, muscle tees, and Hawaiian print “vacation shirts.” The ruffle-skirted, muscle-teed dog can also shop bone-shaped placemats, plaid bow ties, and a lined toy bin, reading, humbly, “Good dog.”
Elsewhere in the expansive merchandise playground that is the internet, you can find a mini Leonardo Delfuoco Croc “paw bag” to be worn on the collar—matched to your Leonardo Delfuoco Croc purse—for a little south of six thousand dollars. The fashionable toy-dog owner could therewith open her purse to reveal her dog, wearing a purse. There are hundreds of colognes, perfumes, and body sprays made for dogs. Sure, some have “ear relief wash” functionality, but more aim for what Maschio, an “exciting dog fragrance that captures the essence of Quality Life for Dogs® with its powerful mix of style, excitement, and male sensuality,” achieves: a perfect conviction in the necessity of dog fragrance. “Made for the ‘man of the house,’ ” Maschio creates “a feeling of relaxed sophistication and understated luxury.” Note, dog parents: “spray on the withers, away from the dog’s face.”
While you’re shopping fragrances, you can also pick up “sexy paw red dog nail polish” intended for your bitch, and a thirty-four-dollar “100% cotton dog bathrobe” with matching ninety-four-dollar “100% cotton dog mom bathrobe.”
How did we evolve from being cave-dwellers to being dog-bathrobe buyers? Why are we buying the toys, food, and accessories for our pups that we are?