The Sharks and the Jets: Part I

I sing to my dogs. I grew up on musical comedies, so most of my songs borrow the concepts and tunes from Rogers, Sondheim, Harnick, Lerner, Bernstein, Stein, Hammerstein, Lowe and Bock. The best musical for the business of walking Labrador retrievers, however, is West Side Story, a good choice when you consider that Oliver Smith, the scenic designer for the original production, owned the yellow mansion at 70 Willow Street and he based his designs on the dive neighborhood that stretched from Middagh to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

My favorite song starts:
When you’re a Lab,
You’re a Lab all the way,
From your first pair of shoes
To your last dyin’ day…

The “Jet Song” speaks of belonging, having your back watched, being smooth Lotharios – and being triumphant over enemies, the Sharks.

It’s a good news/bad news song for the person at the end of four leashes.

On several occasions, I have leashed my pack and let one dog go to meet a particular friend. Daisy and Tenn kiss, Tenn mounts her, and Daisy snaps up at his jaw. Then she slips away and melts into her pack. Any onlooker would have no idea she wasn’t leashed with the rest of them. The Labs are “never disconnected”.

The bad news side of this is that, as I paraphrase in our nonviolent intervals, when a dog gets in their way, that dog “don’t feel so well”. I brace myself, sometimes against a wall, and hang on as Bangor, Daisy and Hermia try to take flight. Pickering joins in but he thinks his pals are inviting the latest Shark to play. Pickering always wants in on the fun.

They aren’t having fun

At best, I can call my dogs neurotic. Certainly they’re scared and at worst they’re terrible racists.

This is a delicate subject because, when they unite into 280 pounds of outraged muscle, they’re a loud and frightening presence. I’ve walked away from confrontations in deep embarrassment, penitence, fury and/or blood. If one dog is triggered, they all are. With lust and longing, Hermia and Pickering surf for squirrel porn while Daisy and Bangor snout along for dropped Goldfish and pizza crusts. If I say the words, “tippy-toes” to Hermia, her tail shoots up and she is en pointe, tugging and looking for prey. Pickering takes her lead and lets out a sissy scream he ought to be ashamed of, standing on his hind legs at the nearest tree. I know that Hermia would tear the squirrel to bits and I’m fairly convinced that Pickering wants to adopt one as a pet, but the hat is in the ring. While Daisy and Bangor are oblivious to the idea of rodents aloft, they take this pitch of excitement as a call to battle and begin circling for sight of an enemy – anyone or anything that is land-based will do – barking and growling. Daisy’s hackles go up in a Mohawk and Bangor’s toes nails skitter as I drag him closer and get him into a down-stay. I pray no one is near us on the mother-lovin’ street to distract all that energy onto a more catchable prey.

It doesn’t take a psychology department to understand the squirrel frenzy. Even cat-lovers understand the urge to kill. Squirrels are the least of it however, a cake walk compared to what the Jets consider the real Sharks – a subject I’ll explore as delicately as possible in my next reports from the street.

BHB columnist Frances Kuffel has lived in the Heights for twenty years. Her dog walking clients include Augie, Barley, Boomer, Faith, Gus, Henry, Hero, Panda, Roger and Zeke. For more information, visit http//,, or

She is the author of Passing for Thin

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