Carmen González, who is very possibly New York’s ulti-mutt dog photographer, ruffs—oops, riffs—on her career and shares some of her fetch-ing models
By Ruth J. Katz
Sept. 12, 2022
“If I see, read, or hear a sad story of a dog, I don‘t sleep for days. I become haunted by it.” So says the New York pet photographer Carmen González. Hers is “the best job in the world. My work routine brings me all over the city, and I get to take breaks and stretch out. More often than not, my subjects end up resting on me!”
González had a previous career—as a notable chef at the Quilted Giraffe, appearing, as well, in in the Number One TV series in Latin America, La Chispa, the Chef Carmen. But animals have always figured strongly in her life, and in between work projects, for pure, personal enjoyment she found herself “chasing people around, asking if I could photograph their dogs, always looking for subjects to shoot.” Slowly, she built up her new career through word of mouth and by hanging around in the parks and streets of Manhattan.
Now known by her moniker NYC Pet Pawtographer, González shoots outdoors only, which explains why she doesn’t photograph cats, “I adore the outdoor light,” she says, “and moreover I love to see the animals at play, romping around and enjoying the fresh air.”
In 2021 she met a pair of rescues—Rocco and Polo—whom she refers to as “the odd couple” and fell in love with them. They inspired her to think of a way to fund-raise for many more satos (Puerto Rican slang for street dogs). She hit on the idea of creating a doggie calendar—a “pawlendar”—and that’s how her first celebration of strays was born. All proceeds—a gratifying $15,000—went to the shelters responsible for saving the lives of the models. At present, González is shooting the 2023 pawlendar.
What’s more, she helps place strays and is eager to assist at the shelters, and to place “street walkers” in loving, forever homes. As González puts it, “there is no doubt that placing a needy dog with a nurturing human benefits both: Love flows both ways through the leash.”
Studies show the benefits of pet ownership—of dogs perhaps more than cats. A dog guardian invariably socializes, what with several trips outdoors a day for a walk.
Marwan Sabbagh, M.D., a neurologist who is the director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, notes that “simply petting an animal can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and boost release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate and, possibly, in elevated mood.” (He’s talking about benefits to humans here, but chances are good they apply to pets too.)
Additionally, being responsible for a pet keeps the guardian grounded, committed to caring for another being. It can also obviate a sense of isolation and depression that often accompanies aging.
In “The Healing Power of Pets for Seniors,” an article on the AgingCare.com website, Linda Anderson, a founder of the Angel Animals Network in Minneapolis, notes that “older pet owners have often told us how incredibly barren and lonely their lives were without their pets’ companionship, even when there were some downsides to owning an active pet.”
Moreover, having a routine punctuated by the commitment to care for a dog or cat (or even a hamster) gives a pet “parent” a sense of purpose, a routine of daily chores, and direction.
Back to González: An outdoor session with her, her camera, and your dog costs $200, resulting in five high-rez images. Interested? She’s reachable at nycpetpawtographer.com.
And here is a cavalcade of González’s ulti-mutt subjects:
MAX: We start with Max, a loveable, super-sweet, feisty three-year-old Shih Tzu. He happens to be a member of the González family, owned by Carmen‘s brother. She calls him her nephew. “He spends his day next to my brother in his office,” she says, “and we are sure that he thinks he’s a fierce guard dog, all 12 pounds of him.”
FRANKIE: Now comes a heartbreaking story. Frankie’s original family brought him to the vet, requesting euthanasia—all because of a skin condition—dermatitis, resulting in severe allergies. The vet convinced the family to surrender Frankie to him, and he soon became a beloved adoptee. His new mom got him little booties, to protect his paws in the street or on the grass. “When I get his shoes out, he goes crazy, spinning in circles, knowing a walk is just a few minutes away,” she reported.
WILLOW, COOKIE, AND ALLIE: These three “have such distinct personalities,” Carmen says. Cookie and Allie are both 11-ish. Willow, the senior at 14 years, is “the matriarch.” Willow and Allie were both adopted from the same rescue organization, and Cookie came from her previous home directly to her new family, which has had dachshunds for many years. When this family lost their dogs, they became very active in fostering needy dogs. All three dogs have their own specific routines: Willow likes to burrow under a blanket; Cookie prefers perching on the back of the couch; and Allie favors curling up in her soft, cushy bed. But … when a refrigerator or kitchen cabinet door is opened, all race to “the commissary,” assembling like little soldiers on the bread line!
GARBANZO: And now for a Middle Easterner. Garbanzo hails from an urban area in Iran, and likely had a loving family once. But he somehow got lost and apparently was hit by a car, which left him unable to use his hind legs. A kind woman brought him to a shelter she knew had countless hard luck cases under its roof and would not turn him away, despite his disability. He was taken excellent care of and flourished there. Then an opportunity arrived for him to be flown out of Iran to find a welcoming new family—and he landed here in the States. It was at the nonprofit Animal Haven shelter in downtown Manhattan that he was “found” by a dedicated couple who were walking by and just “felt an urge” to venture inside! Now Garbanzo spends his days rolling around New York in his custom wheelchair.
