BY HEATHER DUBIN | When Nyx plays catch in the Tompkins Square Park dog run, people walking by stop to watch in awe. It’s quite a spectacle when the almost 3-year-old Belgian Malinois leaps about 3 feet into the air with seemingly little effort and lots of agility to field balls from Tripp Zanetis, her owner, of Stuyvesant Town, over and over again.
The heat from this past weekend was no deterrent for Nyx, who took off after each successful catch connection with Zanetis to the dog plunge pool, and completely immersed herself.
“She always liked baths,” said Zanetis. “The ocean is her favorite thing. She’ll dive under the waves to get the Frisbee — she has no fear.” Whether it was for fun or the cool-down factor, Nyx returned post-dunk for more ball action, and kept the game going for an hour. Catch. Dunk. Catch. Dunk. …
“She needs a lot of exercise — an hour a day in the park, and three to four walks a day,” said Zanetis. He and his roommate, who both have flexible schedules, take Nyx out regularly. “We’re pretty good about that, she gets a lot of attention,” he added.
Zanetis, a fire marshal for the Fire Department of New York, and a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot for the New York Air National Guard, got Nyx at 3 months in September 2010, from a Kentucky breeder. She’s from a line of dogs that do Schutzhund — a German sport used to train dogs for police work or search and rescue.
Nyx did some search and cadaver work when she was a puppy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“They imprint the dog with the smell of a cadaver early on,” Zanetis said. At some point, Zanetis would like Nyx to be a search dog.
Photo by Claire Flack
A wet Nyx goes airborne for yet another catch in the Tompkins run.
For now, her athleticism will be relegated to the park. Strangers take photos of Nyx when she’s in action, and have even asked Zanetis to train their dogs, but she actually was the one who got things rolling.
“At around 4 months old when she was a puppy, she’d bring the ball to me,” he recalled. “I’d throw it in the apartment to her, and she’d bring the ball back and put it in my lap.”
Nyx is “super-good in the house,” and doesn’t live up to the breed’s “Malligator” nickname. Zanetis credits dog trainer Cesar Milan, a.k.a. “The Dog Whisperer,” for teaching him to yell at an object instead of at Nyx for bad behavior. Dogs are then able to associate an owner’s upset with an object. The first time she chewed up a shoe of his, “I yelled at the shoe,” Zanetis explained. “ ‘Bad, bad shoe.’ She’s never done it since.”
When Zanetis is deployed, Nyx heads to Indiana to stay at his parent’s farm.
“The first time she saw a horse, she was freaked out,” he said. “I was on it, and she was heeling, but then she jumped up on my lap.” Her preferred residence would be the beach, or a farm with a really good lake.
“It’s almost a crime having a dog in the city,” reflected Zanetis. He was going to wait until he was in a relationship to have a dog, “but then I thought I’d wait until I’m 60, so I got her.”
A Belgian Malinois is very invested in its owner and very emotionally attached.
“Wherever I am, she’s within 5 feet,” he said.
Zanetis has worked as a firefighter at Ladder 11 in the East Village for nine years, and was inspired to join the F.D.N.Y. after he was at Ground Zero, the night of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was in Albuquerque when Osama bin Laden was killed,” he said. “I broke down that night, and Nyx pushed her weight into me, and put her head in my lap until I stopped crying. You can’t replicate that.”