At crowded public events, a doggy divide

There's a long-standing divide between dog owners who want to bring their pets everywhere and those who plead, "Leave them at home."
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 10:47 PM

Robert Audia, who sells potted plants at the Takoma Park Farmers Market, has had dogs eat his merchandise and urinate on it. Recently, he held his breath as he watched a woman try to pay for some cheese while her 170-pound mastiff sniffed around under a table loaded with perishables.

"The woman probably weighed 120 pounds," said Audia, who is also manager of the market. "That dog was actually walking her. I'm a dog lover, but this just isn't a good setting for them."

When a police officer shot a dog he judged to be a threat at a street fair in Adams Morgan last week, the incident reopened a long-standing divide between dog owners who see no problem in taking their pets just about anywhere in public and those who plead, "Leave the pooch at home."

At the H Street Festival in the District last weekend, Mauro Farinelli serenely walked his dog into a crowd - and a controversy. Farinelli and his pit bull mix, Doug, strolled through a multitude of legs, food carts and dozens of other dogs. Doug never so much as growled, Farinelli said.

"Just a lot of sniffing - that's the basset in him," Farinelli, 39, said. He is quick to make clear that Doug is an obedience school graduate that has never been any trouble on their frequent outings to festivals, parks and shopping zones. "He's really good in crowds. He's really good with kids. Unless they actually forbid dogs, I don't see any reason not to take him wherever I'm going."

To many dog people, such scenes are perfect for their beloved pooch. They are outside, active and full of the kind of stimuli a dog doesn't get during long weekdays in the crate at the condo.

But for others, a crowded street filled with strollers and low-hanging snacks is the perfect place not to have a dog. They find brushing up against an animal of any size to be nerve-rattling. Others might love dogs, and even own them, but don't want them snuffling around their chicken-on-a-stick on a hot summer's day.

"I just don't know why everyone needs to bring their dog to a place like this," said Jennifer Harris, 43, eating a plate of fried rice near the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE. A few feet away, a leash-tangled bunch of eight canines surged around a plastic water bowl someone had placed on the curb. "My niece is terrified of them."

Managers of public events say they constantly try to find ways to manage the presence of pets at gatherings that can attract thousands of families. The H Street Festival has grown from about 5,000 attendees two years ago to more than 30,000 last week. And as the crowd has swelled, so has the number of dogs.

"It's a public street - what can you do?" asked Margaret Holwill, an organizer of the festival, as a young woman led two Boston terriers down the block. "People are going to bring them. They think of them as part of their family."

While not trying to bar dogs from the festival, Holwill said organizers rejected a proposed doggy play area and other amenities that might have acted as animal magnets.

"We can't stop people from bringing their dogs," she said. But to prevent "an unpredictable crowd situation, I don't think we should encourage it."

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