A social event unleashed Gathering: At 5: 30 p.m. across Baltimore, canines are taken by their masters on a weekday stroll that has become a social experience for both.

July 08, 1996|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The dog walkers' hour, one of Baltimore's most punctually attended social gatherings, attracts a mix of exquisite blood lines, lovable mutts and mostly civilized behavior, and begins promptly every weekday afternoon.

Come 5: 30, just as the mothers and young children are leaving Federal Hill Park, the first of the whippets and golden Labradors arrive.

It's a scene that is repeated in a half-dozen other city parks and many more neighborhood locales.

Only a few minutes before, the animals' owners, returning from work, have inserted their house door keys into locks. They are loudly greeted by anxious animals that want the freedom of the great outdoors and the friendship of other dogs.

The result is that spots such as Federal Hill Park go unleashed. A parade of merry pooches overtakes that plateau overlooking the downtown skyline and Inner Harbor. As many as 25 canines, their owners and occasionally owners' children congregate there for a permanent weekday date.

"The dog-walking hour is a real phenomenon. I don't know the names of many of the owners, but I know their dogs' names," said Robert Schoenhofer, a Harbor Court resident who walks his beagle, Lutti, in several city parks, but most often in Federal Hill.

The dogs are let off their leads. The park provides enough safety so there isn't the fear of a dog slamming into an automobile.

"I think it's essential. There must be some place for people to let their dogs be free, to have a life," said Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, the author of "The Hidden Life of Dogs," who lives in Peterborough, N.H. "I never leash my dogs." She said even if her area had leash laws, she would ignore them.

The presence of the dog walkers in Federal Hill helped create a neighborhood compromise when the park was relandscaped and redesigned. When it reopened last summer, a large, neatly fenced play area was included for children and people who wanted to enjoy the park but not have dogs around.

Another section, mostly lawn, is for the dogs and their owners. It isn't specifically marked, but it does have several wooden receptacles where dog walkers leave their extra plastic grocery bags, which are used for cleaning up after the animals.

And the dog-walking ritual is repeated to one degree or another throughout other city parks.

Pet owners converge on the long, natural walks of Herring Run, the deep bowl of Wyman Park Dell, the hills of Hanlon Park, a plateau near Patterson Park's landmark pagoda, the rolling meadows of Druid Hill and the lawn at Riverside Park in South Baltimore.

The scene changes a bit on weekends. Tourists fill Federal Hill on Saturday and Sunday, and dog owners seek other venues.

Schoenhofer said he isn't looking forward to Monday mornings this summer and the dawning hours after big holidays, such as July 4, when Federal Hill is most heavily used.

"People drop all sorts of food, peanut shells, crab parts, in the parks," he said. "A paper bag with the remains of a sandwich is particularly exciting for a dog. These are the days when I keep my dog on a leash so she won't be getting into these things."

Terry Cooper, another Federal Hill regular, exercises Shana, her 9-year-old mix of chow and golden retriever at the park almost every day.

"We feel we keep a lot of crime and drugs out of the park," Cooper said.

Having a dog to walk has social value, too.

"Dog walking is part of the social scene here. A dog is a conduit for meeting people," said John Stoke, a Montgomery Street resident who walks with his wife, Serrell, and 16-month-old daughter, Rosalie. The family has a standard poodle named Ollie.

On weekends, walkers have more time and head for retreats such as Lake Roland, properly known as Robert E. Lee Park.

This spot is a resort for Labradors and other breeds that like to swim in what was once a source for city drinking water.

"My Maisy starts whining in the car as soon as we get near Lake Roland. I think she can smell the water," said La Donna Puryea, an Eastern Avenue resident who drives across town to take her 14-month-old golden retriever swimming.

Melissa Folus, a Baltimore County schoolteacher who lives in Towson, goes to Lake Roland so that her dog, Jesse, can chase the squirrels. "The park has a definite life and rhythm to it," Folus said. "The joggers get here real early in the morning.

"Then the dog walkers come. In the afternoon, it's the quiet strollers who don't have dogs, as a rule. In the late afternoon, the dog walkers return, but I like to clear out before the summertime picnickers. I don't want my dog jumping up and eating their dinner."

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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