Pet Food Express has generously allowed ODOG to fundraise at five of their East Bay locations! There will be a bake sale, and all proceeds from sales of dog wash tokens will benefit dogs and parks in Oakland! You can also donate whatever amount you like directly at the register. Come on down! For more details, click here.
Also, we hope to see you for our National Night Out party on Tuesday, August 2, 7-9 pm at Lakeview Park. There will be food, games, prizes, kids and dog safety information and more. Everyone is welcome! We’ll be by the library parking lot.
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Dog Parks and Café Society
At a recent gathering of our volunteers, we were bantering about 1920s café society. Back then, community was forged in coffee shops. It wasn’t unusual for a wealthy industrialist to strike up a conversation with an unemployed poet. Nowadays, everyone at Starbucks is too engrossed in their iPhones for casual conversation. Or, too suspicious of a stranger talking to you at a café. One woman who spoke at the March 23rd meeting said she’d moved to the Lake Merritt area a year prior and hadn’t met any of her neighbors, and hadn’t made any new friends in the area.
We couldn’t help but notice the similarities between cafe society and the interaction we’ve seen at dog parks. Where else can you chat with complete strangers without feeling awkward or creepy? Mothers certainly get to socialize at children’s play areas. But what if you don’t have kids? Increasingly, people are turning to dog parks to forge a community, make friends, and socialize. Even the Catholic Church is getting in on the act.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has partnered with the Downtown Center Business Improvement District to put on Dog Day Afternoons, where people and their dogs can meet and socialize.
“The purpose of this is to create community,” explained Monsignor Kevin Kostelnik, co-sponsor of the event along with Joaquin, his black Labrador retriever. “It’s to allow residents, the humans, to get to meet one another because the animals are one part of God’s creation that brings everybody together. And I thought, you know, we’ve got a beautiful space here in downtown, and there’s a great necessity for dog parks downtown. So this was a great space I thought we could gather downtown residents and their pets.”
Hal Bastian, the director of the business improvement district said, “this is all about creating community, because downtown isn’t a place. It’s 15 different neighborhoods. And even those of us who live in a building, we never see each other ’cause we’re working and out and about.”
Dog parks are a great social equalizer: rich and poor, old and young, black and white, gay and straight. All gathering there have one obvious thing in common from the get-go, and conversation is not only easy but expected. Bonds are formed. Friendships are made.
“Dogs facilitate friendly interactions among people, as they so actively solicit play and offer greetings. Establishing a dog park creates a community center of activity where friends and neighbors gather to relax,” said Dr. Lynette Hart, director of the Center for Animals in Society at U.C. Davis.
Business improvement districts (such as the Lakeshore Business Improvement District that supports our planned park) know that having this kind of amenity in the area can only help business. You meet at the dog park (instead of driving to another town), meet your neighbors, make friends, then meet up later for cup of coffee, or grab lunch, or go to the gym. Right now, Lake Merritt dog owners are going to Alameda, and then stopping for coffee at South Shore, or some groceries at Alameda’s Trader Joes. All that money could be staying in Oakland.
The upcoming National Night Out is one night aimed at creating community, getting neighbors to know one another, getting people out of their houses, and reducing crime: all benefits you get daily from a dog park. Shouldn’t Oakland support this type of thing?
Some have described our plan to have volunteers maintain this proposed dog park as being “not sustainable” and “dubious.” But, what they fail to mention is that currently all of the parklands around Lake Merritt are beautifully maintained by volunteers. We were out there on Earth Day, and we’ll be out there on July 30th, too. You see, we’re part of a project called “Paws to Prune.”
Volunteers also maintain the Morcom Rose Garden, have restored the Cleveland Cascades, and have a hand in maintaining most other Oakland parks, including the existing five dog parks. With the case of the dog parks at Joaquin Miller Park, we share the space with Woodminster Theater. Over several weekends during the summer and fall, the dog park reverts back into parking for Woodminster. Volunteers clean the park, make sure the surface is even, and take down the gates. Then, when it’s over, they put the gates back up. This has happened consistently for over five years now.
During planning, the people connected with Woodminster were concerned that a volunteer maintenance program would not be sustainable. But, earlier this year the president of the group putting on shows at Woodminster said in a letter, “the dog parks in Joaquin Miller Park have been kept clean and odorless by the users … the users have been responsible and cooperative people.”
