Originally created 10/14/02

Series 'Dog Days' takes on pets in the city

NEW YORK -- Reality television has finally gone to the dogs.

Certainly it was already headed down this path; some of the most memorable moments from the current spate of celebrity shows have come from the stars' canine companions.

MTV made Ozzy Osbourne's Pomeranian and bulldog as famous as the rock star's children, and the image of Anna Nicole Smith's poodle trying to procreate with a stuffed bear seems to play every hour on E! (Those of you who are truly up on arcane reality TV trivia will recall the introduction of Chiquita the pug in the first season of CBS' "Big Brother.")

Now, scampering onto cable's Animal Planet: "Dog Days," about New York City dogs - and their owners, too.

The eight-week series, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m., combines an opening sequence reminiscent of "The Real World" with the contrivances of "Survivor" and the cutesy screen graphics of "Blind Date."

It also feels a lot like "Single in the City" on WE: Women's Entertainment, a reality takeoff on HBO's fictional "Sex and the City" that follows New York singles looking for love.

But, doggone it, the dogs are cute. And cute dogs make for good TV.

"This is the ultimate reality show because it's about the ultimate reality subject," Animal Planet executive Michael Cascio said recently at a party to promote the program. "With dogs, you can't fake it."

Well, maybe you can.

Karyn Wynn, a 24-year-old writer, said she probably wouldn't have taken her bulldog, Cyrus, to a spa for a pedicure if the TV cameras hadn't been rolling. In the first episode, cast members also attend a birthday party for Paquita the pit bull, and spend time with an "animal communicator" who teaches them to read their dogs' thoughts telepathically.

Throughout these adventures, Cyrus comes off as the brawler of the bunch, but Wynn said he has a softer side that she hopes viewers see.

"When we're watching TV late at night he likes to snuggle up with you and lick your hand," she said, as her bulldog tugged insistently at the leash every time he saw food.

The show's stars range from a Jack Russell terrier puppy named Cherry to a Great Dane named Atticus. But no matter the breed, their owners agree that New York is a unique place to have a dog.

Because most people don't have back yards, you have to walk your dogs everywhere or take them to dog parks. And if nature calls at 4 a.m., you can't just open the back door and let them out. You have to get dressed, go downstairs and take them on the leash - which can be sheer misery in the winter.

"It's a 24-hour commitment to have a dog in New York," said Lori Culwell, who adopted a mixed-breed named Max from a Harlem shelter with her husband, Stephan Cox. "We all have one back yard. We all have to get along."

Despite the extra work, owning a dog in New York is a must, said aspiring singer Nikki Cascone. She has two sleek Italian greyhounds named Guiseppe and Sophia.

"There's a lot to do - it's very European in that sense. You can take them a lot of places," Cascone said. "I enjoy the city so much more because of my dogs."

From the plethora of puppy pampering possibilities, it seems the dogs enjoy the city just as much. Tatiana Kalatschova, a Zsa Zsa Gabor-esque former model, runs a doggie bed and breakfast in her Park Avenue apartment. (She has a poodle, Mishka, and a Shih Tzu, Sasha.)

Hairstylist Eriq Gregg designs couture clothing for his dog, Ethel Mertz, whom he described as a "Maltepoo" - half Maltese, half poodle. At the "Dog Days" party, Ethel snuggled on his shoulder, dressed in a sequined and beaded coat in lavender, aqua and ivory, with black velvet lining.

When asked whether his dog is spoiled, Gregg tossed his head back, laughed and said, "She redefines the word. She's a princess."

So why disrupt her lush life by thrusting her in front of the TV cameras?

"Why not?" Gregg said. "There's a little bit of a ham in both of us."

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