Aspiring filmmakers might spend their entire careers vying for face time with an executive like Harvey Weinstein. While it’s unlikely for an unknown to land an impromptu tête-à-tête, there is a group of everyday folks with unprecedented access to Weinstein—they know him as Myrtle’s dad.
From entertainment executives to fashion designers, some of the world’s most powerful people have one thing in common: a soft spot for their pets. And that can mean a networking gold mine for anyone at the other end of a friendly pooch’s leash.
Shortly after opening an Instagram account for her adopted bull terrier, Vito, former model Lonneke Engel received a message from Marc Jacobs inviting the two of them over for a play date with the designer’s own bull terrier Neville. It was an opportunity for something far more intimate than anything Engel had experienced during her 20-plus years in the industry.
“Marc was much more approachable,” Engel says. “It was outside of fashion so it was a different way of talking to each other.”
According to Manhattan veterinarian Lewis Berman, whose clients have included the canines of Truman Capote and Jackie Onassis, Engel’s experience isn’t out of the ordinary. He swears to the democratizing effect dogs have on the rich and powerful. “When it comes down to animals,” he explains, “they’re just ordinary folks.”
This comes as no surprise to retired NFL player Mitch Marrow, who runs the Spot Experience, a chain of doggy day cares that serves the pets of Mariah Carey and Howard Stern. “In New York, people have their guard up,” he says. “When you’re walking with a dog, it disarms them. It’s a great asset.”
That said, making your way into the right circles is largely contingent upon your pooch’s good behavior. In 2012, the New York Post reported that Weinstein had angered West Village neighbors on account of the overzealous barking of Myrtle, a mixed breed, and Rocky, a Norfolk terrier. Not even owners are always safe: In 2014, Lena Dunham took to Instagram after her mutt bit her on the backside. Likewise, those whose pooches have bad habits can find themselves similarly ostracized.
But for those with animals willing to play along, a pet can be the key to unexpected social connections, as Engel has seen while walking through her neighborhood with Vito. “We meet people in fashion or in other industries that we wouldn’t have met,” she says. “You start talking to people who normally would be very guarded.”
While those who frequent the members-only West Village D.O.G. Run might clamor for play dates with Wacha, the beagle mix of TV star Andy Cohen, petworking isn’t only for the aspirational. Even Cohen isn’t immune. In his recent memoir, he recalls seeing Wacha return home with the dog walker, a neighborhood pooch in tow. “He came into my apartment looking just like the Target dog,” he writes. “Turns out it’s Marc Jacobs’ dog, so I kind of feel like Marc Jacobs has been in my apartment.”