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Models, madmen and more in NYC

California girl finds Big Apple has too much bite

Posted: June 20, 2009 9:12 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Editor's note: Signal feature writer Michelle Sathe will be taking a seven-week sabbatical to promote homeless dog adoptions. She is taking a rescued pit bull, Loren, along with her as a companion and mascot during their cross-country trip. The Signal will be following Sathe's and Loren's trip every Sunday with a column of their latest adventures.

You know the shirts with "I (Heart) New York?" They should make one with "I (Unhappy Face) New York," just for me.

This place is insane! Besides the $20 worth of tolls it takes to get here from Philadelphia and the never-ending $8 Holland Tunnel and the rude drivers and impenetrable throng, there is absolutely no grass in this city. Where is a girl like Loren to do her business?

Before actually arriving in Manhattan, I got all teary-eyed when I saw the skyline from the highway. I never really thought I would make it here - all the way from California. There's something magnificent about the skyscrapers poking their way heavenward, a sense of promise and excitement.

After going through the long, dark Holland Tunnel, we made some twists and turns and were quickly on Broadway and in the thick of things. The streets were teeming with people, coming from every direction, of every shape, size and nationality. Never have I seen such crowds, not at the U2 concert at Dodger Stadium, not at Santa Monica Beach on the most perfect day, not at the anti-Iraq war protest in downtown Los Angeles. This was a different entity altogether.

Then there was the driving. We made our way through traffic that doesn't obey signals or appreciate a sense of order. Flashes of yellow from all four corners, honking, pushing, squeezing into impossibly tight spots, cutting me off. I quickly realized it was kill or be killed and so - fortified by a Venti Starbucks green tea and lemonade - I jumped into this real-life game of Frogger with an intensity that surprised me. Soon, I was honking, cussing and acting like a native.

Our destination was Happy Paws Pet Resort, which thank God had it's own parking "lot," a strip of asphalt the size of residential driveways in Southern California, but I didn't have to find a spot on the street.

Loren was greeted by a quartet of staff and volunteers from Animal Alliance Foundation, who were anticipating our visit. They were holding a microchip clinic which attracted 26 participants. Barbara and Shawn Tolan are brother and sister, their father, Tim, was also there, as was Daniel Rivera, a vet tech. All are pit bull lovers and owners.

After Loren was groomed by a kind lady named Lisa, a California expatriate who did the service for free since she is a rescue dog, Loren was sitting in Daniel's lap, belly exposed, getting kisses and belly rubs at the same time. Nirvana.

While Loren was getting her bath, I took to Broadway, home of Bloomingdales and Dean and Deluca, and shopped like a girly girl, picking up a pair of dark Levis, two shirts, a strappy pair of Kenneth Cole heels, and a pair of earrings for $100! Of course, I had to try a sidewalk hot dog. It was pretty good, but they didn't have chili - or cheese - so I got mustard and sauerkraut instead.

At one point, there was a gorgeous brunette couple on the street in front of me, the man even prettier than the woman, while on the sidelines, an elderly man searched the trash bins for food, his tongue sticking out. Models and madmen, mixed in with moms who push strollers in high heels.

Though Loren had a hard time parting with her new friends at Happy Paws, I was ready to check into our hotel.

"That's a good-looking dog," our doorman said. "I had a dog that looked just like her, but he passed away. His name was Stallion, because he was a magnificent animal. There will never be another like him."

The doorman became my fast friend, directing me to the parking lot across the street where I had to leave my car ($40 per day!), and places to take Loren for potty breaks.

People here consider planters as parks - my kind doorman and two others directed me to streets with nothing resembling lawns, just little patches of dirt with a few vines, some were even fenced! What the heck?

After two miles of this, I stopped and started to cry. I hated this place. I wanted to go home. I wanted my boyfriend, my dogs and people that would smile when they saw me, not look away, if they bothered to look at all. I wanted to be on my hiking trail in the mountains, with nothing but the sounds of nature to soothe me, silly little Buster trotting free at my side. I wondered why I was here in the first place.

I took a deep breath and composed myself. Loren was waiting patiently by my side, panting from all the exercise and, I'm sure, the manic energy that surrounded us both. For a country girl, she took to the city with a fair amount of ease - stopping at lights (unlike the rest of the masses), avoiding the grates whenever possible, and, when we were at the hotel, deciding finally that elevators were not the enemy and trotting right in.

She managed the revolving doors as if she‘d been doing it all her life. Loren laid on the cool marble floor when we checked in. Two guys called to her from the bar and she would've gone to have a drink with them, had I let her. Hussy.

The next day, we met with Jennifer Bristol at Animal Haven, a no-kill rescue in NoHo. Encased in warm wood, the store front had an elegant feel. Tiny kittens played in the window display, which rapidly caught Loren's attention. This SoHo shelter had a loft-like feel, three stories, with dogs and cats housed on three floors. The dogs get walked four times a day by a roster of volunteers and are also worked with by an in-house trainer.

Right now, Animal Haven has 19 dogs, including two litters of adorable lab and mixed breed puppies, as well as 20 cats. A beautiful female Aussie mix looked up at me with her one blue and one brown eye.

"She's going home tomorrow with her new family," Jennifer said. They have a high adoption rate, including the pit bulls they take in from city shelters and owner surrenders.

They also have a store that carries animal food, toys and bedding, and encourages customers to bring their small dogs in for playtime.

"It's a way to get the community involved in rescue without beating them over the head," Jennifer said. "I bought dogs 15 years ago. I didn't know that there was another way. People come in here and say, 'I didn't know I could get a Maltese or a Pug through shelters.'"

This has been an emotional journey. Soon we'll be headed west - and back home!

To follow Loren and Sathe visit the road blog at


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