Union Street Dog Park

To the Dogs

Once upon a time, the city seemed pretty evenly divided between “cat people” and “dog people.” There was a period when stray cats roamed the streets in packs. There was a time in the 1990s when trendy shoulder-perching pets like parrots, ferrets and snakes held sway.

But for years now, it’s clearly been a dog’s life.

The downtown apartment boom of recent decades has led to an influx of dogs, especially really little ones. The TD Bank at the corner of Chapel and College streets, across from the Green, keeps bowls of dog biscuits at the tellers’ stations, perhaps for animals who prefer to bury their bones in safe deposit boxes. Local boutiques, from Wave Gallery to JB London Ltd., seem to stock more gift items related to dogs than to any other pets. Cutler’s, which let cats roam about freely, closed last year; now you’re more likely now to see dogs lounging around shops, like Sophie the golden retriever at Geraldine, a florist. Ashley’s, the venerable ice cream parlor on York Street, was named in the 1970s after a champion Frisbee-catching whippet.

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Yale School of Music

Numerous local bars and restaurants, from J.P. Dempsey’s and Christopher Martins in the East Rock neighborhood to the Elm Bar on Elm near Howe and Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea at Whitney and Grove, are happy to let tethered dogs hang around in the seating areas outside their establishments.

Then there are the omnipresent bulldogs emblazoned on the backs of Yale shuttle buses, eternally dogging your tracks. All the Yale sports teams are called Bulldogs, while the school’s mascot, a bulldog, is named Handsome Dan.

You don’t need to locate a shop, watering hole or university in order to just be a dog, though. Wooster Square Park is one of the best, and best regulated, parks in the city in which to take a casual stroll, for people and dogs alike. A special fountain and bowl is situated at pooch-face level, and the receptacles where you can find spare poop-bags (in case you’ve forgotten yours) are regularly refilled.

But Wooster Square Park is not technically a dog park. You’re not allowed to let animals off their leashes there, and park-users must respect the rights of all who use the park and not let it go completely to the dogs.

The many dog-owners in the neighborhood used to use the grounds of the Conte West Hills elementary school as a dog-running area, with the school’s permission, but that relationship ended a couple of years ago.

Last fall, just a couple of blocks from Wooster Square Park, Union Street Dog Park opened on an easy-to-overlook section of Union between Chapel and State. It’s brought to you by the Friends of Wooster Square (not to be confused with the Historic Wooster Square Association, which keeps Wooster Square Park hopping with events like the Cherry Blossom Festival in April).

A sign at the park’s double-gated entrance—designed so that unleashed pets can’t easily escape—lists dozens of sponsors and supporters. The dog-lovers include the A Dog’s Life “doggie daycare” facility and pet supply shop on Hamilton Street, the Bark Busters chain of dog training centers, and (since dog parks are for people to run around in too) the East Haven Footcare Center.

The park opened in September with much fanfare. It got a new jolt of publicity a few weeks ago when window signs on the Chapel Street side of the Comcast building (which takes up much of the block between Union and Olive streets) were emblazoned with new posters pointing out where the dog park is. The photos on the posters came largely from a 2012 Dogs of Wooster Square calendar which Friends of Wooster Square created as a fundraising item.

On a recent snowy Monday, the park had just one canine occupant, but an extremely appreciative one. Franco (the tiny brown blob in the middle of the photo above) is a striking mix of corgi and beagle. His owner, Lesley Dancer, is originally from Arkansas and finds herself in New Haven for just a month, living here while an actor friend is performing at the Long Wharf Theatre in the new (alas, dog-free) comedy January Joiner.

Franco may be small, but he obviously enjoys wide open spaces. Union Street Dog Park isn’t all that grand an enclosure, but there’s plenty of room to throw a stick, and dogs get that. The stretch is an excellent addition to a dog-friendly city.

For less leisure-related dog accommodations, the big dog in town (and, in fact, the whole state) remains the Robin I. Kroogman Animal Shelter, a division of the New Haven Police Department which every year cares for a couple thousand animals, many of them dogs, and holds successful adoption programs.

Dogs have an important place in New Haven. As the great Cole Porter put it so masterfully in a fight song he wrote for the Yale Bulldogs:

“Bow, wow, wow!”

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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