NORMII: A one-year-old Bichon-Frise, Little Normii is a mere ten pounds. Her name means “sticky rice” in Chinese—very suitable, as this Normii is a little “sticky” herself, especially when it comes to staying close to her family. She is already bilingual, clearly understanding both English and Cantonese. Recently, she completed her first hike of just over three miles, in Acadia, Maine. Her family is very proud of her accomplishment and looks forward to taking her on a more extensive camping trip. As González put it, “Normii was so calm while I was shooting her—it’s as if she knew that she had to sit, pose, and just look pretty.”
LOUIE: A mini golden retriever, Louie is a year-and-a-half old, and unlike his larger cousins weighs a scant 34 pounds. “He is super—chill, very obedient, and friendly,” says Carmen. He loves people of all ages and revels in meeting other pups. Going to the dog park is a favorite activity. He is known to gently put a paw on a human’s knee, asking politely for a pat and a snuggle. He also enjoys long car rides, beach walks, and—true to his genes—just lives for retrieving tennis balls. “I always try to spend some quality time with my ‘models,’ so I know what makes them happiest,” says Carmen. “With Louie, it was clear that a static portrait would not do. He needed to be chasing or carrying a ball, to show him off at his most joyful.”
BUDDY: And here’s a Midwesterner. Buddy comes from Indiana. When his elderly owner died, he and a canine pal found themselves in a shelter. This sweet five-year-old Shih Tzu had the good fortune to land a seat on a transport to Eve‘s Sanctuary, another nonprofit rescue organization in Manhattan, where the shelter staff were certain he’d have a good chance of getting adopted quickly…and that is precisely what happened. Buddy’s foster mom just knew, after caring for him for a week, that she had to adopt him. She told Carmen that she had simply fallen in love with this 14-pounder. He adores leaves, of all things. “Whenever we are out walking and he spies a pile of leaves,” his new mom told Carmen, “he gets super-excited, and then kicks up his hind legs and makes little sneezing sounds! That is when I know he’s at his happiest!” Carmen dubbed him the Leafblower.
JERRY: A long-haired dachshund and a voracious eater, Jerry will devour plenty of not-necessarily edibles. The once included a sock! (Yes, he needed surgery, of course.) He was supposedly a miniature, whose weight would top out at 12 pounds or so, but he has defied the scale and weighs 20 pounds—a hefty size for a supposed mini. He has been with his family since he was 12 weeks old, and is now five, with a new brother. The two share toys and cuddle together to nap. “He is a true dachshund,” says Carmen, “full of personality but very obedient and willing to pose for me, so long as there were treats around as a reward for such good behavior.”
ROCCO AND POLO: These two are satos—which usually means they’re mixed breeds, often with a terrier in the genealogy. So widely is the term used that there is a Puerto Rican rescue group known as the Sato Project.
Polo is a one-year-old who was rescued in Jayuya, a town in central Puerto Rico. He is full of energy, constantly happy. He gets along well with all other dogs and is always eager to play with any newcomer to his circle. Rocco is quite the opposite—not very interested in playing. Seven years older than Polo, he comes from a very varied gene pool—Chihuahua, miniature poodle, spinone Italiano, Jack Russell terrier—and, round of app-plaws—chow chow!
KONA: True to her nature, Kona is obsessed with retrieving. She’s got Australian cattle dog and German shepherd in her bloodlines. A 40-pound bundle of energy and sass, she can play fetch for hours and never tire. Yet when it came to modeling for Carmen, she was the ideal subject: She saw the camera, sat down like an obedient student, and behaved properly for the entire shoot. “It was probably the fastest photo shoot I ever did,” says Carmen. As much as she loves playing fetch, well, that is how much she hates baths. But get out the towel to dry her off, and she’s in heaven—she loves those body rubs!
BAILEY: “This dog can play with her Frisbee for hours on end! When we were in the middle of our photo shoot and her dad stopped throwing the Frisbee, she came to me, pleading with me to start tossing it,” says Carmen. “She’ll even go up to strangers with her Frisbee, hoping they’ll get the message.” Otherwise a little shy with humans, this adorable and sweet three-year-old is a mix of Labrador retriever and Australian cattle dog. Her family says she is wickedly smart. She is popular in her Astoria, Queens neighborhood, where she’s known as the dog who carries her own little shopping bag (containing her favorite treat, duck hearts), home from the doggie “coffee shop.”
BEHIND THE SCENES: “Some models need a break from photographic duties!” Says Carmen, “I have the best job in the world! My daily work routine takes me all over the city and I take breaks, as needed, and stretch out. And more often than not, they end up resting on me!” . . . . . . . . . . . .
The author of five books, Ruth J. Katz is a consumer reporter and luxury lifestyles/travel writer and editor. She has been a contributing editor to several Hearst magazines and has been a regular columnist for over 20 years to many publications, including The Modern Estate, Golf Connoisseur, and New York Spaces. She was the style/travel editor of Promenade magazine for eight years and has contributed extensively to both The New York Times and New York magazine. Additionally, she was an on-air consumer reporter at FOX-TV and had her own shows on the USA and Lifetime networks. She is currently a contributing editor to Bold magazine, an upmarket travel publication, and is the features editor at New York Lifestyles magazine. She has visited 90 countries…and counting.