Big Ese is just taking it easy in the East Village


BY HEATHER DUBIN  |  When Ese, a five-year-old Bernese mountain dog walks through the East Village carrying a cheetah-print cloth bag of groceries in his mouth, people tend to move out of his way. Given his distinctive coat and size — he weighs 108 pounds, and takes up about half the sidewalk’s width — it’s understandable.

Jhovana Samano, his owner, who was wearing matching cheetah-print shoes, spoke about Ese recently in Tompkins Square Park. Ese patiently waited for the interview to end and get walking to his desired destination — a vendor at the farmers’ market he visits weekly for treats.

Samano, originally from Mexico, explained Ese (pronounced “eh-say”) is Spanish for “that one,” but currently is used as slang for “dude.” Ese is decidedly mellow, and embodies the latter meaning — especially when it comes to other dogs.

“He likes to say hi to dogs that ignore him,” Samano said. “And when dogs come over to say hi, he ignores them.” Also, if men talk to Samano when she is with Ese, he does not like it. “Maybe it’s an alpha thing,” she noted.

Samano lives in the neighborhood with her boyfriend and her brother in a three-bedroom apartment, and works in area restaurants.

“I could not have Ese without the help of the boys,” she said.

While they initially wanted a little dog, an online search to match personalities with a breed led to a Bernese mountain dog. Samano had seen one years ago, and was taken by how amazing she felt the dog was.

apartment, and works in area restaurants.  Photo by Claire Flack
Ese weighs more than 100 pounds.
Photo by Claire Flack

“When I checked on the computer, I thought, this is it,” she said.

He came from an Oklahoma breeder and is a purebred. But, according to Samano, there is a standard look for the breed, and Ese lacks it. There has to be a perfectly centered white cross shape on his face and neck fur, and his is more to the right.

When Samano saw how cute he was, she had to have him.

“They usually put them down and don’t talk about that stuff,” she said, referring to the dogs without the perfect cross. “It was kind of a rescue situation.”

She had difficulty training him until she took him to obedience school with Garrett Rosso, the owner and training director of Village Dogworks. She thought the six classes once a week for an hour would be manageable. Not quite.

“It was a puppy mess and the hardest thing ever, but so worth it,” she said.

Ese’s come a long way since then, and likes to carry bags for Samano after she leaves a store or take things around the apartment.

“They were bred to haul little wagons with milk for farmers, and can pull one car size in their weight,” she said.

Ese enjoyed the park’s dog run when he was younger, but he’s too fussy now. Samano admitted that dogs take after their owners, and while the three of them are social, she said, “We do our own thing.”

Ese occasionally still misbehaves, and will grab a toilet paper roll from a table with his mouth. After he “kills it,” Ese will pretend he is not there and look away. If he thinks his owners are angry with him, he will put his paw on them.

Throughout the interview, Ese was munching on leaves. He also likes to eat sweet potatoes, broccoli and celery with peanut butter, apples and carrots.

Ese does not need lots of exercise or space, and goes on three or four walks daily. He does require grooming, though, and is brushed once a week.

When she walks Ese, people stop Samano on the street and ask her questions, such as, “How could you have such a big dog in the city?” or “How would you like walking around with a fur coat in the summer?”

She answers them with the facts, and trusts Ese’s instincts regarding the heat. If he’s hot, he’ll lead her to the shade. Also, she noted, “You’re not supposed to shave them. They have long hair and little hair like a fan — the little hair is supposed to protect the skin.”

Ese loves the cold and snow, but is lost in the country.

“He’s a total city brat,” Samano said. In the country, he just does not seem to know what to do — a problem he does not have in the East Village. And just like a New Yorker, when someone gets in his way on the sidewalk, he breathes heavy and gets upset.