Paws are no longer good enough for the Big Apple’s streets
IF YOU, as a human, think it is hard to hail a cab in New York , just imagine what it is like if you are a dog. Or, to be more precise, imagine what it was like, because now New York dogs have acquired what they have been panting for since the city began: a pet chauffeur.
Like many clever businesses, this one emerged from a customer’s most desperate need. A decade ago, David Lang bought an old station wagon and began delivering food and medicine from vets to their clients. Before long, veterinarians were requesting Mr. Lang to do a return trip with ailing pets. So Pet Chauffeur was born.
New York swarms with dogs that have wealthy absentee owners. Mr. Lang fills the gap, and it is a very, very, large gap. His old station wagon has been junked, replaced by a fleet of seven specially equipped mini-vans (with dog seatbelts). Given a moment of free time, an eighth would be added.
Mr. Lang’s office resembles a war room. The front wall is taken up by a vast erasable white board, staffed by two employees who constantly rub out and add new requests to each driver’s schedule. Telephones ring constantly. Mornings and evenings are always packed, as is lunchtime, as are rainy days (when, Mr. Lang says, it really does rain cats and dogs). Conversations with Mr. Lang, beyond a few key questions to confirm street and time, are impossible.
He has 10,000 clients, including many celebrities (dog confidentiality precludes disclosing their names), and more are constantly being added.
Medical runs to the vet are now just a tiny part of the business. Several owners use Pet Chauffeur to commute with their dogs to work in fancy midtown offices. An extensive dog social network also exists. They are picked up for afternoon “play-dates” with friends, or for dog birthday parties (Pet Chauffeur provides cakes). For dogs lacking close friends, there are more than a dozen designated dog parks in the city where new acquaintances are usually available, and Pet Chauffeur knows them all. Two days a week, it runs a shuttle to a dog resort in a suburb. And, for those hot days, it frequently transports clients to a dog pool on Ninth Avenue .
Naturally, competition has emerged, but such is the demand that the various firms work together during peak hours, referring customers. Prices are, inevitably higher than for the average human, but of course, to the owners, these passengers are more valuable. They begin at more than $30 for a short hop, and can reach $200 for a trip from Manhattan to Newark airport. None of his riders, says Mr. Lang, eve complains.