Buenos Aires on a leash
Argentine dogs live a life of pampered sophistication in this elegant city.
So do some of the words on signs, and smells of cakes in bakeries, and European plants in parks. But this is Buenos Aires, which, when I walk here, changes colors like a checkered blanket. It is a shawl of small worlds.
The square of the blanket that I don't expect is Paris. Here are buildings with blue and white enameled numbers and elegant ironwork along the edges of balconies. Over here are popular French chains like Société Général and 5àSec, a dry cleaners that, if you like, will bleach, professionally brush, or gingerly hand-iron your clothes.
Most of all there are the dogs. Boxers, dachshunds, golden retrievers, Weimaraners, cocker spaniels crowd the sidewalks, tugging at fashionable leather leashes, just like in Paris, while herding humans to the side. The Avenida de Mayo is wide and shady like the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and there are at least as many pets here poking their noses around trees and padding about.
When the jacarandas are in bloom, dogs wind up with violet snouts from sniffing sidewalk cracks where petals have collected. And on a windy day, it is a fiesta, a hero's parade: Proud promenading animals get sprinkled during walks with flowery confetti from the branches waving above.
In the city's wealthier areas, like this avenue, the poodles of Buenos Aires have it over even their Parisian peers. If you are a well-heeled animal you'll be picked up daily at your apartment by a specially trained, certificate-holding dog walker and exercised in a fenced-in dog park or on the street for a minimum of two hours. That's right. Dos dog-pleasing hours.
Buenos Aires is a nighttime place, it's true. Some people come here to catch the city's blasts of street-corner tango. Some head straight for steak. And some ride around in Radio Taxis, tasting tapas here and there, until it is time to pour wine at a cafe. But it is the dogs and their walkers that add a dash of strangeness, a little dance action to the day.
During a bus tour I take, even drowsy passengers perk up, pointing and laughing every time we pass a walker getting wrapped up like a maypole or whirled like a top. We see one stuck on a median in a busy road with half of his pack stretching out into petulant traffic and half tugging him backward in the direction of a passing cat.
Dog walkers are around every weekday, some in uniforms or specially printed business T-shirts, most with groups of six to 10 pets apiece. I catch up with one of them, Domingo Tiscornia, who is pulling on a German shepherd, a black Lab, a Newfoundland, a retriever, and a collie near the Plaza San Martin.
In his 40s, Mr. Tiscornia is wearing a windbreaker because it is spitting rain. The Lab has his own particular gear, a nylon jacket with a hood, and the collie is outfitted in paw-encapsulating rubber boots.
"Most days," says Tiscornia, "I have 10 dogs. But today the weather is very bad. The owners are rich and they do not want wet fur inside the house." Tiscornia explains that, like other pros in the trade, he trained for four months in physical education, biology, and veterinary science before earning his certificate. And that, if he builds up his reputation, he can make more money than "a teacher."
At the end of the block Tiscornia shows me a store called Mr. Puppy. Buenos Aires has a lot of pet boutiques like this one, and when I go in, I have to step around a skyscraping stack of premium biscuits and food. Here is a box of con pollo y arroz (chicken and rice) flavor "Excellent"-brand Adulto dog food. And over here, "Dogui" by Purina, which, as far as I can make out, is a bag full of "marinated, barbecue-flavored chips."
The leashes on display look like high-end stuff. There are not only leather ones but some are made of carpincho – the tanned hide of a capybara – something I would like for a belt.
This is where Tiscornia stocks up on all-natural, high-protein biscuits, the expensive snack his clients demand. I ask him why the dog owners of Buenos Aires don't get out and buy them themselves. Or for that matter, why they don't exercise their pets.
Tiscornia shrugs. "That is how it is. These dogs are like their children. They are busy, but they want only the best for them. Best food, best parks, best care, best of everything."
"Best professional walkers," I add.
Shaking biscuits out of their box, he brightens. "This," he says, ruffling the retriever around its puffy neck. "This is why I am here."