Feature Article - January 2009
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Going to the Dogs

A Growing Community Trend

By Stacy St. Clair

Got Water?

Don't have the open space for a dog park? That's no excuse for ignoring the needs of community canines.

If you've got a pool, you have a chance to add programming for our four-legged friends. More and more recreation departments are ending their swim seasons with "doggie dips," in which area pooches can enjoy one last swim before the pool drains for the winter. Many towns have turned these swims into an annual event benefiting local animal shelters.

The park's success reflects the camaraderie among dog owners. Cedar Lane—which has about 300 members—has fostered so many new friendships that pet lovers want to repay the favor by supporting the facility.

Every Friday evening the owners gather for a barbecue at the park. The cookout has been dubbed "Pupparitaville" because it takes place next to the play area for small dogs. The group sponsors charity events such as "Bark at the Park," which promotes animal adoptions. They also held a benefit called "Puppies of the Caribbean" in which the dogs came dressed as pirates and helped raise money for victims and animals devastated by a volcano eruption in Montserrat.

"People are crazy for their dogs," Girolamo said. "Dog people are nuts. These are their kids. They love the idea of coming to the park."

The group also holds an annual event called "Unleashed," a social gathering in which owners come without their dogs. During the party, participants wear name tags with pictures of their pets on them because they often don't know each other's real names. Girolamo, for example, is known as Harley the Great Dane's dad.

The personal relationships between the park's patrons make it easy for the group to recruit volunteers. "We have a good, strong organization," Girolamo said. "People are very wiling to donate and always want to participate in our events. They want to help. They really do."

And the group also found a way to address its dirtiest job: maintaining the site. Owners, of course, are required to clean up after their dogs and throw out their waste in compost bins. However, the wood chip surface can get pretty mangy, so patrons like to replace it as frequently as possible. To handle the job, Girolamo, a local youth officer, assigns the chore to students who find themselves in hot water. He brings young offenders to the park, where they spend an afternoon spreading wood chips donated by local landscapers. The unpleasant punishment keeps the park clean and serves as a deterrent to teenage delinquency, he said.

"Word has spread throughout the kid community that if you misbehave you end up at the dog park," Girolamo said.