A Dogwalker's Guide to the West Village
Jeff Hinshaw is rounding the corner of Christopher Street and Hudson in New York City’s West Village. It’s a mild fall afternoon, and there’s a quiet, relaxed feel as we pass through the neighborhood—tourists meandering in and out of designer boutiques, joggers jogging, nannies pushing strollers past multi-million dollar brownstones. Four leashes pull taut in his hands, each connected to a different dog—miniature Australian Shepherd (“their breed was trending last year”), fuzzy Schip-A-Pom, hyperactive German Shepherd, and a tiny-but-spirited Yorkie named George.
“Dogs are really good at herding,” says Jeff, moving with ease through the pedestrians and delivery men. In his worn Doc Martins and baggy white knit sweater, he is clearly master of the pack, the dogs scurrying along with him rather than against him. Me, I’m practically running to keep up. “They’re like a metronome, they set the rhythm and I start rapping,” he jokes.
This is a daily ritual for Jeff, whose company City Wolf puts a holistic slant on dog walking—his services extend to animal reiki sessions and ceremonies to honor recently deceased pets. This has attracted some high-end clients, who, in typical West Village fashion, like giving their pooches a taste for the finer things in life.
“I’m fascinated by the way dogs are treated in this city,” he says, “Most of these dogs have raincoats that are more expensive than mine, and eat gluten-free dog food custom-ordered from a farm upstate.”
All of which is what brings Jeff here, twice a day, seven days a week, making this fairytale trek through Manhattan’s most picturesque zip code. With hundreds of hours spent strolling and observing, the job has resulted in a unique expertise on the area. He essentially experiences the city as a tourist would, every day—and gets paid to do so.
Making our way up Hudson Street, four tails wagging happily below, he points out Le Pain Quotidien, on the corner of Perry Street, where fresh-baked dog treats are set out each morning. Across the street, artist Mimi Vang Olsen creates tasteful oil paintings of other people’s pets from inside her small glass-fronted studio. And just a block over, the cupcakes that spawned a worldwide craze can be found inside the original location of Magnolia Bakery.
(Jeff’s tastes are a little more health-oriented: when it’s time to refuel, his favorite spot is Whole Green, which he claims, at $4 a cup, is the cheapest juice in the city.)
Jeff’s knowledge of the neighborhood isn’t limited to cafes and pet portrait studios, though. Over the years, listening in on guided group tours, he’s picked up a few interesting bits of West Village trivia. For example, the faded brick townhouse at 139 W 10th Street? That’s Janis Joplin’s old address (though the basement is now home to a sceney farm-to-table restaurant. And further up the block, Jefferson Market Public Library is one of New York’s most architecturally interesting libraries—it was originally built as a courthouse in 1877—not to mention the West Village’s most recognizable landmark; and once a year, Jeff tells me, Open House New York allows visitors to climb up its ornate bell tower.
Regardless of historical interest, the West Village’s very un-New York layout (save for certain parts of the Financial District, it’s the only neighborhood without a grid system) makes it ideal for long scenic walks. “Before, I used to get lost, but now I know my way around.” Jeff praises the West Village’s unique vibe, separate in a way from the rest of the city: “Everyone is more relaxed here. Which is better for the dogs. Imagine one of them getting loose in midtown!”
Other favorite spots include the Integral Yoga Institute, an ashram and healing center that’s been running since the 1970s—their adjacent grocery cooperative and cafe, Natural Foods, has all-organic produce, a juice and smoothie bar, and a bakery. Next door is Enfleurage, an essential oils boutique that imports frankincense and myrrh from Oman. “I could spend a lot of money in here,” says Jeff, picking through the different sized bottles. “I heard they’ll even custom-design a scent just for you.”
He’s a big fan, too, of the LGBT Center, which got a $9.2 million makeover last winter, and now boasts a slick new coffeehouse, with plenty of power outlets for laptops, a semi-hidden courtyard, and baristas serving Think Coffee.
Park-wise, Jeff says, the West Village beats out almost every other part of the island. Of the many dog runs dotted throughout the neighborhood, his favorite is the one at Washington Square Park, of which he boasts: “It’s newly renovated, there’s a clean bathroom, and there’s a water fountain for dogs to drink and play in the summer. If you’ve just moved to New York and need a dog walker, go there, the place is crawling with them!”
Half a mile northwest, the brand new St. Vincent’s Hospital Park is wedged between Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue, offering wide bench-lined paths and a granite fountain. In May, it will become the site of the NYC AIDS Memorial, featuring an 18-foot steel canopy marking the site of the city’s first AIDS ward.
Strolling through the park, Jeff remarks how beautiful the afternoon turned out. But the changing season has him aware of what’s coming: “Winter can be extreme,” he admits. “Some days I can’t feel my hands; even though I’m wearing gloves I’m constantly taking them off to pick up dog poop. You really feel all the elements as a dog walker.” Parts of his routes change, too: come December, he avoids Union Square altogether because of the holiday markets. And once it gets really cold, walking along the Hudson River is out of the question.
Still, he wouldn’t trade professions. “I get to be around cute-ass animals and be outside all day. How many people can say that about their job?”