Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
If you own a dog in New York City, odds are it’s a mutt named Max.
The city’s dog licensing records show that out of almost 100,000 registered dogs, this is the most common breed and name in town. WNYC obtained the complete list from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which runs the dog licensing program.
The first thing you notice is the names. The most popular ones in the city hew pretty close to the most popular names across all English-speaking countries: Max, Bella, Lucky, etc. But this is New York, so there have to be some named Jeter (40 dogs) and Carmelo (7). In a town also known for its fashion, that explains the prevalence of dogs named Chanel (44), and Dolce (39). There are 83 dogs named Gucci. We've come a long way from Rover.
Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychologist and canine enthusiast who’s written about a dozen books on human-dog interaction, said he wasn’t surprised that such pop culture reference names go over big in the city.
“New York is more sensitive to the news and that sort of thing,” Coren said. “I would expect there to be a slightly higher likelihood of the press-related names. I would expect, for example, that Snoopy would appear somewhere in the top list, whereas when I look at all English-speaking countries, it doesn’t.”
Coren is correct: there are hundreds if not thousands of dogs in New York City named after movie stars, cartoon characters, musicians, and more. And Snoopy is ranked No. 33 in the top-50 names for male dogs in New York City.
But the Health Department estimates that only one in five dogs are licensed, so that's hardly the whole story. Four out of five dogs are undocumented.
It’s against the law to own a dog in the city and not get it licensed. The Health Department says licensing helps reunite lost dogs with their owners, and reminds owners to keep up with vaccinations for their best friend. The proceeds from registration fees support the operation of animal shelters in the city. The penalty for getting caught by a police officer or park official with an unlicensed dog is a summons and $200.
An unscientific survey of dog owners in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan's East Village on a Thursday afternoon reveals most of them are oblivious to the rule, the reasons for getting a license, and the penalty for going without one.
“Laziness, mainly laziness,” said one owner of an unlicensed dog, explaining why he hadn’t registered his one-and-a-half-year-old Affenpinscher with the city. The owner asked that he remain nameless for fear of incriminating his dog, to which he gave the alias “Bodean.”
“There’s no conspiratorial reasons of bureaucracy looming over my head. I just do not feel like filling out the forms or mailing them in,” the owner said. “And because he’s so small it’s like, he’s not gonna pose any threat. He’s five pounds. At some point I probably will, it’s just been an oversight.”
The Health Department’s records show that small dogs like “Bodean” have the run of this town. Mixed-breed dogs are the most popular, but Yorkies, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, and Malteses round out the top five.
Nearly 5,000 Yorkies are licensed in the city, and more than 4,700 Shih Tzus. Neighborhood by neighborhood, these are usually the most popular dogs. The East Village doesn't buck the trend; Yorkies are most popular. But English Bull Dogs seem to be more popular in lower Manhattan, and Pit Bulls are all over Bed Stuy.
For more on the most popular names and breeds throughout the city, check out our complete interactive series on New York dogs.