Dog Days

Canines shape local interactions

 

 

They’re pampered, outfitted and pushed in strollers, no matter the situation. And in the Castro, the pervasiveness of these leashed creatures has given rise to a nuanced culture.

 

There is a wide variety of dog walkers in the Castro such as Olga Stromberg, who pushes her small Terrier-Chi she calls “my baby” in a stroller. Up close it’s quite a surprise to see her tiny dog resting on the covers.

 

“I got the idea to put my dog in a stroller after I had a knee replacement and needed help with my balance,” she explained. “I found a stroller made for dogs on sale at Best in Show with a handle bar that gives me stability. It was worth the $300 I paid.”

 

Sara Morrow, a recent transplant in her early 20s, agreed. “I was so depressed, I wasn’t meeting anyone. I felt so isolated until I got my big white dog from a shelter,” she said. “People are much friendlier when you have a dog. Now I know people in two parks.”

 

John Troxel told me he’d gotten all of his friends in the last 14 years from walking a dog.

 

“I’ve known her since she was a pup,” he said, squatting on the sidewalk petting a black lab. “She’s my friend’s but I often take her on walks.”

 

Most walkers have one or two dogs that fit well into San Francisco’s small to medium-size apartments and houses. One exception was a man with four dogs.

 

“They’re family,” Francisco Rosillo said, with his teenage son walking behind the dogs. “I live in a small space and my landlord doesn’t like dogs but I keep them anyway.”

 

Some dog walkers with physical limitations managed quite well like a woman in a stylish black and white blouse, a straw hat and a black cane walking a greyhound. A man who had previously suffered a stroke walked with difficulty as his dog trotted by his side.

 

Often you’ll see new mothers with a dog on a leash while walking a baby carriage. “We waited eight years between having a dog and a baby,” Jim Howe said. “It was a trial run.”

 

“Parents” meeting for the first time often ask each other what kind of dog the other has. Many choose a shelter dog. City Dog Rescue placed 800 dogs last year. Shelters all require interviews before adoptions. This is what happened to Karen Glaubinger, a retired teacher, who adopted a spunky, gray-hair, part-miniature poodle, Louie. For several months at lunchtime, she saw a walker with the cutest dog.

 

She fell in love with him and asked the SPCA on Fillmore if she could walk him. Eventually she and her partner, Jane Lawton, who lives in the East Bay, got an interview. They beat out six other contenders including families with kids. “We’re so happy with Louie even though we wanted a girl [dog],” Lawton added.

 

I met a couple of real dog walkers who get paid to walk big and small dogs. Michael, in his mid-30s, said, “Dogs like to be in a pack,” as five dogs led him up the Noe Street hill on a hot day. “It is a lot to manage.”

 

Another walker with three dogs said, “My neighbor asked if I’d mind walking his two dogs along with mine for a nominal fee. You have to be unrelentingly reliable!” he laughed. “The best part of this is I meet people from all over the world. San Francisco is like that.”

Photo: Sally Swope

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