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Joy Unleashed : Every Dog Has His Day in New Park


LONG BEACH — Free, they raced beneath the pines and eucalyptuses of their new park, and could scarcely contain their joy. Their owners, at last with a place to let them roam unleashed without fear of a fine, watched and rejoiced.

The Long Beach Dog Park had just opened in Recreation Park Saturday morning, but already it was getting crowded. There were Labradors, St. Bernards, Dalmatians, poodles, collies, cocker spaniels and mixed breeds. Those with pedigrees did not flaunt them, and ran side-by-side with the mutts.

"About the whole dog world is here," said Susan Tran, who was with P.J., her St. Bernard. This was a day they had eagerly awaited, said Tran, who once got a $135 ticket for not having P.J. on a leash.

Across the way, growls broke upon the pleasantness, but died quickly. "You can lose a finger trying to break up a fight," Tran said.

The park, 400 feet long and 120 feet wide, is between the 18-hole golf course and casting pond, just east of Blair Field. It is only the second dog park in Los Angeles County. The other is in Laurel Canyon.

Waiting for a ribbon-cutting ceremony were some city dignitaries, including Mayor Ernie Kell, who was in a suit and tie. Asked if he owned a dog, Kell said, "I don't, but I have a cat."

Clyde Cicotte, 56, greeted the dogs and their owners, many of whom carried water bowls. "I'm the troublemaker that started the entire project," he said.

About a year and a half ago, Cicotte got a ticket for letting his yellow Labrador run unleashed in Marina Vista Park. Cicotte got mad and came up with the idea for a dog park.

City officials thought that such a park would be plagued by fights. To combat that concern, Cicotte armed himself with Miriam Yarden, a feisty animal behavior specialist who said dogs could coexist peacefully in a neutral area.

"They are not on their own territory, therefore they

are not territorial," Yarden said. "It's common ground. There is no turf to protect."

It took 18 months for Cicotte and Yarden, working with 3rd District Councilman Douglas S. Drummond, to get the proposal through the city bureaucracy. After it was approved this spring by the City Council, the two dog lovers raised $4,000 in two months to have the park fenced.

The opening ceremony was informal, and most of the dog owners, scattered in the distance, missed it. But a handful applauded the dignitaries, and then Cicotte's red-bowed Nike came through the entrance gates as the ceremonial first dog.

Out in the center of the park, Esther Costa of Norwalk sat on the grass and watched her playful Dalmatians, Sidney and Casey. "Other places, you're afraid they'll get hit by a car or take off after a cat," she said. "Here I can sit and read a book."

She was relieved that a sign outside the park says vicious dogs are unwelcome. "The (owners) that want their dogs to be ferocious and stay in the yard won't bring them here," she said. She saw no pit bulls or Dobermans. She did see a little, black cocker spaniel chasing a blue ball.

This was Tilly. Her owner, Wendy Christensen, was happy that the park is bigger than her back yard, where the ball often ends up in the swimming pool.

In this newfound paradise, Christensen threw as far as she could, and Tilly chased. This went on until Tilly lost track of the ball, and one of Costa's Dalmatians had to be persuaded from claiming it as his own.

The sight and sound of so many dogs caught the attention of the golfers coming up the 14th fairway. Doug Moffatt stopped his cart and peered through the fence.

"Balls are hit over in here all the time," he said.

He said some golfers would surely blame the barking for their lousy shots, but he thought the park was a good idea.

Cicotte was going around counting dogs, and by early Saturday afternoon was up to 120.

There was some snarling over by the golf course, but the fight was broken up before any fingers were lost.

And then what sounded like a brawl broke out.

When the dogs involved had been separated, Steve Stewart of North Long Beach left with his Norwegian elkhound. "I was here no more than five minutes and my dog was attacked," he said. "I'm going to call the city and make a complaint."

The attacker, he claimed, was Napoleon, a Great Pyrenees.

But Yarden, the animal behavior specialist, said, "All Napoleon wanted to do was play. He's a friendly big old lug."

She said Stewart kept his dog on a leash when he came into the park because he had said his dog was mean.

"Had he left the dog off the leash, the dog would have been fine," Yarden said. "But the dog was fearful and had no avenue of escape, so he growled. And the other dogs responded."

But that was the weekend's only sour note. Otherwise, there was not even a golf-ball plunking.

Monday, Yarden was still basking in the park's early success. "There was the aristocracy and the riffraff, both treasured equally by owners," she said.

"On Sunday we had Dobermans and three pit bulls. They were exemplarily behaved."

There had been a slight problem with a golden retriever.

"He was one raging hormone," Yarden said. "At least five or six people went up to his owner and said, 'Please, have him neutered.' He was a randy ol' goat."

He was one of many of his breed that Yarden saw Sunday, "Golden spots of sunlight all over the park."

Long Beach Dog Park Rules

* No vicious dogs.

* No dogs in heat.

* Dogs must be 4 months old.

* Dogs must have vaccinations and licenses.

* Owners must clean up after their dogs.

* Hours 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

* Admission free.

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