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Saturday, 2 May 2020

City dogs get country vacations with Pennsylvania pet-sitting couple as their Manhattan owners are stranded by coronavirus

Winnie (left) and Bruiser play together at their Pennsylvania vacation spot.
Winnie (left) and Bruiser play together at their Pennsylvania vacation spot.

It’s a dog’s life, indeed.
A pair of Upper East Side pooches, left at a Pennsylvania pet-sitting business in mid-March when their owners departed for spring break vacations, are still enjoying their country getaway in a vintage 1825 stone farmhouse with plenty of room to roam outside. Complications from the coronavirus crisis are keeping their owners at bay — not that their pets are barking mad about things.
“Their dogs are having the vacations their owners didn’t enjoy,” joked Skip Isley, who runs the Northward Hound operation with wife Jennifer Bowen. “The dogs are having a blast.”
A typical doggie day includes amenities to rival the Ritz-Carlton: Waking up in the owners’ cozy bedroom. There’s a mid-morning nap. Plenty of outdoor playtime. A chance to laze around a fire pit before bedtime. And three homemade meals a day.
“Nobody’s eating any Alpo,” said Isley, 57.
The canine city slickers still enjoying the Bucks County sabbatical are Winnie, a Maltese mix, and a hound-beagle who answers to Bruiser. A grey and white doodle named Oliver was with them for a month before his owners were able to bring him home two weeks ago.
Bruiser, a Maltese mix, and a hound-beagle is living it up in Pennsylvania with dog sitters while his family is stranded in Kentucky.
Bruiser, a Maltese mix, and a hound-beagle is living it up in Pennsylvania with dog sitters while his family is stranded in Kentucky.
All arrived March 13 when their families headed off on vacation. And then the COVID-19 crisis exploded.
The dogs’ owners were suddenly scrambling to get home and claim their stranded pets. But Winnie’s family remains stuck in Florida and may not return until later this month, while Bruiser’s family wound up marooned in Kentucky after flying back from the Caribbean.
Christine, the owner of 4-year-old Winnie, is quarantined with her husband, kids and her mother in the Sunshine State until the future becomes a little clearer. While there’s plenty to worry about these days, she’s comforted to know her beloved Winnie is in a safe place.
It takes away any worry or concern we might otherwise have,” she said. “Winnie is in great hands and having fun. We have two girls, 10 and 13, and they miss Winnie very much. We all do — save for the early morning walks.”
Winnie, a Maltese mix is enjoying a Pennsylvania retreat while her owners are quarantined in Florida.
Winnie, a Maltese mix is enjoying a Pennsylvania retreat while her owners are quarantined in Florida.
The Pennsylvania couple remains in daily contact with the dog owners, often sharing photos or a story about their pets. The dogs were even dressed in their Easter best for an April egg hunt, wearing ties and ascots for the backyard celebration. Winnie received a homemade bonnet fashioned from an inverted plastic flower pot.
“One woman told us, ‘I’m not sure my dog’s going to want to come back,'” said Bowen, who still does some work as an Upper East Side dog-walker. “We’re here for the families. Whatever they want us to do, we do. We want them to know their dogs are happy and healthy, for as long as they need it.”
The Isleys relocated to their Keystone State home 3½ years ago and launched their business with some of Jennifer’s Manhattan clients. Word of mouth spread among dog owners, and they were scheduled to host 10 pets this March before half the families canceled over fears of the uncertain future.
Now Skip and Jennifer are into month three with the visiting dogs who feel like part of the clan.
“This is weird for everybody on the planet, not just for us,” acknowledged Skip Isley. “Weird. But we love our great little COVID family.”

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