In a 2007 column, I stated my belief that a dog park is a model of a place that bonds and unifies us. What makes it more magical than other shared places is that our dogs are themselves a model of interaction based on circumstance, not breed.
I was writing about the off-leash area near my neighborhood, but they all have in common the happenstance society of every kind of person, the nuances of evening people and morning people and the friendships that grow.
Katie Wagner, a young woman who works in human relations for a bank, might never have met Joanne Hollinger had it not been for the fenced-in area in Riverview Dog Park.
Ms. Hollinger was an elder who drove a bus and performed as a clown. She and her hound, Walter, spent every day at the dog park, where she welcomed everyone with the warmth of an old friend and shared her raucous, cacklling laugh.
After Ms. Hollinger died last September at age 70, her young friends, led by Ms. Wagner, planned a memorial in the dog park, a sloping yard now bare of grass behind the Allegheny Observatory. The group has raised $300 from their own pockets for a dogwood tree and a bench that the city will install. They need between $1,800 and $2,000, Ms. Wagner said.
They will man a booth at the Observatory Hill House Tour on June 2 to promote their effort, and Observatory Hill Inc., the tour sponsor, will promote the memorial in its newsletters, said Jane Sestric, a board member and newsletter editor.
"We very much support anything that's improving the park, and we also had some part in lobbying for the dog park," Ms. Sestric said. "We know Joanne was generous with her time and talents and never expected anything in return."
In its newsletter, Observatory Hill Inc. recently published city Councilwoman Darlene Harris' constituent letter, which stated: "If you can make a donation to the cause, please send a check or money order made payable to Treasurer, City of Pittsburgh with the words 'Joanne Hollinger' on the memo line and send to the Department of Public Works, c/o Chuck O'Neill, 414 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219."
Ms. Wagner said any extra funds will go toward paying for a plaque and a water source. The plaque would read, "In honor of our dog park mayor, Joanne Hollinger."
Mr. Wagner said the plaque would also carry the tag line, "Watch out for the bears, Walter." Ms. Hollinger used to say that to her dog, teasing that bears would get him if he didn't come with her when she called to go home.
Ms. Hollinger would go home, always with Walter in tow, to Perry South. Ms. Wagner would walk her dogs Bill Murray and Pumpkin back home to Brighton Heights. Other evening friends such as Ani Levick and Dylan would return to Spring Hill, and Mike Truman and Mesa would head home to Observatory Hill.
One recent evening, the three young friends reminisced about Ms. Hollinger, whose presence they sometimes still expect.
"Joanne was the first person I considered to be a true friend when I moved here from Tennessee," Ms. Wagner said. "Hers was the first face I saw" in the dog park. "She brought me into the evening people and made me feel special."
"I had been here one time before when I met Joanne," said Mr. Truman, an insurance agent with Aflac. It was about four years ago, when the park was new.
"Some people would be skittish about joining the group or letting their dogs play," he said. "She made people feel comfortable with that. She was a huge advocate for being good to your dog, so if someone snapped a leash, she'd say, 'You shouldn't do that.' "
"Joanne became like family to me," said Ms. Levick, a legal advocate at the Women's Center & Shelter. "I was at her side when she passed. We were both independent and stubborn, and we would get on each other's case. I haven't deleted her number from my phone. She's been a significant loss in my life."
In her life outside the dog park, Ms. Hollinger, who died of pancreatic cancer, drove a school bus for handicapped children and performed as Petunia the clown as a volunteer for local charities and Children's Hospital.
In a post on his Facebook page, Mr. Truman wrote directly to her: "It was great to see you there every day. I have no doubt that there will be times when I am at the park and I will hear what sounds like your laugh. You will always be a part of that place for me."