Chef Tom Cunanan with his dog Boogie Woogie
Chef Tom Cunanan with his dog Boogie Woogie Credit: Laura Hayes

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The unconditional love only a dog can provide has helped many local chefs cope with challenges extending from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether they’re leaning on dogs they’ve had for years or discovering the personality traits of the new puppies in their lives, these seven chefs have used morning cuddles, trips to the dog park, and long walks to lift their spirits.

Tom Cunanan and Boogie Woogie

An older dog is just want PogiBoy co-founder Tom Cunanan needed to feel grounded during uncertain times. Boogie Woogie, who’s roughly 9 years old, first belonged to the chef’s mother. When she died, Cunanan’s brother cared for the long-haired Jack Russell Terrier until his twins arrived. “On my birthday, he was like, ‘Take Boogie,'” Cunanan recounts. That was in April 2021. “I’ve always wanted him.”

“It made me more outgoing,” Cunanan says. “He gave me a reason to do more and feel more responsible rather than just worrying about my job and myself.” In addition to running PogiBoy, a popular burger and fried chicken spot that pays tribute to Filipino fast-food favorite Jollibee, with Paolo Dungca, Cunanan is preparing to open his own restaurant in 2022. Most Washingtonians know him from his time leading the kitchen at Bad Saint. “During the pandemic, he never stressed me out,” Cunanan says of Boogie Woogie. “He brought a lot of joy to my life.”

Boogie Woogie is a pescatarian. Cunanan feeds him salmon kibble mixed with the kind of tuna confit you might find in salade niçoise. He read that Omega-3 fatty acids improve a dog’s energy, coat, and skin. The dog also gets the occasional French fry from PogiBoy, where he’s the mascot.

The spirited pup lost a front leg in a scuffle with another dog when he was younger. Because it was broken in three places, the veterinarian had to amputate it. He has no trouble boogieing around town. Keep an eye out for Cunanan toting Boogie Woogie in a bag when he’s scooting or cycling from place to place.

Photo of Mollie Moore with Charlie Brown and Linus by Laura Hayes

Mollie Moore, Charlie Brown, and Linus 

“Welcome to the battledome,” Mollie Moore says. She’s peering down at the rug-turned-wrestling ring in her living room, where a pair of French Bulldogs are tumbling over each other like clothes in a dryer. Moore is part of World Central Kitchen’s relief operations chef team that darts toward disaster zones to bring hot meals to people in crisis. She most recently cooked on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where the La Soufrière volcano erupted and caused massive devastation.

When she’s away, her husband, Sean, shares glimpses of Linus and Charlie Brown on FaceTime. Linus will be 5 soon and has been with Moore since he was a puppy. Charlie Brown joined the family in October 2020 and will be a year old in September. Moore wanted Linus to have a companion since she’s often on the road.

“Growing up with animals, I’ve always had two,” she says. She gazes at Linus, who has a distinguished grey muzzle. “If I’m gone on activation for three weeks, you need a buddy. You’re a mammal. You need a friend. Whether he thinks he needs a friend is another story.”

Moore spent time closer to home during the pandemic when she was leading a team cooking hundreds of thousands of meals for those in need out of Nationals Park. After grueling days, she’d open the door to a rambunctious welcoming party. “There were days when I would come home and just be like the world is crap, but you open the door and they’re like ‘Hi, I’m so happy to see you.’”

In addition to dog food, Moore offers the dogs yogurt, blueberries, bananas, carrots, and pineapple. She loves them unconditionally. “What most people don’t know about the bulldog breed in general is they have farts that will clear a room,” she says. “We’ll have friends over and everyone will go dead silent.”

Photo of Brad Deboy and Arnie by Laura Hayes

Brad Deboy and Arnie

Brad Deboy and his 155-pound dog need each other. “He’s a registered emotional support animal for me,” says the executive chef of Ellē in Mount Pleasant. “Everyone’s had anxiety and all these mental health issues over the last year. He’s very good at noticing when I’m not feeling great and having some issues. He comes over and calms me down.” 

Arnie would clock in at 6-foot-3 if he stood straight up, but he loves to snuggle like a lap dog. “Many people are dealing with way more than I am and my heart goes out to them,” Deboy says, reflecting on the hardships brought about by the pandemic. “But it’s stressful for everybody. He’s my main way of calming down and keeping my head together.”

Deboy rescued Arnie, who is half English Mastiff and half Harlequin Great Dane, in 2017. The dog loves to play with toys and cruise Rock Creek Park, but he also has some special needs. Veterinarians recently diagnosed Arnie with Addison’s disease, a hormonal disorder. “He’s healthy now,” Deboy says.

Dogs with Addison’s disease can live a full life with the right medication and diet. Deboy feeds Arnie a porridge made of ground turkey, rice, carrots, and broccoli. Arnie also loves to snack on pizza crust and anything crunchy. Deboy lives across the street from his restaurant, making it easy for him to pop in and check on Arnie throughout the day. “It takes a village to raise a Mastiff,” he says.

