"School is in," Precious Costello Caldwell Jr., better known these days as "Costello," announced to the five dogs gathered at his feet, though that much was already clear. Straight-backed, alert, with matching red scarves and leather leashes, the dogs looked more like cadets at an elite training camp than mere household pets. Costello, dressed in army green coveralls and vintage motorcycle sunglasses, stood before them—their Steampunk General.

Dogs have never been just dogs to Costello, who grew up next to a boarding kennel 20 miles outside of Baltimore. His father, Precious Senior, raised five different German shepherds throughout Costello's childhood, each of which was given the name "Sheba."

"He never changed the name. He never changed his name," Costello said with a laugh. "He went through World War II—can you imagine him, out on the battlefield, people calling, "Precious! Get up here quick!"

Costello is the founder of Royal Wolves, a sort of baroque dog walking service that prides itself in not only exceptional dog care, but sharp style. While his love of dogs may have germinated in his father's home, his sense of fashion—a sort of Indiana Jones-military hybrid—is uniquely his.


"Art to me is nothing but an ingredient, like salt and pepper," he said. "If you're a real artist, you'll take this and pour it on anything you do in life. You could be a CPA or an accountant or a teacher or a construction worker—if you're an artist, you do it with finesse. You do it with style."

Dog walkers are plentiful in New York, a city short on backyards but flush with moneyed residents intent on finding only the best for their little Lulus and Tinkerfluffs. As an artist, Costello is keenly aware of the power of aesthetics, and when he started Royal Wolves near his Riverside Park home 14 years ago, he also knew he needed to stand out. The answer, he decided, was a uniform.

"UPS doesn't come to the door with their pants wrapped around their butts and a do-rag on their heads and their cap turned sideways. They have a uniform on!" he said. After coming up with the name, he drew up a logo—a regal red-tinged wolf with striking green eyes—and applied it to everything he wore. He draws inspiration from his "favorite people," like Ralph Lauren and the Marlboro Man, but the look, he said, is eclectic. "I'd pull a piece here, a piece there," he said.

Costello extends his rigid standards of dress to his entire staff of three walkers, which he refers to as "handlers." Not only does he buy the uniforms—including shoes, socks and belts—he requires that they be worn. Can their own sense of style be incorporated into the uniform? Costello draws a hard line at "no."

"They’ve all tried to come in with something different, you know, especially in the summertime when they're wearing khaki shorts. They're wearing black socks, knee high. Are you kidding? That doesn't work. I told them, take them off," he said. He tells of one memorable event in which a handler showed up to work wearing jeans and a tank top, his neck layered with jewelry. "He thought it was quite convenient that after he got off of work he could go and hang out with his boys," Costello recalls. "I fired him."


Costello prides himself on facility with dogs, and his ability to pair certain dogs with certain handlers. "I always start off with the dog, because I need to learn their personality. I need to learn what they do. I need to learn their poop dance." Poop dance? "They all have a style," he said. "Some go in circles. Some pull back. Some do a whole lot of things. And when you learn them, you could have five leashes in one hand, two in the other, and you'd only have to look down to realize that, okay, Sampson over here wants to go to the bathroom."

In the future, Costello hopes to expand his business by selling Royal Wolves gear—"boots, pants that fit your butt, nice jackets, glasses, hats—a style, a feeling," he said. He'd also like to expand his other business, Costello's City Gardens, which strives to create a "garden-like atmosphere" in the city's greenspaces. And he'd really like to walk some exotic animals.

"My plan is to get a peacock," he said, adding that in India, the birds walk around like pigeons and are friendly with people. "I went online, and learned you can walk them in harnesses."

Anything else? He thinks about it.

"I'm looking to walk some pot-bellied pigs, some llamas and...a large cat, if I could."

Precious Costello Caldwell Jr. operates primarily around the Upper West Side and its environs. Visit his website here.

Video by Jessica Leibowitz.

[H/T Humans of New York]