Feeling blue? The DS Club is here to rescue you. The "Dog Days," normally refer to the hottest part of the year or a period of stagnation and inactivity. We're all finding ourselves in the midst of the dog days of quarantine and let's just say, it's been 'ruff.' For many, it's a time of boredom, restlessness, feeling caged, and eating and sleeping more than we normally do. A highlight of the day are short walks around the neighborhood. I guess you can say we are all living our best version of a dog's life. With a constant flood of depressing news, we sure could use a dose of happiness right now. Let's hit 'paws,' and forget about this crazy time, just for a moment. We're showing a little puppy love to our fur-ever friends, the loyal members of The DS (Doggy-Sitters) Club.
If you are an artist or follow public art on Instagram, then you are familiar with the always positive profile of the DS Club. They turn anyone's frown upside down and bring smiles to the faces of even the toughest of vandals. They're the kind of group any one of us would want to be a part of. To be a member, you need to be playful, curious, observant, and a good hunter...of art, but also you must have four legs and a furry face. This supergroup of doggies are Insta Stars; the fluffiest, goofiest, most beautiful models who strike the 'pawfect' poses. There's Babs, Bo, Finn, Fox, Margot, Pickles, Teddy, Tuna, and more. Sorry, you might be cute, obedient, and hairy, but the only human allowed in the club is their best friend, go-to photographer, and leader of the pack, Manny.
(All Photos courtesy of (@thedsclub) The DS Club.)
Manny is the owner of Babs aka Baby Girl aka "the tiny dog wearing even tinier shoes."
Leader of the Pack
The man behind the dogs is Manny. He is a NY original, from the Lower East Side. After high school, Manny went to Berkeley College, but dropped out within six months to enlist in the USMC. "I was raised by two amazing women, but not having any type of father figure around, I had to find a way to 'man up' pretty quickly," said Manny. The Marine Corps was his best option. He has been working with dogs since 1998 in Okinawa, Japan. While deployed, he was attached to a Marine Guard unit and taking care of dozens of K9s was one of his main responsibilities. He worked with some of the best military contractors around.
Manny was later honorably discharged from the military and found it incredibly difficult adjusting to 'normal life' and still does, due to some trauma and anxiety. He was fortunate to have many successful corporate jobs, but quit them all because being stuck inside all day didn't make sense to him. Therapy helped him realize that his happy place was being surrounded by dogs. Leaving the corporate world and going back to working with dogs was not a difficult decision at all.
A typical day for the DS Club is pretty simple; there isn't a regular schedule and most of the dog's owners work a normal 8 hour day. Manny takes the dogs out for an hour or sometimes longer if it's a nice day. He only walks and works with dogs in Manhattan. His favorite neighborhoods are the LES and Tribeca because they are peaceful and have a ton of artwork to see. There's three sets of clients; The Regulars: the daily dogs whose adventures everyone loves to follow, Seasonal Customers and the A-listers. The celebrity owners have him sign non-disclosure agreements and he never shares pictures of their dogs; leave that to the puparazzi. Manny's worked with many actors, musicians, professional athletes, and politicians. They've all been very kind and generous, but are strict when it comes to sharing photos of their pets.
"Majority of my daily clients are out of town, but I still see my lady, Pickles every day. Her owners are busy working from home, so I swing by to take her out for an hour a day to provide a little stress relief." - The DS Club
Street Art and Graffiti as a training tool and chasing the Bansky bone.
The very first vandal Manny ever documented with pups was Banksy. One of his clients was a huge fan and he began chasing down Banksy and would send her pictures of her dog posing with the stencils. It was 2013 when Banksy put up a different piece every day for the month of October. The Banksy NYC takeover showcased works in stencil form, but also sculptures, props, and performances. It was street theater and did indeed take all of NYC by storm. Manny recalls it causing widespread chaos across the city where crowds of people would form for pictures, selfies and to get a closer look. Banksy turned street art into a sport. The last time Manny saw this much excitement over graffiti art was during the early days of SAMO. Chasing Banksy around the city is how Manny came up with the idea of using street art as a training tool. He noticed the crowds were bigger later on in the day when people got out of work. He decided to start his Banksy hunts with the dogs earlier on in the day.
"I combine two passions. Venturing across town is great exercise for dogs. By the time we reach our destination, the pups are already tired and more willing to sit still for a puppy-selfie. That's my motto, Teaching Dogs How to Sit, Stay & Appreciate!" - The DS Club
How does Manny get the dogs to stay so focused and still? That's a secret. But, he says every time an artist replies and thanks him for sharing their work, he always remembers to thank them back for giving him ideas for adventures. We can thank Banksy for inspiring the first street art adventure and for giving Manny the idea to bring together his two loves." I decided to combine two passions as a way to help combat mental illness because dogs and art are very therapeutic," said Manny.
A majority of The DS Club's daily clients have left NYC do to the COVID pandemic and it has slowed business down tremendously. Each and every one has been very kind and generous and are making sure Manny is taken care of during the crisis. "I've been so busy on the streets over the years that I haven't taken time for myself, this has been a forced staycation for me," said Manny. "But like I mentioned, I don't belong inside. I belong out there!"
He was also in the middle of helping his friend LA promote her singing career when the pandemic hit. She just released her debut EP, but her plans for 2020 have been put on hold. "We were working on a viral street art campaign for her debut," said Manny, "I was going to go around the city stenciling the album info and also had an artist ready to paint her EP cover art on a wall, but unfortunately everything is closed and we were unable to purchase material." Manny and LA are working on plan B. Check out LA's video: here.
"LA is a smart girl and very passionate about street art and graffiti and wants to have it included in everything she does. She aspires to be the next Gaga and she definitely has the energy for it. We are waiting to see what things will be like moving forward, but I definitely look forward to continuing to help spread the word for her and possibly even joining her on her adventures." - The DS Club
We'd like to take a moment to remember two special dogs the DS Club recently lost. Here's to Dublin 'Dubs" the Boxer and Madison "Maddie Bear." You will not be forgotten and will both live on through the lives you've touched and through the pictures.
"I've lost a lot of pups over the years. Well over a dozen. It's never easy. A lot of people ask me how I managed to deal with the loss of a loyal companion. I tell them I've been seeing dogs come in and out of my life for a very long time. It kills me every time. It's one of the reasons I created the DSClub. So that the owners have collections of their companions adventures. They're all still here with us in our thoughts and memories." - The DS Club
For Manny, it's all about puppy-love and support right now. "If there is one thing I've learned, it's that artists are usually stressed out creating and attempting to spread their messages. If I could make them or my followers smile at my pics, then I know I must be doing something right." His ultimate goal is to capture the city through the eyes of a dog.
The pets in our life, don't even realize how much joy they bring us, maybe that's part of their charm. There's a sense of security and comfort they give us every day, whether living through a crisis or not. Companionship, a stress relief, and a sense of purpose. That's what we need and that's what a dog or pet can provide all of us right now. If you don't have a pet, maybe now is a good time to get one? You'll have a perfect 'pawtner' to get through the remainder of the dog days of quarantine with. Check with your local shelter, or the ASPCA website. There's always a dog in need of a loving home. You'll think you're rescuing them, but really they'll be rescuing you.