Mahopac grad lives in urban jungle
Growing up in Mahopac, Rachel Bowers’ house was filled with animals. When Bowers graduated Mahopac High School in 2003 and headed off to New York City for college, she missed her daily interactions with animals.
“When I was in the city, it made me sad,” she said, regarding her lack of interactions with animals. “I was always playing with other people’s dogs.”
Her childhood pets ranged from the traditional to the exotic to what some might not associate with the word “pet.” There was the family dog that went to work with her mother every day and couldn’t be separated from the family. Then there was the pet rabbit, which had free range of the home and liked to curl up with Bowers for a bedtime story. There also was a pet rat, which enjoyed pushing the computer mouse around and watching the cursor move on the screen. And, of course, a favorite of young children, she had hermit crabs.
Maybe enticed to find safe harbor in such a menagerie, one day an animal not known to be native to Putnam County paid a visit.
“A parrot flew into the house,” Bowers remembered. “The parrot stayed.”
After earning an art degree at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for computer graphics and 3-D animation, Bowers picked up some freelance design gigs and took up walking dogs – both to earn some extra cash and get some puppy-time in.
This February [Feb 2010], Bowers decided it was time to hang her own shingle and started Brooklyn Bark, a dog-walking and training service. Several clients from her former job followed, and in less than a year, her business has quadrupled.
“I’m really busy. It’s great. I love it,” she said.
Unlike the cliché image of the Manhattan dog walker wrangling 30 dogs and 30 leashes while stumbling down the sidewalk, Bowers said she prefers to work with dogs solo or in pairs. She not only walks the dogs, but works on their training and etiquette while out for a stroll.
“I get to know each dog because I don’t do pack walking,” she said.
Just as when she was a young girl, Bowers’ participation with animals isn’t limited to just dogs.
More than two years ago, Bowers spotted an online plea. A construction worker had rescued a baby starling. The bird had imprinted on humans, meaning it couldn’t be rehabilitated for release back into nature and the man’s landlord wanted the bird out.
Bowers said she had some experience rescuing starling chicks and contacted the construction worker.
Loafer, the now-adult starling (a bird that very much resembles a crow), moved in to Bowers’ Brooklyn apartment and can be found perched on the 25-year-old’s shoulder while she is at the computer.
Soon after Loafer arrived, Bowers adopted the corgi Radar from a rescue shelter, and bird and dog became fast friends.
“Radar will stretch out in a sun patch and Loafer will fly over and sit on him,” Bowers said.
Recently, Bowers took in a stray cat, but she is ardently trying to find a new home for the feline.
“Birds and cats don’t mix,” she said.
Bowers also volunteers with the Wild Bird Fund. They ask her to raise separated starling chicks, which are rescued from New York City’s sidewalks, and when they grow big enough, the birds leave Bowers and are prepared to fly back in to the real world.
“Every spring we get a shipment of baby birds coming in and out,” she said. “It’s quite a handful.”
When Bowers departs each day to walk her clients’ dogs, she brings a baby chick in a small backpack wrapped in a towel that she feeds intermittently along the way.
“This is New York, so people don’t notice too much,” she said, although she has received a few strange looks here and there.
And unlike the construction worker, Bowers is lucky to live in an animal-friendly building. She said her neighbors’ children will come over to visit with the bird and make little presents for the starling.
Bowers said she appreciates the opportunity to share what she knows about animals with the young people who live in her neighborhood and said she plans on returning to school one day to get her teaching degree, a goal that reaches back to when she participated in the WISE program at Mahopac High School and worked with an art teacher at Lakeview Elementary School, teaching a classroom full of students.