Photo of Hiro Mitsui and Unagi by Laura Hayes

Hiro Mitsui and Unagi

Unagi the dog has never tried unagi. Chef Hiro Mitsui of UZU named his English bulldog after the sweetly lacquered freshwater eel that’s popular in Japan. Mitsui was born in Nagoya and also spent time in Osaka. “When the time comes, I’ll make sure to remove all of the bones out for her,” he says. The puppy, who just turned 1, has a sensitive stomach and sensitive skin, which have prevented her from trying her namesake snack. She also hasn’t sampled the karaage (Japanese fried chicken) that Mitsui puts in the bento boxes he makes for Hana Market because she’s allergic to chicken.

Photo of Unagi by Laura Hayes

Mitsui and his wife, Tanya, brought Unagi home to Wheaton in September 2020. At the time, Mitsui was operating Ramen by UZU in Union Market largely on his own. He was also one of the vendors who made up Ghostline, a delivery-focused food hall that didn’t pan out. “When Unagi came, I was going back and forth between both locations,” Mitsui says. “She helped my emotions be stable. We were very stressed out, especially with me owning a business.” 

Fortunately, Tanya was working from home and shouldered most of the puppy training. Mitsui typically walked through the door around 11 p.m. “Unagi’s already asleep, but whenever I get home I go straight to her bed, open the cage, and kiss her,” Mitsui says. “That moment. That moment.”

Photo of Andrew Markert and Chef by Laura Hayes

Andrew Markert and Chef

There are two chefs in the Markert household, but only one can cook. When Andrew Markert adopted a 13-week-old puppy from the Pet Rescue Alliance in May 2021, he and his girlfriend wanted to change the dog’s name. The couple compiled a list of possibilities for their pit bull mix on a shared document.

Chef won out based on a kitchen fable Markert remembers hearing when he was a sous chef. He’s now the executive chef and a partner at Fight Club, which operated as Beuchert’s Saloon before the pandemic.

“There’s this joke that I know from years ago about a racing dog,” he explains. Essentially a dog named “Cook” was unstoppable until someone called him “Chef” instead. “Now all of the sudden he just sits in the corner and is lazy all the time,” Markert says, delivering the punch line.

Photo of Chef with his avocado toast toy by Laura Hayes

Markert and Chef spend their mornings together. “He’s a ray of sunshine in the morning,” Market says. “He wakes up and comes out wagging his tail. He runs like a lion cub because he has a snake-like sway. He’s great. He’s such a cuddle bug. He’ll nuzzle with me or put a paw on my chest.”

Photo of Shannan Troncoso and Blanche by Laura Hayes

Shannan Troncoso and Blanche

Rewind to a couple of Thanksgivings ago, when one of Shannan Troncoso’s food sales reps, Clark Mowrey, informed her that he was fostering a mother and 12 puppies. The Brookland’s Finest partner and executive chef couldn’t help but take one off of his hands by giving a 10-week-old pit bull mix a forever home through Always Strong, a pit bull rescue and relocation organization. “One of my servers got one of her littermates and Clark kept one,” she says.

Blanche is now 2 and a half. “She’s aggressively friendly as you can see,” Troncoso says as her best friend laps at her face. They like to spend time together on Kingman Island, which Troncoso says felt deserted during the pandemic.

Her restaurant was quiet too. After closing from mid-March to May 2020, Brookland’s Finest reopened for takeout only. Troncoso says the goal was to keep some cooks employed. Over the summer they sat diners on the patio, but returned to exclusively offering takeout when the temperature dropped. Sometimes Troncoso would bring Blanche to the Brookland eatery to run zoomies while she checked on operations.

With the restaurant’s business model constantly in flux, Troncoso felt stressed. “She would not let me lay in bed and feel sorry for myself,” Troncoso says. “She’ll jump all over me, pounce on my face, and get me out of bed. She’s a handful, so she kept my energy up.”

Photo of Blanche by Laura Hayes

Troncoso lets her Golden Girl get her wiggles out at Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County. Blanche also likes keeping watch for the possum that visits her backyard and stealing a rare lick of beer. She sports a Budweiser collar.

Photo of Matt Adler and Desilu by Laura Hayes

Matt Adler and Desilu

Matt Adler has wanted a dog for at least a decade but says the timing wasn’t right until he and his wife, Kim Testa, moved to a townhouse in Alexandria. They brought home a nine-week-old Shar-Pei with more folds than a croissant in March 2021. At the time, Adler was preparing to open Caruso’s Grocery on Capitol Hill after a pandemic-related delay.

Desilu has pensive resting face and is as laid back as her owners who named her after the production company co-founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Testa is a loyal I Love Lucy watcher.

Adler feeds Desilu the occasional helping of human food like chicken, sardines, eggs, watermelon, bananas, blueberries, and cottage cheese. “We eat something different all of the time, we feel bad giving her the same thing,” he says.

“It’s good to have Desi excited to see me,” Adler says. “Honestly it was something else to focus on that isn’t crap all the time. There’s something so pure, happy, easy, and fun about being with her instead of opening up your phone or Instagram or anything else. This is what’s good in the world.”