Dog walkers navigating the east side of Central Park often encounter other pooch-toting people taking advantage of off-leash hours. Mixed in with barks and growls are conversations about dog breeds and commands spoken in Brazilian Portuguese — “senta!” (sit) and “fica!” (stay).
Over the past decade, an increasing number of Brazilian immigrants have joined the city’s dog walking business on the Upper East Side. Dog walkers, owners and pet-service operators in the neighborhood estimate that up to 50 Brazilians walk dogs around the area.
“I don’t know many Brazilians, but the Brazilians I know all walk dogs,” said Carol Franca, 32, a dog walker and boarder who lives on East 91st Street and works in the area.
Franca moved from Brazil six years ago and has been walking dogs ever since.
“I always wanted zillions of dogs when I was little but my mom wouldn’t let me have any,” she said while navigating a pack of five dogs up Second Avenue with Julio Lima, another Brazilian dog walker.
Franca, who is studying to become a veterinarian technician at LaGuardia Community College, began working at a dog walking company before branching off on her own three years ago.
She didn’t notice many Brazilians in the industry when she walked dogs downtown, but noticed more when she began working on the Upper East Side, particularly during the 2006 World Cup.
“The dog walkers were wearing Brazilian jerseys,” she said.
Many Brazilian newcomers in the city work in service-oriented jobs, said Maxine Margolis, a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida at Gainesville who wrote two books about Brazilian immigrants in New York City. Margolis isn’t surprised that the industry has become a source of employment: “In a way, it’s an extension of domestic service,” she said.
While the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 14,000 Brazilians live in New York City, others put the number higher. The Consulate General of Brazil estimates the population to be between 36,000 and 60,000 and Cidadão Global, an organization that works with Brazilian immigrants, puts the figure above 100,000.
There certainly are plenty of dogs to walk. While there is no official count of the number of dogs on the Upper East Side, there are 1.5 million dogs in New York City, estimated the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Murillo Berreza, who runs Dog Walking Service NYC on the Upper East Side, first worked as a waiter when he moved from Brazil in the 1990s.
“I saw people walking dogs and I asked them how I could get into it,” said Berreza, 28, who often can be seen with a multi-colored fistful of leashes and a janitor-sized set of client keys dangling from a belt loop.
“After September 11, the economy was bad and the restaurant and construction jobs were not available,” Berreza said. He noticed more Brazilians walking dogs — particularly those who, like he and Franca, worked solo after developing client relationships.
“You get experience. You get in with the dog owner,” said Berreza, who originally earned $40 for four hours of walking as an employee and now charges $25 per dog, per hour.
Catherine Scorrano has used Berreza’s service for more than three years, since her dog Maggie, an American Pointer-Husky mix, was a puppy.
“They are very nice, personable people. We’re very comfortable with them,” she said.
Berreza and his staff walk Maggie about five days a week and have developed a bond with her, said Scorrano. “She sees Murillo on the street and goes running over to him.”
It’s not just local dogs that are recognizing Brazilian dog walkers on the Upper East Side.
Alex Colon, a veterinary technician who’s worked at The Animal Clinic of New York on First Avenue for the last three years, said she often meets Brazilian dog walkers when they pick up their clients’ dogs.
“They’re all Brazilian,” she said. “When I walk around the neighborhood I hear them and they are talking to each other in Portuguese.”
Paulo Rocha, who runs the dog grooming and walking business New York Tails, said the city’s Brazilian community – which is concentrated in Astoria, Queens and East Harlem – serves as an internal employment resource.
“All of these people that you see walking, they are friends of each other,” said Rocha, 45, who opened his business on East 80th Street in 2002, a few years after moving from Brazil.
The ability to speak clear English may not be too much of a hindrance, since dog walkers like Berreza train their clients’ dogs to follow basic commands in Portuguese.
“Yes, they do understand,” he said, pointing out another benefit of working in a trade in which language isn’t important: “The dog never talks back.”
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