Since the days of the early hunter-gatherers, dogs have become an intimate part of our daily lives, providing us with valuable companionship and security. Their many talents, which include herding livestock, keeping airports safe and helping the disabled continue to be recognized, giving credence to the age-old phrase “a man’s best friend.”
But it’s 2017, and we wanted to turn that expression on its head to celebrate the intimate bond between women and their dogs. We teamed up with CESAR® to profile five exceptional women whose passion for their work is only rivaled by the love they share with their canine companions.
A New Leash On Life
After breaking her neck in an accident in 2009, Daniela Schirmer lost the ability to move her body from the neck-down, leaving her bedridden for a year. Through hard work and physical therapy, she eventually regained the use of her arms and hands, allowing her to live independently and finish graduate school. However, it wasn’t until 2014 when she was paired with Zandra, her Labrador service dog, that she regained her confidence:
“The difference, it’s like night and day when I got the dog and after,” said Schirmer, “on a social level, I stopped getting weird comments and people would find it easier to interact with me and instead of asking about my disability they would ask about Zandra.”
Zandra also helps Schirmer get through her day-to-day by opening doors, picking up dropped objects and coming along to trade shows and exhibitions where Schirmer represents Spinergy, a company that makes high performance wheels for bicycles and wheelchairs. In her free time, Schirmer brings Zandra along to her adaptive sports exercises, which includes skiing and surfing.
“When you become severely disabled you have so many things that are taken away from you,” said Schirmer, “but there is an emotional aspect of having a dog where you feel you get to take your dog everywhere, and she gives me that emotional comfort.”
Paging Nurse Sooner
When she’s not busy overseeing perioperative services for Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West hospitals in New York City, Leah Borenstein treats her fellow staff members to the unconditional affections of her nine year-old Shih-Poo (Shih Tzu-Poodle mix), Sooner.
“If a manager is having a bad day she’ll come down looking for him (Sooner) to de-stress a little and get a hug from him,” said Borenstein, “he partakes in all the meetings, sits in a chair himself and if you’re upset, he’ll intuitively know if something’s wrong with you.”
Borenstein also brings Sooner along to visit patients in the hospital thanks to his cute volunteer hospital ID, which he earned after completing therapy dog certification.
In addition to bringing a smile to patients and staff members, Sooner also helps Borenstein relax, allowing her to successfully manage the perioperative services associated with the 17,000 surgeries that take place at both Mount Sinai hospitals each year.
“I feel very gratified having a dog,” said Borenstein, “and not just for me...I want other people to appreciate him as well as myself.”
Patrolling For Puppies
Dogs have a storied history of helping law enforcement officers do their jobs. From fearless police dogs participating in search and rescue operations, securing checkpoints and sniffing out hazardous contraband, to the furry friends patiently waiting at home while officers are gone, fighting crime.
That’s why Police Sgt. Jessica McRorie and Detective Tara Cuccias of the New York Police Department (NYPD) are grateful for the unconditional love they receive from their dogs who are ready to give puppy kisses and cuddles when they walk through the door.
“The best part of every dog owner’s day is when they come home,” said McRorie, “they are so excited to see you. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you had, how stressed out you are, they just make you happy.”
The cherished bond between dogs and their owners is a particularly keen concern for Cuccias, who is a part of the Animal Cruelty Squad of NYPD. In addition to bringing perpetrators to justice, her team collaborates with the ASPCA to rehabilitate animal victims and get them adopted to loving homes.
“Because I deal with animals all day long and it’s sad, it makes me grateful to have beautiful, healthy dogs who love me unconditionally,” said Cuccias, “they need the love too. We’re here to help the voiceless, our victims can’t speak so we have to speak for them.”
Best Of Both Worlds
What do you get when you combine dogs and yoga?
Doga, of course; and Kari Harendorf, a longtime yoga teacher and dog owner, is a Doga expert. As a budding yoga trainer, Harendorf loved bringing Charlie, her mixed-breed husky, to class with her, and in 2004, when she opened her first yoga studio, began incorporating him into weekly classes where she instructed partnered yoga for students and their dogs.
“For people that have dogs...we can be so busy and caught up in our lives that we’re not paying attention to our dogs, even when we’re walking them,” Harendorf said, “to actually get down on the floor, you get to connect with them.”
In a typical Doga class, Harendorf takes a traditional yoga pose like “Warrior One” and adapts it to include a dog by lifting her dog to her chest instead of stretching her arms outward. According to Harendorf, Doga raises the intensity of the poses to the added weight of the dog ― a nice health benefit to the increased emotional bond between dogs and their owners.
These days, Harendorf spends most of her time training future yoga instructors at institutions like the Kripalu Center, the largest yoga retreat in North America. But Doga still has a special place in her heart:
“They’re a constant witness to your life...they’re a mirror that holds up your life to you, and maybe they teach you about commitment and responsibility and love, unconditional.”
Harendorf has six rescue dogs, and loves to take them on hikes. Although they can be a handful at times, she can’t imagine a life without them.
Forging A New Destiny
Artisans living in crowded urban areas like New York City are no strangers to the difficulties of setting up shop in a city where rents are high and square footages low, a losing proposition for those whose craft depends on reliable access to heavy machinery like table saws and bench grinders.
That’s why, in 2013, Natalie Shook, a self-taught woodworker, decided to team up with her friend Zach Blaue, an architect, to turn a 7,000-square-foot warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn into a co-shared workshop for local artisans.
Known as Supersmith, the converted warehouse features a woodshop, metal shop, painting room and showroom that doubles as a storefront where the house artisans offer their crafts for sale.
When she’s not busy overseeing the management and development of Supersmith, Shook unwinds with her Australian Cattle Dog mix, Bones, who, in the four years since she adopted her, has become an important part of Shook’s life, even visiting her at work from time-to-time.
“I think about her all the time when I’m not with her,” said Bones, “sometimes I wish she had a cell phone so I could text her that I miss her.”
Shook considers Bones to be her first “baby,” and enjoys the nurturing aspect of their relationship. When asked how she thinks Bones would describe their relationship, Natalie says, “I think she thinks of us as being kind of the same, not so different. She’s just like, ‘yeah, you and me. It’s just you and me.’”
The unconditional love between dogs and their owners is something worth celebrating, especially when their owners happen to be badass women. Watch the video below to see how CESAR® is shining a spotlight on the timeless connection between women and their dogs.