B.J.'s mouth watered as the hot dogs sizzled on the grill. Dainty Cleo kept an eye on her son, Ben. Roth, a real party animal, couldn't keep his paws off a fetching white-haired beauty.
And, yes, there were several party-poopers on hand as a group of dogs and their owners gathered for a barbecue Saturday afternoon at Penmar Park in Venice.
Their informal pooch play group meets for a daily romp in the park, said Sharon Markowitz, who is also known as B.J.'s mom.
B.J. is a black-and-white terrier mix. The canine crew is a melange of breeds, sizes and colors, ranging from tiny Rita, a Jack Russell terrier who can be tucked under an arm, to 185-pound Ziggy, an English mastiff, who can't be tucked anywhere without his permission.
And every now and then the owners put on the dog with a potluck meal.
Sammy, Kimi, Sundance, Sadie and Christmas were among about 25 rambunctious party-goers Saturday, as were Spot and Domino, who seemed to sense that they had a lot in common.
With the Right Look
Naturally, there was an hors d'oeuvre table for the dogs, featuring dog biscuits and hot-dog-flavored treats. Dogs who had carefully cultivated beseeching looks were rewarded with tidbits of people food, complete with relish and bun.
The dogs were more interested in canine camaraderie than guacamole and chips. With few exceptions, they got along famously, which is the point of the gatherings, according to their owners.
"It sounds dumb, but it socializes the dogs," said Nick Statman, owner of Spot, a sleek Dalmatian with one blue eye and one brown eye.
Apparently, once the dogs are exposed to each other and assorted humans, they are less aggressive and less likely to go bonkers when friends come over for dinner. "The dogs seem to benefit from it, and the people have made friends," said Carol Chang, whose white Samoyed, Kimi, was described by another owner as a temptress.
Dollar, on the other hand, could not muster her usual social poise, and after repeated bouts of snappish behavior was booted from the party by her dismayed owner. "Don't (write that she's) a bad dog," wailed Enid Baron, as she dragged her grumpy pup away.
A lovesick black Labrador mix named Roth was on a tight leash because of his poor impulse control. "He's trying to have too much fun," explained Linda Rodengill. "He's paying for his lust."
Another leash appeared as soon as the imposing Ziggy lumbered into the park. "I know he has an attitude about Ziggy," said Shirley Johnson of her chow-shepherd mix. "Duncan doesn't like dogs that are bigger than him."
Neither, evidentially, did Sirius, a 3 1/2-month-old brown puppy named after the celestial dog star. Sirius preferred to camp in his master's lap all afternoon. Half Rottweiler, he will soon be able to hold his own with the madding crowd.
The crowd started out several years ago with one guy, one dog and a lawn chair. The group's founder has since moved to Texas, but the tradition goes on, with people coming from near and far to a place where they can run their dogs without leashes and not get hassled.
Their tradition was threatened recently when some park-goers complained about the dogs, but after a meeting with the park staff, the status quo seems to have been restored.
Chang said their group is "real fastidious about picking up after their dogs." There was, however, nary a pooper-scooper in sight. Asked how they take care of business, several owners reached into their pockets and waved plastic bags.
Although many mentioned the feeling of community among the owners, the dogs are clearly the focal point of the gathering. "We know everybody's dog's name, but will not know the owner's name," said Steven Hittelman, also known as Sundance's dad.
The owners say they watch out for each other's dogs, and Saturday was no exception. A man suddenly screamed and took off after one of the dogs. Owner Markowitz groaned, "Oh no, B.J.'s across the street!"
Just as eagerly as he had headed for the golf course across the street, B.J. started back and had a close call with a white pickup truck.
Two other dogs also wandered across the street later that day, prompting one owner to lament, "This hasn't been a good barbecue, because everybody has been so aggressive."