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BY HEATHER DUBIN | A lion hunter is not your typical office dog. But Tiga, a five-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, is the exception.
His owner, Tom Contegiacomo, architect and founder of Contegiacomo and Associates, brings Tiga to work at The Villager’s shared office space, at 515 Canal St., in Hudson Square, a few times a week. Their unorthodox commute — Contegiacomo rides a skateboard while Tiga runs harnessed alongside — causes double takes in rush-hour traffic.
With Tiga in tow, Contegiacomo stopped by last week for an in-office interview. Over his wife’s objection, Tiga was named for Tiger Woods, and to the delight of their children (ages 5, 8 and 11), Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh. The catchy, short blend, “Tiga,” was met with resistance, but eventually it stuck.
Contegiacomo, who occasionally practices his putting in the office, admits he is “a little bit of a golf fan.” He qualified his position on Woods: while he thinks he is a not a particularly good person, he does think he is an amazing golfer, and a worthy namesake.
Contegiacomo initially adamantly opposed having a dog in their Financial District apartment. But after Gianna, his oldest daughter, who rides horses in Riverdale, said she wanted one, the seed was planted. Contegiacomo began an extensive five-year research process during which he deliberated breeds and flip-flopped on the idea entirely.
A toy breed was out because his younger children, Laena and Achille, might drop it or play too roughly with it. Additionally, Contegiacomo, who is the primary dog walker, wanted a pet to fit their lifestyle.
“I told my wife, if we’re going to get a dog, I’m not walking a toy dog,” he said.
Contegiacomo spotted a Rhodesian Ridgeback in the neighborhood and befriended its owner to get the scoop. According to Contegiacomo, the breed is a mix of Great Dane, mastiff, Redbone Coonhound and Hottentot hunting dog, a local South African breed. Ridgebacks were bred to hunt lions in South Africa, and the distinctive ridge of fur down their backs comes from the Hottentot dog.
Contegiacomo was concerned about the breed’s full-grown size of 95 pounds, but found they are great apartment dogs. While Ridgebacks require daily exercise, they are very mellow otherwise and rarely bark.
“If they do bark, it’s for something I should pay attention to,” he noted.
They have a ferocious lineage, yet Contegiacomo claims the breed is extremely timid and gentle.
“You’re supposed to train them with positive reinforcement,” he said. “If you are mean to them when you train them, they get their feelings hurt.”
Contegiacomo has a stack of dog books by his bed, and admits to reading more of them than he has on raising kids. Fortunately, his newfound knowledge of dogs has informed his childrearing techniques.
“Positive reinforcement for the dog — I’m doing this with my children now,” he said with a laugh.
Tiga likes to be part of the family wherever they go. If left alone at home, he never chews anything up. Contegiacomo explained the trick is to bring Tiga everywhere and give him lots of exercise, so he is exhausted by the end of the day. In addition to skateboard jaunts, Tiga spends time off-leash wrestling with other large dogs and runs in Battery Park.
Tiga enjoys dinner at outdoor restaurants with the family and vacations.
“They need to feel like they’re part of the family,” Contegiacomo said. “The kids love him to death.”
They also ride him like a horse. The girls are great with him, but Achille, his son, pulls on his ears and tail too much.
And it’s not just his kids that adore him. When Contegiacomo walks Tiga people roll down car windows and yell, “I love your dog!” Recently, a cop he did not know approached him with a photo of Tiga and one of Contegiacomo’s daughters on his phone. Yes, Tiga has achieved rock star status.
Contegiacomo’s co-workers also love Tiga. The only drawback is having to tell people who sit nearby that the occasional “fragrant” smell wafting from their area is from Tiga, not any of them. But Tiga mostly just sleeps or is quiet.
“I love having him in the office,” Contegiacomo said. “It’s great to have some grounding reality during the workday.”