61.5 F
Los Angeles
Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

PARKS–Going to the Dogs

The handful of dog parks around L.A. ostensibly were set up for pooches to cavort wildly with other pooches and be free of impatient owners jerking their chains.

But it’s not just Fido who benefits from running wild and interacting with other hounds. Dog owners get a chance to socialize, too. After all, owning a dog can be the perfect way to break the conversational ice.

Lynn Malsby thinks so. She’s a frequent visitor to the Silverlake Dog Park with her two German shepherds, Blue and Cassie, husky dogs who need their exercise.

“It’s important for our dogs to socialize, and it’s just as important for us to socialize too,” she observed.

In the era of the Internet, dog parks have become among the few remaining community gathering spots where perfect strangers regularly meet, chat and form friendships. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for dog owners to form clubs or regular meeting groups with other dog-park denizens.

Doggie birthday parties

Over in Encino, at the five-acre Sepulveda Basin Dog Park, there is a dynamic social scene as owners hover around their pets like parents at the playground. Regulars often get together for doggie birthday parties held at different homes. The dogs get a birthday cake made of cornbread and chicken livers, accompanied by “Frosty Paws” dog ice cream. The owners get bagels, lemonade and iced tea.

“I would not have met these people if the dog park didn’t exist,” said Lynn Stone of Tarzana, who frequently attends the dog birthday parties with Destiny, her 4-year-old Welsh corgy mixed with a schipperke.

Friendships aren’t the only things formed by dog-park regulars. It’s not unusual for man’s best friend to be used in the search for man’s other best friend, woman. “I’ve seen some budding romances,” Malsby says. “How far they went, I don’t know.”

At the Silverlake Dog Park, where Amanda Brooks is a frequent visitor with her pal Elvis, a 1-year-old Labrador-border collie mix, there is plenty of social interaction.

“My friend Kathy comes here with me, and we talk about how, at a bar, you have to have a great pick-up line. But here, your dog is going to intermingle with my dog and we’ll have to break them apart and talk,” said Brooks, a twenty-something photographer who has streaks of dark red woven into her raven hair. “It’s a really great place to meet people.”

Many theorize that dog owners are a breed of their own kinder, gentler, more reliable than the run-of-the-mill mix you might run into in a less pet-friendly social situation.

And dog parks are a separate world from the rest of L.A. They are a sort of after-work haven for professionals who rush home to take care of their pooches and shake off the day. Pet owners sit on benches reading the paper, talking with others or keeping a watchful eye on their happy hounds to make sure they are not committing some gross social error, like starting a fight with another dog.

The dog parks are also a great place to exchange pet information. There are notices for dogsitters and information about reduced-priced dog vaccination clinics. Posters of lost dogs are attached to the fences. Notices are posted for pet adoptions.

One woman recently showed up at the Silverlake Dog Park with her Great Dane and a smaller, wire-haired dog she found on the street. Attached to the smaller dog’s collar was a red heart that read, “Adopt Me.”

As in any world, there are certain rules and regulations that must be followed. And a host of etiquette problems to be resolved. Small and timid dogs often get overwhelmed by more aggressive, larger dogs. As a result, most of L.A.’s dog parks now have fenced-off areas for smaller and older pets unable to cope with the pack.

High demand for ‘bark parks’

L.A. has only a few dog parks, six in all, and neighborhoods are clamoring for more. The city has more than 300 parks, but many residents are reluctant to see existing park land turned over to canines. So the city is trying to use undeveloped or surplus land for that purpose.

Residents in the San Pedro area two years ago formed Peninsula Dog Parks Inc. to create an off-leash area on vacant U.S. Navy land off Western Avenue. Currently, Pedro locals have to drive to Long Beach or Redondo Beach, about 10 miles away, to let their dogs roam freely.

“I think dogs need a large area to be dogs. I don’t think a dog can be a dog in the city,” said Tim Beene, vice president of Peninsula Dog Parks. The group is working with the city’s Recreation and Parks Department to put the deal together and help raise funds toward the approximately $750,000 it would cost to fence off the land and turn it into a dog park. But working with two separate government entities has been slow.

Dog parks are also in the works on Veterans Administration land in Brentwood, vacant land near Lake Hollywood and Department of Water and Power land under power lines in the Burbank/North Hollywood area. But that still wouldn’t fill the vast demand for “bark parks.”

“There are two reasons there is more demand for dog parks,” said James Ward, a city Recreation and Parks supervisor who has helped build two dog parks. “In the working class nowadays, there are a lot of professional people living in apartments and condominiums that don’t have yards. And a lot of these professional people don’t have children. Instead, they have dogs and (other) pets.”

Dog parks are becoming a crucial factor when determining whether to move to Los Angeles. It was one of the reasons Terry Cranendonk moved to L.A. from Cleveland last fall. And it influenced Amanda Brooks’ decision whether to move to New York or Los Angeles.

Los Angeles won out because she knew her dog would never survive the Big Apple without a dog park. And neither would she.

Featured Articles

Related Articles