In the dog world, Angela Reilly is a rare breed.
Like many show-dog owners, Reilly has bred her own puppies. But she did it in a Manhattan apartment.
She’s among the relatively few big-city dwellers who aim to breed dogs like those at the Westminster Kennel Club show, where one of Reilly’s Cardigan Welsh corgis has won awards.
With shared walls and city sidewalks instead of a country spread or suburban property, Reilly camped out at a veterinarian friend’s New Jersey home to await her first litter’s birth last fall. She covered her two-bedroom apartment in plastic wrap for the pups’ weekend visits.
Now, with two adult dogs and a puppy she’s keeping, she rotates one dog at a time to her mom’s Connecticut home, since Reilly has set herself a two-dog limit to avoid antagonizing neighbors and having more leashes than arms.
“Everything is more difficult” for urban breeders, says Reilly, who juggles dog care with a banking career (two of her dogs: Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae). ”It’s a struggle to make it all work, but for me, it’s all about the dogs.”
Big-city breeders say they have the same goals as their more countrified cohorts: Nurturing healthy animals that exemplify their breed’s traits and history. But city life presents special obstacles beyond the expense and work involved in conscientious dog breeding anywhere.
There are space squeezes. Close quarters. Tricky trash situations. Even some who do it occasionally think they’re nuts.
“Absolutely,” laughs longtime Labrador retriever owner Micki Beerman of Brooklyn. “But it’s great.”
She’s bred Labs since 1987, first in a two-bedroom apartment and now in a house 13 feet wide. She and wife Linda Pensabene currently share it with five Labs, while another one they bred lives down the block.
While other breeders may have acres of land and a freestanding kennel, Beerman’s pups are born (dogfolk say “whelped”) in a big, specially outfitted box in the couple’s kitchen. There’s little distance from whatever the little dogs, well, do.
“When they poop, all the house stinks, so you really have to be conscious of everything and pick up immediately,” says Beerman, a retired teacher who has sent dogs to Westminster. The quick-cleanup rule also goes for the small backyard, since neighbors are close by.
There are no firm statistics on the number of dog breeders in highly urban settings, but they tend to be scant on breeder lists maintained by fanciers’ clubs. And no wonder: In Manhattan, for instance, many buildings limit the number or total weight of dogs per apartment, notes Barbara Fox, a real estate broker and dog rescuer.
The American Kennel Club, the nation’s oldest purebred dog registry, urges all breeders to meet standards that include daily exercise and clean premises but doesn’t take sides on urban vs. rural environments. Nor does the Humane Society of the United States, though it urges people to adopt rather than buy dogs.
To be sure, there are critics of breeding dogs in any setting.
“We don’t feel that there is such a thing as breeding responsibly when there are so many animals dying in shelters,” says Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior vice president of animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Breeders such as Reilly and Beerman note that they’ve produced only occasional litters, largely to seek more show dogs for themselves. And they emphasize that it takes a major commitment of care and cash.
It costs thousands of dollars for genetic and hormone tests, breeding fees, ultrasounds, vet visits and puppy inoculations. A small litter -- common for some breeds -- can leave a breeder in the red. Even with litters as large as nine pups, Beerman says she’s never made money.
But urban breeders say they benefit in other ways.
After buying a Chinese shar-pei with serious health problems, Maria Johnson researched breeders more carefully before getting her next puppy. He was healthy, turned out to have dog-show game and made her wonder what his offspring would be like.
In breeding two litters over five years at her home with a small fenced yard in Newark, New Jersey, Johnson has learned a few lessons, such as: Don’t put the whelping box in your master bathroom if you plan on getting sleep.
“You have to love it” to do it, she says, but she’s seen the rewards.
So, for that matter, so did the Westminster judges. One of Johnson’s first puppies, a showman she named Deniro, grew up to win breed awards on the show’s green carpet.