Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Park Goes to the Dogs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Park Goes to the Dogs

Article excerpt

A pack of dog lovers at Heritage Park are in the vanguard of a new volunteer program in Monroeville.

Monroeville Volunteers in Parks was formed recently to recruit and train residents to clean, paint and plant public spaces. But even before the group was created, a couple of dog owners took it upon themselves to spruce up a new dog park at Heritage Park.

Their success spurred town officials to formalize the volunteer program.

The dog park was built last year when the municipality renovated Heritage Park, on the east side of Monroeville along Saunders Station Road. The 1.5-acre, fenced-in compound overlooks the ball fields and tennis courts. Dogs are unleashed in a holding pen and then allowed to run free in the compound.

"It's a humongous success," said Parks and Recreation Director John Balicki. It cost about $50,000 to build but has received more praise than any of the other $3.5 million in parks renovations in the last four years.

It didn't catch on right away. The grass didn't grow and water pooled in low areas. By spring, the compound was a mud hole, according to Tom Burger and Darryl Pastirak, who prodded the town to do better.

Public works trucked in tons of topsoil and supplied grass seed and hay; Pastirak and Burger re-seeded the compound.

Conditions improved, people discovered the compound and a canine- human subculture evolved, which is to say that the dogs and their owners mirror one another.

Dogs on leashes are aggressive. Off-leash they quickly establish a hierarchy and socialize. During the busiest hours, after dinner, as many as two dozen dogs romp together.

Burger's catahoula, Gus, is known as the sheriff of the dog park. Any sign of a fight and Gus breaks it up. "Where else can a dog go and meet 10 dogs a day?" Pastirak asked. The animals also become better accustomed to people.

In the people hierarchy, Pastirak and Burger are the top dogs.

"Darryl is the guy who keeps [volunteers] moving and gets things done," Burger said. …

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