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On Dating: Meeting at the Dog Park

Dana Milyak and Dennis Marron made a love connection at the Del Ray dog park two years ago, thanks to Grendel (her German shepherd-husky mix, left) and Gobi (his boxer and Shar-Pei mix).
Dana Milyak and Dennis Marron made a love connection at the Del Ray dog park two years ago, thanks to Grendel (her German shepherd-husky mix, left) and Gobi (his boxer and Shar-Pei mix). (By Michael Temchine - For The Washington Post)

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By Julia Beizer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

Dennis Marron had seen Dana Milyak around the neighborhood. But it wasn't until they ran into each other at the Del Ray dog park that they finally started talking. That was two years ago; now Marron, 35, and Milyak, 36, share a house in Old Town Alexandria with Gobi, his boxer and Shar-Pei mix, and Grendel, her German shepherd-husky.

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Rumors of tales like Marron and Milyak's swirl in dog-park circles. It's not surprising. At the dog park, Marron says, "you already have a pretty strong bond in common."

The love of a pet drives some owners to trek to dog parks and let their pooches play (sans leash) with other pups. It's a social activity for the dogs, to be sure, but owners can also see those trips as a chance to meet people who live in their neighborhoods. Brian Mac Kiel, 45, has built several lasting friendships through the dog park and his work with ArlingtonDogs, a group that advocates for dog parks. "At this point, we've all lost the dogs that we originally had, but we're still friends," he says.

Naturally, conversations begin about the furry friends in their charges. "Being at the dog park's great and it allows you to open up a conversation, but at some point, there needs to be something for two people to talk about other than, you know, what color is your dog's poop in the morning," says Dan Cohen, founder and president of Animal Attraction (http://www.animalattraction.com), a social networking site for pet lovers. Start conversations casually by asking about the dogs, then gradually steer chitchat away from pet-related topics, he suggests.

Annee Gillett, catering director for the Hotel Monaco, where Marron works, has witnessed many dog-inspired interactions at the Alexandria hotel's Doggie Happy Hour, where strangers often gather around communal tables instead of opting for individual ones. "I think the dogs make them feel comfortable with saying, 'Hey, can Charlie and I join you?' " Gillett says. It's important to remember that dog parks aren't just crawling with singles looking for love; many people are simply there to walk their dogs. "Just because you're at the dog park doesn't give you license to make someone uncomfortable, to ask them a question socially that you may not ask them in another type of environment," Cohen says. But, he adds, "If it feels appropriate, there's certainly nothing wrong with suggesting a get-together." The Cleveland Park resident, and owner of Buddy, a Rottweiler-German shepherd mix, suggested the dog beach at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis as a great day trip for dog lovers.

But even before dog owners get to the date stage, there is one cardinal rule of dog-park interaction. "Make sure that they introduce themselves and ask for the person's name in addition to the pet's name," Cohen says. Otherwise, owners risk that all-too-common dog-park phenomenon: knowing the name of the pet but not the person.

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