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Bucks pet sitters care for New York canines after pandemic strands families on spring break


When their families left Manhattan for spring break in mid-March, canines Oliver, Winnie and Bruiser went on a vacation of their own – to their pet sitter’s house in Springfield Township in Upper Bucks County.

More than a month later – with their families stranded out of town due to the novel coronavirus pandemic – the canines were still on holiday.

Dog walker and pet sitter Jennifer Bowen, and her husband, Skip Isley, have been trying to make the dogs’ stay extra fun, they said, and have been sending photos of their activities to their owners every day. On Easter Sunday, for example, they dressed the dogs up in ties and sent them on an Easter egg hunt in their fenced yard. They also post photos on their Northward Hound Facebook page.

“It’s been fun; they’re really sweet,” Bowen said. “It’s a labor of love … They’re part of our Northward Hound family.”

Bowen said she started her business, Northward Hound, in New York City 12 years ago with a woman she knew from her childhood in New Hampshire; she now runs the business with Isley from their home in Springfield Township.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bowen commuted to Manhattan to walk dogs during the week, as well as caring for them at home in Upper Bucks when their families went on holiday. When she lived in Manhattan, she took some of the dogs on trips to her home-state of New Hampshire to experience the countryside.

The house in Bucks County now provides that rural experience.

“All the dogs get to know each other,” Bowen said. “They’ve made friends here. They get to go away together for little (vacations). It’s socializing for them.”

During this stay-at-home time, Isley said, “We just hang out in our backyard with them, playing ball.” At night the well-exercised dogs sleep in the couple’s bedroom.

Winnie, 4 1/2, is no stranger to the Bowen-Isley household, or to their dog, Jagger, a 4-and-1/2-year-old Wheaton terrier. The small white mixed breed stayed with them for a year when her family – mom Christine, her husband and their two daughters – lived in England, to avoid having her quarantined in Europe before she could join her family there, and because they planned to travel a lot.

Bowen also cared for the family’s prior dog, Monty, when they went on vacation.

“After he passed away, Jen wrote recommendation letters to shelters on my behalf so we could adopt Winnie – she is a rescue,” Christine said. “All to say, I have known Jen for a while, and Winnie loves her.”

Bowen said it was Christine who recommended Northward Hound to the other families whose dogs have been in her care during this extended spring break.

Charlie’s family was able to pick him up in late March, and Oliver’s family was able to retrieve him on April 16, after they reached their second home on Long Island. However, Bruiser and Winnie remain in Bowen and Isley’s care.

“When we left, I told Jen I had a feeling we might not be back in two weeks as planned, but I had committed to Jen and felt I should honor that commitment,” Christine said. “Of course, we also didn’t know exactly what we were in store for, and no one could have imagined what the end of March and April were to become,” she added.

Christine said she and her family have been quarantined in Florida, where her mother lives, and don’t expect to be able to return home until sometime in May. They had originally planned a ski trip to western Canada but worried about crossing the border and changed their plans, leaving New York prior to the big exodus.

Bruiser’s family traveled from their vacation destination in the Caribbean to a friend’s house in Kentucky, and then closer to home, to Lancaster County, where they are renting a house that does not allow dogs.

“We just provide a little oasis for them,” Bowen said. “We hopefully provide peace of mind.”

For Christine, that certainly was the case. “ ... leaving Winnie in their care meant I never worried about her (not to say we didn’t miss her) as I knew she was in capable, caring hands,” Christine said, adding, “Jen is a dog person through and through.”

For information about Northward Hound, and Bowen’s companion business, The Dog Den, visit Northward Hound online or on Facebook, or email

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