Dogtown

Tailing downtown Dallas' pack of pampered canines

Stop the car--pull over. You need to look at this. We're downtown, and there are people all over the place walking dogs. No, not blind people. These are people taking their pooches for a stroll.

Think about it. There never used to be people walking dogs in downtown Dallas. I don't know how far back you go, but I go way back. When downtown was goin' and blowin' in the '80s, the sidewalks were jammed with suits and spike heels. No dogs. Then in the '90s, after the real estate collapse, we had scary-bad downtown: The sidewalks were empty except for people whimpering and running to their cars. No dogs.

Now these people are all over the place with big old smiles and dogs on leashes. They're popping up all over like they think this is Dogtown. What does it mean? Who are these dogs?

Janet Healy believes her Jack Russell rescue dogs "soften the atmosphere" at her photography studio downtown.
Mark Graham
Janet Healy believes her Jack Russell rescue dogs "soften the atmosphere" at her photography studio downtown.
Gus, the wire fox terrier, wears "doggles" downtown.
Mark Graham
Gus, the wire fox terrier, wears "doggles" downtown.

Brian Campbell at Petdata.com, the private firm that handles dog licensing for the city, told me the 75201 ZIP code, right downtown in the office tower district, is home to 222 registered dogs. Can you believe that? More than 200 dogs living right downtown, to say nothing of dogs people may be bringing to work with them?

We have to find out about these dogs. I'm worried. I'm a big dog person. I thought you were supposed to have a back yard if you had a dog. What kind of life is it for a dog to live in downtown Dallas? We're on the case.


I'm walking up Commerce Street from the Dallas Observeroffices on a fine spring day with a notebook and digital recorder in hand, hunting for dog walkers. Aha! There's a cute one just ahead, a young woman with a jumpy little dark-haired, sharp-snouted something-or-other mix on a leash. She and the pooch are hustling along. All I have to do is close in on them and quickly explain that I'm a reporter doing a story about the lives of dogs downtown. I hope I can get her to believe me before she sprays me in the face with a painful gas. People think this is an easy job.

Her name is Kate Tetuan; her dog, Pete, 9 months old, pauses briefly to sniff my hand and pants cuff, and we're off to the races, walking pretty fast up Commerce Street. Pete is eager to get to the downtown dog park, which is called Bark Park Central. Who knew the city had a sense of humor?

"I take him out twice in the morning, between 6:15 and when I go to work," she tells me while we trot along. "Then in the afternoon when I get home I take him to the dog park. And I take him out again about 10 p.m."

I ask what she does when she leaves town.

"Well, I just took him to Portland with me. But my cousin lives in Arlington, so I can take him there."

"So your cousin is a dog person?"

"No, she doesn't really like dogs."

The truth?

"I've only been away from him twice."

Tetuan lives in one of the older downtown apartment buildings. She's a social worker with a hospice agency.

"That's hard work, isn't it?"

She doesn't even have to answer. I see by the look on her face that it is very hard work. She unsnaps the leash from Pete, and he bolts off across the park to play with other dogs. Tetuan breaks into a huge grin. Pete is a lot of fun for her.

Bark Park Central takes a little getting used to. It's beneath the Central Expressway overpasses at the east end of downtown, at the southwest corner of Good-Latimer Expressway and Commerce Street, where Deep Ellum, downtown and Fair Park all meet. The intentions are good, and the park, which opened April 8 last year, can only get better as the grass grows in and the harsh urban edges soften.

There's a big city sign with all kinds of Draconian rules: "No food or treats (dog or human)...no dog without tags...$2,000 fine...dispose excreta."

Big dogs, little dogs, in-between dogs: They're all loping around with that idiot grin dogs get when they're happy, chasing each other, rolling in mud puddles, catching sponge balls, all of their brilliant tricks--nature's clowns, downtown.

Bark Park Central was the brainchild of a former neighbor and dog-walking acquaintance of mine in East Dallas, Barry Annino. Annino lived in an old house on my street, but he wised up. I remember the day we met walking our dogs, and he said, "Man, if it's not one thing, it's another with these old places. It never ends." He sold his house and moved to a townhome in State-Thomas.

Annino, a commercial real estate broker, serves on the board of the Deep Ellum Public Improvement District. "I saw that there was nowhere for the people living near downtown to take their dogs and let them stretch their legs," he told me the other day.

He and a few other people persuaded the state, which owns the land beneath the freeway, to allow the city of Dallas to install a dog park on it. Hence, Bark Park Central with the truck noise and the traffic. A whole lot better than nothing.

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