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New York, New York

Walking Nicole Kidman

Meeting celebrities is easy—you just need a lure. An Upper East Sider and her retired racing greyhound pad around, spotting stars wherever they go.

Other New Yorkers may go to Nobu or Koi to see movie stars and famous people. But not me. I just take my dog, Benton, a retired racing greyhound, for a walk. At 80 pounds, with long legs and red brindle fur, he’s quite regal looking. Walking with him is like walking with Nicole Kidman, if Nicole Kidman were an eight-year-old male dog.

At the end of my block, on 74th and Lexington, we ran into Christine Baranski one summer night. She was all dressed up in high heels and a skirt. I was wearing Levis, a sweatshirt, and sneakers with orthotics. She gushed over Benton. “He’s so beautiful,” she said. (You’re no dog yourself, I thought.) “He’s a greyhound?” she asked. I stopped so she could pet him. Benton is very friendly, so we chatted while she petted him. She looked so much prettier and softer, more feminine, in person.

“You used to live in my building,” I told her. Great legs and nice teeth, I thought, remembering her singing and dancing with Robin Williams in The Birdcage. Sometimes we’d ride up in the elevator together, but I never spoke to her—it seemed an invasion of her privacy. But on the street it’s different. She told me her daughter lives in that apartment now and she lives just one block over. We talked about having grown-up daughters and what it’s like getting older ourselves, although I’m getting older faster than she is.

“If I found myself with a lot of women under the 59th Street Bridge like that, I’d organize them.”

I named Benton after the film director Robert Benton, who lives around the corner and one block up on Lexington. I thought Benton was a classy name and suited my classy, aristocratic-looking new dog. Late one summer evening while walking his namesake I ran into the director, and he and I talked about getting older and not remembering little things anymore. But he expressed a much more sanguine view of it: “If I can’t remember it, I think it must not be that important.”

One night I met Gloria Steinem and her dog at the deli around the corner. He was also a rescue, but a mixed breed, and much smaller than Benton. We agreed that adopting shelter dogs was the only way to get a pet. I confessed my fear of being homeless, myself, and ending up one of those women living under the 59th Street Bridge and eating cat food. “You probably don’t worry about that,” I said.

“If I found myself with a lot of women under the 59th Street Bridge like that,” she answered, “I’d organize them.”

Benton. Credit: Jane Warshaw.

Some days I take Benton to Central Park where he can smell and lick the leaves and nuzzle up to other dogs. Everybody loves him. And anyone who knows about racing greyhounds loves him even more.

The Humane Society estimates that somewhere between 7,500 and 20,000 greyhounds are killed every year because they can’t run fast enough anymore—or couldn’t run fast enough to begin with. Rescue groups across the country try to get greyhounds from the tracks and find them new homes. Benton came from Grateful Greyhounds, a group on Long Island. Benton isn’t just lucky to have a home; he’s lucky to be alive, period.

Maybe someday somebody will stop us and ask, “Isn’t that Capu, the famous racing greyhound from Florida?” I’d tell them, “His name used to be Capu but I gave him a new name for his new life.” And the person would say, “I bet a lot of money on that dog and I won.” Then I wouldn’t even have to leave home to meet someone famous, because I’d have one curled up on my bed every night.

Benton, in tartan. Credit: Jane Warshaw.

Jane Warshaw is a freelance writer and former advertising copywriter whose work has appeared in Time Out New York, the New York Press, Our Town, West Side Spirit, the Huffington Post, and in the newsletter of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. She writes the monthly pets column for Manhattan Media. More by Jane Warshaw