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City life comes with challenges for dog owners; boutique services aim to help

Several services can help make it easier to live in the city with a dog.

Stacey Robinson’s dog, Joe, enjoys a sunny day in Chicago.
Courtesy of Stacey Robinson

When Stacey Robinson moved from Philadelphia to a high rise in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, she spent almost a year looking for the right apartment for her family, including a 6-year-old boxer named Joe.

Joe doesn’t ask for much — a nice couch to lie around on and friends to play with keep this pup happy.

“With boxers, you exercise them or they eat your couch,” Robinson said. “He’s not like that; he’s a couch potato.”

But finding an affordable apartment that met all of Robinson and her husband’s needs for Joe to live with them — or that was worth the extra fees for dog owners — proved to be a challenge. Robinson refused to pay pet rent, which she described as “legal robbery for pet owners.”

“When you’re right downtown and the building’s idea of a dog run is a concrete slab, I just don’t see where that money’s going,” she said.

Pet rent, deposits and other fees are among the challenges dog owners face in big cities like Chicago.

Even when pet parents find the right home, living in an apartment — and being surrounded by others — isn’t always easy.

“Limited outdoor space is absolutely the No. 1 issue,” said Samantha Cronin, who owns an affectionate Bernadoodle named Gilly. “It requires a lot of time spent and commitment to make sure our dog gets enough exercise and bathroom breaks.”

Samantha Cronin’s 6=month-old Bernadoodle, Gilly.
Courtesy of Samantha Cronin

One solution Cronin found was installing a patch of grass in her apartment. She said she started with sod patches, but didn’t relish cleaning up after 6-month-old Gilly herself and switched over to using grass from a company called Pet Patio Pickup about two months ago.

Pet Patio Pickup drops off and picks up fresh grass “pet patios” between twice a week and every other week, depending on which plan customers choose, according to the company’s website.

The owner of the company, Trey Applegate, said a German Shepherd he used to own, Niko, was part of the inspiration behind Pet Patio Pickup. Niko, who Applegate said was “amazing with a frisbee” and loved hanging out on DePaul’s quad on the university’s Lincoln Park campus, developed stomach issues later on.

Trey Applegate and a German Shepherd he used to own named Niko.
Courtesy of Trey Applegate.

Taking Niko out as often as he needed became a challenge, and Applegate thought other Chicagoans might have similar issues, especially those who live in high rises. Other reasons people subscribe to the service include wanting to avoid late-night and early morning walks or needing close access to a relief area in residences that aren’t located close to dog parks.

Applegate said about half the dogs his company has worked with knew what to do right away — but that doesn’t mean others couldn’t learn.

“I’m a firm believer you can teach an old dog new tricks,” he said.

Pet Patio Pickup’s site makes it clear the company doesn’t want to discourage dog owners from taking them on walks. Rather, the grass patches are designed to take the place of “quick and to-the-point bathroom breaks.”

Pet sitters are another solution for busy dog owners, but they too have challenges operating in dense urban environments — especially when it comes to parking.

“Parking’s impossible at high rises,” said Adam Solovy, who has owned a pet sitting business, Chi Town Paws, in Roscoe Village for about 10 years. “Every place has different rules.”

That includes rules like whether Solovy and the animals he’s picking up or dropping off can use the main elevator, or only the service one. Solovy said he used to do business downtown, but no longer finds the hassle worth it.

Adam Solovy’s family includes a lab mix rescue named Stewy.
Courtesy of Adam Solovy

Pet parents new to Chicago should also remember that their animals may need a few months to adjust to city life and to make sure they’re able to get enough physical activity.

“I think some people don’t realize the level of activity they’re going to have to give their dog,” Robinson said.

There isn’t an exact number of steps or miles walked that every dog needs, according to Antonio DeMarco, medical director at GoodVets in Streeterville.

“A 12-year-old basset hound will need a great different set of exercise instructions versus a 2-year-old Labrador,” DeMarco said. “I always advise being active with your pets, to running or walking exercises, to off-leash dog parks — all activity is great. More importantly, I think having a conversation with your veterinarian about appropriate weight and feeding instructions is just as important as activity levels.”

Despite challenges, being in the city does offer some perks for pet owners.

For example, Robinson said she has three vets within walking distance of her apartment — including “literally one within our block.” Plus, she said, not only does her husband have a car, but services like Uber Pet have also helped. The ride share company recently added the service, which allows passengers to bring their furry friends onboard for a $6 surcharge.

Solovy said services like mobile pet spas and doggy daycares that offer pickup and drop-offs also help and have been around for awhile.

The Tailored Groomer, for example, said it offers a full grooming service, including teeth brushing, toenail clipping, ear cleaning and de-shedding.

Joel Burton, owner of The Tailored Groomer, said the grooming truck will go to condos, houses and even businesses to provide convenience for customers. Urban dog owners in particular, he said, often struggle with getting around the city with their pups, especially if they don’t drive. Even if there are grooming shops nearby, they may not be up to pet parents’ standards, so they may still have to travel far away.

“When pet parents choose mobile grooming, they’re reducing travel time, they’re reducing waiting time,” Burton said.

Plus, many high rises in the city have dog spas and more pet-friendly amenities in their buildings.

For example, 1000 South Clark’s Pooch Club South Loop offers dog walking, full-service grooming and group training classes.

NEMA, one of the newest high rises in the city, is not only located right off Grant Park, but also has The Doghouse, which it describes as “the ultimate pet playground, including ramps, outdoor turf and seated areas for puppy parents to observe and relax.”

Burton said his business is working on integrating with some of the condos that are getting these features so some of Th Tailored Groomer’s employees can be in-house — making things even easier for pet parents who live in these buildings.

“It’s not really difficult to have a dog in a big city, especially Chicago,” Solovy, the dog-walker, said.