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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | You can frequently find Massimo and Francesco at the Leroy St. Dog Run in the Hudson River Park.
Massimo, 10, a golden retriever, will likely be proudly showing off his tennis ball, while Francesco, 6, a black lab-border collie mix, will be stealing other dogs’ tennis balls, doing a bit of instinctual herding and generally taking charge of the situation.
They live at the nearby West Village Houses with their buddy, Stephen DiMenna, the chairperson of the year-old Leroy Dog Run Association.
Both are rescue dogs.
“Massimo, I got from this lady who was standing on the corner of Christopher St. and Seventh Ave. by the newsstand,” recalled DiMenna, an Off Broadway director and N.Y.U. teacher. “She rescues dogs up in Binghamton. She said, ‘I know the West Village is a big dog area. I used to live here.’
“She had him in a baby’s yellow terrycloth bunny suit to keep him warm. He had a hood on him, with bunny ears. He was 10 weeks old. It was a cold December day. He licked my face, it was love at first sight.”
DiMenna never saw the mysterious woman again, but others have told him they’ve occasionally seen “The Dog Lady” standing on the corner with a box of puppies.
Four years later, DiMenna decided Massimo needed some company. He was pedaling up the Hudson River Park bike path one day when he spotted the North Shore Animal League’s mobile unit parked outside the West Village Animal Clinic on W. 21st. There were two black puppies inside the vehicle.
“I said, ‘I’ll take the quiet one,’ ” DiMenna recalled, “and he turned out to be the barker — an alpha.”
Massimo and Francesco get along well, perhaps partly because they both understand Italian, such as, “buono canne” (good dog), “sede” (sit), “mano” (shake) and “vieni” (come).
“They respond to commands in Italian and English,” DiMenna said. “They are Italian dogs.”
They also both like to smile.
“Whoever said dogs don’t smile doesn’t own a dog!” DiMenna added.
They smile especially when they get their favorite treat — marrowbones filled with frozen peanut butter, a special delicacy DiMenna whips up for them.
To make sure Massimo, Francesco and their friends can keep up their fancy footwork, the one-year-old dog run association two months ago started raising funds to resurface the run, and already has raised $3,500.
For the run’s long-run future, however, the association hopes at least to triple the size of the currently 2,400-square-foot space.
They envision a special area for small dogs and a dedicated ball-fetch corridor — which will help avoid collisions with other dogs — plus several in-ground cooling pools for the summer.
“Thirty-nine percent of New Yorkers have dogs,” DiMenna noted. “Hugh Jackman comes to the run when he’s in town. Julianne Moore and Edie Falco bring their dogs here. … As development continues and more high-rises go up, we’ll need even more space for dogs.”
The association is also hoping that one-third of a new park space planned over the water shaft at Clarkson and Hudson Sts. will be set aside for a new dog run.
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