Dog park 521.
(photo credit: Chaim Collins)
It’s not a unique phenomenon: While “the kids” run and play in the park, working
off pent-up energy, the adults sit around and discuss topics like dealing with
separation anxiety, behavioral problems and providing a healthy diet. But when
these kids get to the gate on the way out of the park, they are put on a short
leash – literally.
There are very few places in Jerusalem where dogs are
able to run around freely, without fear of being handed a hefty fine by
Having a place where they can romp and play –
without scaring young children – helps prevent aggression in the
There are also benefits for the human companions. Man’s best
friend helps create friendships. In this particular park – the dog park in the
San Simon neighborhood – the human friendships are a cause for
I doubt that there is any other dog park in the world that
can boast of hosting so many Jewish life-cycle events. The San Simon dog park
has hosted sheva brachot, the traditional celebration following a religious
wedding (courtesy of the owners of Goldie the Labrador retriever); two sets of
proud parents have marked a brit mila (the circumcision was performed in more
sterile surroundings but the proud parents held a get-together in the park for
the dogs and other friends who couldn’t make the main event); a toast for Rosh
Hashana, and, just last week, a bar mitzva celebration for Ro’i (a boy, not a
dog, in case you were wondering.)
In July 2010, the park even held a party to
celebrate its own first anniversary, declared by my mother (or more to the
point, Mimi’s owner) “a howling success.”
There are three other dog parks
in the capital, several in Tel Aviv and others dotted in cities around the
country. But the San Simon park – or “The Bark,” as it’s known in jest among
some of the regulars – is different.
“There is a real community feeling,”
says Lynn Goldberg, an English teacher who tries to come on a daily basis
(“partly for my own sake, partly for Angie’s”).
true friends,” she says. Her sentiments are echoed by many other
regulars, people who come even when they are dog tired, to relax with
owners and let their mutts have some fun.
Owners range in age from young
teens to definitely senior citizens. The dogs include puppies just old enough to
have been vaccinated and those like my own mutt, Gussie, who is way past bat
Newcomers at first have to find their way around and figure
out who’s leader of the pack. And that’s not just the pooches. An unofficial
hierarchy also exists among those who regularly hang out in the park. They make
sure that dogs that are aggressive or have other problems – and owners who are
not willing to accept responsibility for their dogs’ behavior – realize they are
barking up the wrong tree.
Goldberg notes that when Angie was a puppy,
she took her to the Sacher Park dog run, but Angie was pounced upon by big
boisterous dogs, leaving the pup traumatized. They both seem to have found their
place in San Simon. “She always knows when we’re going and gets excited,” says
Like other regulars, she talks about the site in terms of “our
Among her particular park friends is Maisa Nashashibi, who brings
her German Shepherd almost daily from the Wadi Joz neighborhood. “It’s very
nice. Coming to the park is really good for both of us,” says
The Muslim-Jewish friendship does not seem at all incongruous
in such a setting, where social barriers are naturally broken down. San Simon
dog-park aficionados include secular and Orthodox Jews; Sabras, new immigrants
and veteran Israelis; long-term visitors and tourists. One frequent-flying dog
has notched up miles between Israel and Finland, for instance.
more than a sprinkling of professionals, but a policeman, landscape gardener, a
bank clerk, and a couple of tour guides are all among those who refer to “our
Occasionally, this being Israel after all, conversation turns
political, although a huge effort is made to keep discourse polite and make sure
hackles aren’t raised. It might be a dog park, but dogma is out of
bounds. Most of the time the chat is just that – a pleasant way to pass
time with friends. Some sit under the olive trees and play backgammon. Instead
of using the old “the dog ate my homework” excuse, in the summer my son often
does his homework in the park.
Some of the dogs have expensive pedigrees
while others are what is fondly known in these parts as “meurav Yerushalmi,” a
Jerusalem mix, referring to a popular local dish of mixed grilled
Edna Baruch, who can list dog-sitting on her varied CV, admits that
she is not familiar with other dog parks but notes that “there is something
special about our park, the way people come together to celebrate and also to
help each other out.”
When one dog owner found an injured puppy that
needed an urgent operation, regular park-goers pooled together to cover the
costs. And when an owner was hospitalized, others helped make sure her dog was
still exercised and taken care of.
“We have a lot to learn from our
canine companions. At the dog park, they’ll fight and howl at each other
one minute, and forget it all and play together the next. They really teach us
about living in the moment and moving on,” says one regular.
stalwart of the park also comments that it’s important to solve problems that
might arise peacefully and pleasantly. Dr. Mati Huss, a university lecturer in
Hebrew literature but better known in this particular crowd as “Mica’s owner,”
is among those who confesses that he comes “an hour or two a day” as much for
his own pleasure as for his dog’s benefit.
The facilities include a water
fountain, a container with “pooper-scooper” bags (although, like the toilet
paper in the average kindergarten, these run out faster than they can be
replaced) and (too few) benches.
Though still far from ideal, there is
access for the handicapped, allowing residents of the nearby home for the
disabled to come; a lapdog arrives in style, hitching a ride on a
For those who plan their day around this trip to doggy
heaven, there is one overriding concern lately – the fear that in the
dog-eat-dog world of real estate development plans will result in their paradise
being paved over. And, of course, the more built-up the surrounding area, the
more important it is for owners and pets to have somewhere to call their
The centrality of such a spot in the lives of both canines and their
companions is poignantly portrayed in the 1998 movie Theo’s friends, directed by
Eyal Halfon. Halfon documented a year in the lives of five dog-owning Tel
Avivians, including himself – his late dog is the Theo of the
Halfon demonstrates how dog ownership is a great way to overcome
the possible loneliness of life in the urban jungle.
Once you unleash the
secrets of the dog park subculture, you’ll realize you’re not barking mad when
you enjoy going to the dogs.