“Before you meet Kitana, shake my hand and give her a treat,” says Christopher Borew as he parks his purple bicycle right outside Astoria Park.
He hands me a sliver of beef liver.
Kitana, his17-month-old snow-white Shiba Inu, gives me a grin as she gobbles it up.
Now pet her – not on the top of the head, she’s a dominant dog, just caress her under the chin, yes, like that, that’s perfect.
OK, now that we’re chill, Christopher removes the canine’s glam-girl goggles and takes her out of her black backpack, the one that has her name embroidered on it.
Kitana loves playing in the park; Christopher has let her off the leash a couple of times as a test, and that taste of freedom is better than any treat she’s ever eaten.
She stands by his side, gazing into his eyes, waiting for his every word and piece of beef.
Christopher’s other Shiba, Kintaro, is at home. He’s 15, and a trip to the park is too much for him.
And that’s a shame because it’s all because of Kintaro that Christopher started his dog-walking and dog-training business, Pet’s Best Friend NYC.
In fact, it’s all because of Kintaro that Christopher is alive.
But before we get into that story, let’s go back to Christopher’s B.C. (Before Canine) period.
Christopher, a grinning, gregarious guy with a grizzled beard and a tattoo of Frank Sinatra on his leg who sees the world with a dog’s-eye view, was born in Wilmington, Delaware.
For the first 10 years of his life, he lived with his great-grandmother in the confines of the too-small-for-him town of Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, while his teenage single mother got her life together.
He got his first dog, a Cocker Spaniel who answered to Sebastian, when he was 7.
After high school, Christopher tried college, but he was so busy working two jobs that he barely got started before he was pretty much finished.
He worked in the restaurant industry for several years, and in 2008, his older brother persuaded him to move from the small city of New Castle, Delaware to New York City.
He arrived, symbolically, on Independence Day.
After living in Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens, Christopher, who was working in restaurants, moved to Astoria in 2011 with his brother and his brother’s dog, Kintaro.
“In the middle of the night when I was asleep, Kintaro started barking at me and jumping on me,” Christopher says. “There was a fire in the apartment – a cigarette burning in the trash can in the bathroom – I forced myself to crawl out. I would have died of smoke inhalation.”
It was, he says, “like a rebirth, a second chance.”
Kintaro’s and Christopher’s fates became more entwined when Christopher had a cyst removed from his tailbone a couple of years later.
“I had to hire some dog walkers because I couldn’t walk or walk him after the surgery, and I got really interested in it,” he says. “I started doing it part time.”
By 2015, Christopher had gone to the dogs, so to speak, and in 2021 he opened Pet’s Best Friend NYC.
“I like to think that I’m saving the world one leash at a time,” he says, adding that “I’ve turned dogs around; it’s so fulfilling.”
Christopher, who is 39, walks about 10 dogs a day, sometimes as many as six to eight at a time.
How far does he walk? He takes out his phone to check the mileage: 12.6, 13, 16.
Let’s just say he averages about 13 miles a day, and he loves every step of the way so much that he bounces out of bed every morning, leash in hand.
“I’m really motivated,” he says. “It’s a strength in me. This is what the universe wants me to do; it’s a great joy to know that.”
Christopher sees his role as strengthening the human-canine bond.
“I train humans more than dogs; humans need more training,” he says. “Dogs get rehabilitation — I have found I have an innate ability to communicate with them.”
Kitana, taking a break from watching the packs run in the park’s meadow, gives him an adoring look, which, she knows, will elicit another treat.
At some point soon, Christopher, who is writing a book about his life as a dog walker and trainer in the big city, plans to take dog training to the next level by opening a center in Astoria and replicating the concept across the country.
“I want to enrich dogs’ lives and enrich their relationship with humans,” he says. “There’s nothing more important than saving dogs.”
Kitana cocks her head in agreement as Christopher starts packing up his gear.
“It’s not how much money you make,” he says. “It’s how much difference you make.”
He walks back toward his bicycle, Kitana at his side ready for the ride.
Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling