Pet Tales: People, pooches party at dog park

The official dedication of the South Side Dog Park was a happy occasion, especially for more than 50 dogs that yipped and whined and strained at their leashes as they impatiently waited for Pittsburgh officials to finish their speeches and open the gates.

City Council was represented by two dog-friendly members -- President Darlene Harris and Bruce Kraus.

"This has been a long time coming," Mr. Kraus said at the Aug. 2 grand opening. His City Council district includes the new 2-acre dog park in Riverfront Park, just off 18th Street.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl joked, "I don't know when I've seen so many city officials" and employees at a public dedication. "You let the mayor and council know this is a priority. This is something we are excited about. We thank you for your patience."

And with that, dogs of all sizes bounded into the securely fenced park. Some raced around at top speed. Others just meandered around, wagging their tails, and sniffing the noses and other body parts of the other dogs.

Many dogs, and many dog owners, already knew each other.

Tony Ciraula and Little Bear have been traveling from Knoxville to Riverfront Park for nearly four years.

John Shuttleworth and his 100-pound husky mix, Blue, 5, have been coming for even longer. They live near the park, on Fifth Street. He admits that he and Blue and other neighbors took some test runs inside the park before the grand opening.

Mr. Ciraula passed out postcards to park regulars, reminding them that Little Bear's 14th birthday would be celebrated on Aug. 8 with a party outside a Carrick grocery store.

Cocoa, a German short-haired pointer, "is smiling tonight," said her owner, Jeff Reed, president of nearby South Shore Place, with 76 townhouses, including the one where he lives. "We've been coming here for six years when it was all stones" along with tall weeds and some dirt.

This park was 31/2 years in the making, and all of the work was done by Pittsburgh's Public Works Department employees, the mayor noted, and with the Redd Up and Green Up teams. Construction would have cost $320,000 if contractors were hired, but the actual in-house cost was about $150,000, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

The park is surrounded by chain-link fence with separate sections for little dogs and big dogs. On Aug. 2 only three little dogs tried out their special area. The others romped and peacefully co-existed with the big dogs.

The park has a lovely view of the Monongahela River and the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail. It has benches, grass and trees planted by the city forester but no running water. Savvy dog owners such as Mr. Reed brought bottled water for their pets.

A 20-foot sculpture made from structural steel I-beams by 21 artists with Pittsburgh's Industrial Arts CoOp will be installed nearby, possibly by Labor Day.

Ms. Harris came to the dog park without her pug, Angel Grace, who is a regular at the city dog park in Riverview Park on the North Side. The city also has a dog park in Frick Park, Squirrel Hill, she noted, and another is planned for Mount Washington.

It was a great night as dogs and people behaved themselves. There are some tips for having a pleasant dog park experience. It starts with common sense and courtesy.

• Don't bring treats or food. Even dogs that know and like each other might fight over food.

• Don't bring what dog trainers call "high value" toys or objects. Some dogs don't like to share and might fight to protect their possession.

• Most importantly, watch your dog. Make sure he/she is neither playing too rough nor being picked on.

Dog parks are not for everyone, and most dog owners understand this. Don't bring fearful dogs -- They won't have fun. Don't bring aggressive dogs, and that includes dogs that just occasionally growl or lunge at other dogs. Hanging out with playful, well-socialized dogs will not turn a dog-aggressive pet into a welcome addition to the dog park pack.

Let's go to the hop

You might see a real poodle in a "poodle skirt" if you go to the Animal Friends' Bark in the Park Summer Sock Hop on Aug. 19 at North Park's South Ridge Loop. The event is a pledge walk and sock hop for dogs and their people, with proceeds going to four-legged residents of the Ohio Township shelter.

The fun starts at 9 a.m. Poodles on Parade starts at 11 a.m., for poodles "and poodle-ish dogs," according to the new release. Costumes are encouraged but are not mandatory.

Dogs can get a canine massage, "make a scene at our pup-arazzi photo booth" and splash in a mini water park. Thanks to VCA Animal Hospitals, there also will be games, food, agility trials, pet vendors and kids activities. An ice cream contest will be hosted by Bruster's Real Ice Cream. Adoptable shelter pets also will attend. Meet local radio personality Jim Krenn, who helps raise money at many charitable events.

Go to to register. It's $25 per person or $30 if you want a T-shirt. Kids 15 and younger walk for free.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.