But, will this transfer over to Lakeview? Well, an entire group of volunteers have spent literally thousands of hours designing this park, drafting proposals, going to meetings, and making the rounds at City Hall. And, since that small group of well-connected opponents surfaced 11 years into this process, a new group of volunteers has had to spend thousands more hours volunteering to hand out flyers, prepare reports, make speeches, build websites, write emails. Honestly, we’d all rather be doing voluntary gardening and cleaning than all this other stuff.
Our volunteers will be out in force on Saturday, August 13 and Sunday, August 14 at five Pet Food Express locations in the East Bay. We’re working on some very cool surprises at these locations, so please stay tuned.
> We’re fundraising soon!
Last Thursday’s post on dogs at the Eiffel Tower generated a lot of buzz – boy did we get letters! Ironically, it was Bastille Day: the French celebration of liberté, fraternité, et égalité. We got a lot of letters about how the French regard their dogs.
As we noted, Paris welcomes dogs to its most exclusive of parks, including the Tuileries and the Palais Royale. But, did you know many restaurants and cafes also welcome dogs? Eponymous luxury ice cream parlor Berthillon on the ile Saint-Louis allows you to bring your dog with you into its dining room. It’s been this way in Paris for decades, and none of the dire consequences we’ve heard predicted by the anti-dog park folks here have happened. Paris is not devoid of businesses, its parks aren’t ugly, children aren’t being attacked by loose dogs. In fact, France consistently ranks at the Number 1 global tourist destination, with 76.8 million tourist visits in 2010.
According to Condé Nast Traveler, the Number 3 city destination in the world is San Francisco. Our neighbor across the bay has three times the number of dog parks than we do, and an increasing number of cafés and bars are catering to their growing locals and visitors that own dogs. Also on the top 10 list of U.S. destinations is Carmel, which is also listed as one of the most dog-friendly locations. Long-time Carmel resident and animal welfare activist Doris Day started Carmel’s dog-friendly trend more than 30 years ago. And, by all accounts, business in Carmel is booming.
Now, let’s look at Oakland. Sadly, despite our scenic beauty and an abundance of activities, we didn’t make any top destination lists. We made some other lists. In contrast to San Francisco and Carmel, Oakland is one of the most hostile cities to dogs in the United States. Almost all of our parks are completely off-limits to dogs – even on leash! We have 5 dog parks, tucked away in mostly isolated areas or under freeway overpasses, because that’s all that the city will give us. San Francisco is smaller in area than Oakland, but they have more than 3 times the dog parks. And, they’re not tucked away in some crummy space. Beautiful Dolores Park, for instance has a dog play space. Dolores Park is surrounded on three sides by busy streets, and one side by MUNI train tracks. Mission High School is right across the street, and there’s a children’s play area right next to the dog play area.
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One of the funnier things we heard at Wednesday night’s Park and Rec meeting, was “Save Astro Park” anti-dog park activist Jerry Wolfe comparing Lakeview Park to the Eiffel Tower. “Did they,” he bellowed, wagging his finger at the commissioners, “put a dog park at the Eiffel Tower!?” zut alors, they did! Champ de Mars, the park at the Eiffel Tower is available to off-leash dogs. So, too is the Jardins des Tuileries next to the Louvre. The exquisite gardens next to the French Senate building (the Jardins du Luxembourg) also dog-friendly. Parisians love their dogs and the French capital is amazingly welcoming to them and their owners.
In Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, “Save Astro Park” member Sue Levin was quoted as saying, “would you put a dog run at the entrance to Golden Gate Park or Central Park? No.” Sue should have done just a wee bit more research. Golden Gate Park has four designated dog areas (including as you first enter the park from the Haight at Stanyan Street). There are 17 spots across San Francisco. Central Park has 23, and Manhattan has dozens more.
Indeed, just about every major city in North America has a “signature” park – and almost all of them include space for dogs. Even America’s first public park, Boston Common, has a dog park. Boston Common is often described as the “beating heart of Boston,” and is less than one-third the size of the parkland available at Lake Merritt.
Other famous world signature parks with space for dogs: Grant Park in Chicago, Stanley Park in Vancouver, Hyde Park in London, Berlin’s Tiergarten, Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and Balboa Park in San Diego. So, this notion that world-class cities would never have dogs near their special parks or “front yards” is not supported by the facts.
> For more debunked myths, check out our Truth About “Astro Park” page.
> See what your neighbors are saying at our new Community Voices page.