Volunteers and visitors to the public pool in Crafton Park smiled almost nonstop Sunday afternoon as they watched more than 100 special swimmers execute the distinctive stroke known as the "dog paddle."
There wasn't a breast stroke or a back stroke to be seen among the canine swimmers at the first Annual Doggie Paddle held to raise money for renovations at the 60-year-old swimming pool.
The event was "bigger than we thought it could be in the first year," said Karen Eonta, a member of Pool Together, the volunteer group that is organizing and executing fundraisers. She stood in front of the pool entrance gate, collecting $10 for each dog and $1 from pet owners and spectators.
More than 100 tail-wagging dogs on leashes entered the fenced pool after marching past the sign that warns of a $300 fine for people who violate the "no dogs in the park" policy, which was waived for the special event.
Many of the attendees were from Crafton and nearby towns, but others had traveled from the city and other suburbs, because it's not just every day when dogs can swim in a public pool.
Much of the action took place in the shallow section, where dogs like Happy, 7, a golden retriever, waded hesitantly into the cool water.
"Happy has never been swimming before, and he's not quite sure what to do," said owner Robert Callen, Crafton borough manager.
A small number of dogs used long, sure strokes to swim to the deep end. Others jumped from the pool deck to swim laps in the deep water. The best and most enthusiastic swimmers were mostly Labrador retrievers, with a good showing of golden retrievers and Labradoodles, a couple of Newfoundlands, a Boykin spaniel and a Portuguese water dog. Those dogs were bred to swim and retrieve things from the water. Some, including Labs, are born with webbed feet.
The "kiddie pool" swimmers included a 5-pound Yorkshire terrier, several dachshunds, a pug, a bloodhound puppy, two collies, several pit bulls and uncounted numbers of breeds and mixed breed dogs. Many dogs spent part of their pool time playfully chasing each other around grassy beach areas.
"I wanted to do this last year, but dogs have never been allowed in the park," said Karen Joyce, the Pool Together volunteer who came up with the idea of a swim session for dogs. The name of the event was coined by Jamie Beechey, Crafton's director of borough services, who supervised the 1:30-4 p.m. swim session.
Volunteer "dog guards," including Ms. Joyce, watched the doggy action from the deck, making sure all dogs played nice with each other.
Crafton officials and volunteers indicated the event will be held again next year, possibly turning the entire park into a one-day dog event.
Annual fundraising dog swims have been held on Labor Day for several years at Dormont Pool and at Mineral Beach pool in Finleyville. Crafton's Doggie Paddle was held later so as not to compete, Ms. Beechey said.
Sue Lynch of the North Side was happy about the scheduling, joking that Cocoa, 2, a Labradoodle (a Lab-poodle mix) is on the "dog swim circuit" and the Crafton event gave her one more outing.
All eyes were on the curly-haired Portuguese water dog, a breed made almost-famous because two of them live with the Obama family in the White House.
"That's Turk. He's famous in Crafton. Everyone knows him," said Ms. Joyce. "He's best friends with my dog, Millie," a border collie who swam with the big dogs.
Turk, 7, is owned by David McDermott of the Schepner-McDermott Funeral Home. Turk serves as a therapy dog for funeral home clients and visitors, Mr. McDermott said. "People ask for him."
Coming from a long line of dogs bred to guard the boats of Portuguese fisherman and to dive for fish and retrieve broken nets, Turk swims almost every weekend in Lake Erie, where Mr. McDermott keeps a boat.
The next fundraiser for $1.5 million pool renovations is Tailgate in the Park on Nov. 3. when the Steelers game doesn't begin until 4:25. Gates open at 2 p.m. for games, raffles and live music. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children, which includes BBQ from Texas Roadhouse. A cash bar will be available.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-722-0087.