Scenes from the Dog Park by Angela Rieck


Dog Parks are the new water coolers.  Yea, it surprised me too. You know the proverbial water cooler where office workers gossip and connect, that has been replaced by dog parks.

After my world imploded, I went to the Key West to hide out and recover, well mostly hide out.  I had been invited to take my dogs to the dog park. I finally summoned the courage to go this year; it took a little while, but eventually I got it.

Key West is a dog town like St Michaels, MD.  It has several dog parks and even a beach for dogs.  Dog owners routinely allow their dogs to run freely along the piers, seeking new furry and non furry friends.  

But the actual dog park has become a kind of social club, a perfect place for introverts or extroverts.  There is no commitment, you can come if you want. Eventually people time their visits to socialize with the same people. Tourists and residents alike come to sit in a circle and catch up on local news and events. People of all ages, all incomes, all races, all orientations, come to the dog park to find acceptance. Even people who don’t own dogs drop by. A homeless man just comes in to pet the dogs.

As a widow, I have met other members of that awful club, we tend to sit together quietly, talking about our lives without judgement or fear, in a mutual understanding of the un-understandable.

It is a place of generosity and connection. I have received kind offers from businesses for discounts, assistance and I have offered the same.  

The sparse research supports my experience. The COLA (Citizens for Off-Leash Areas) organization reports that participants surveyed indicated that they never knew their neighbors before going to the dog park.  Dog parks seem to be most effective when they are within walking distance of the community.

A 2014 study published in Leisure Sciences, an Interdisciplinary Journal affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School, found that dog parks helped residents build relationships and enhance communities. In particular, they discovered:

  • At dog parks, pets serve as avatars, allowing owners to meet people through their pets.

  • The demographics of park visitors are irrelevant in forming relationships, friendships are formed unrelated to politics, race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation.

  • Dog parks provide a place for owners to get information about local services as well as referrals related to housing and employment. Some owners have shared resources such as offering to carpool or tutor a child.

  • Some relationships extend outside the park and regulars refer to their park as their “community.”

According to a 2018 poll conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), 91% of Americans believe dog parks provide benefits to the communities they serve.

Maybe there is an opportunity to create something in St Michaels (we have one in Oxford).  St. Michaels is ideal because it is a walkable town and it is a tourist town that is dog friendly. Somehow dog parks bring out the better angels of our nature.

Oh, and the dogs like it too.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.


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