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A Place Where Canines Cavort and Humans Hobnob

November 21, 1998|NORA ZAMICHOW

Ryan Laney negotiated fiercely before he moved from Houston and accepted a Hollywood computer graphics job. The clincher? Jesse, his 3 1/2-year-old black shepherd and lab mix, would be able to go with him to work.

"That's my deal," Laney explained. "Jesse is well-behaved. He's not very needy. If you tell him to go away, he will. He's a stress reliever."

Usually Jesse naps under other people's desks--he sees his master plenty after work and at home. When he gets bored, he'll either knock on the office back door or saunter by Laney's desk, giving him that c'mon-stupid- it's-time-for-a-walk look.

"He's in charge," says Laney matter-of-factly.

Jesse also dictates Laney's after-work activities. Almost every evening they go to a 1-acre parcel enclosed by chain-link fence in Silver Lake. It's the kind of place you'd relish if you were forced to spend your whole day with humans. It's frequented, in its best moments, by several dozen cavorting canines, little and big, surly and playful, amorous and shy, all of them off-leash. It's a dog park.


In the crisp days of fall, the park is so popular that the once-lush green turf has worn down to bare dirt--a problem that park officials also have with soccer fields. Here is one of the few places in Los Angeles where dogs

can romp, body-slam and otherwise socialize off-leash while owners share notes on the latest antics of their charges.

Aside from bars, there are precious few meeting grounds for otherwise perfect strangers. Dog parks offer a small-town intimacy to people whose bond is their capacity to adore an animal.

"It's amazing to see that many people who under any other circumstances would never be talking to each other, yet here they are sitting and chatting," said Ken Novak, the golf and parks program manager with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks. "It's very viable social relationships taking place among Angelenos, and you can't help but be impressed."

Here, people will confide the most intimate secrets. They'll trade tips about what to do, for instance, when your Great Dane thinks he's a lap dog. They'll share tales of woe, telling you about how they found C.J., a Benji look-alike who was abandoned. They'll voluntarily clean the dog park as though it were their own yard.

Here, Debbie Palmer, 21, an emergency medical technician from Pasadena, does homework while 7-year-old Smokey guards the bench and Hambone, a 4-year-old Basset hound, chases a terrier gleefully running circles around him. (On days that Hambone doesn't come to the park, he tends to tear into paper products, fancying paper towels, newspapers and toilet paper.) Here, the Russian grandmother scolds her dog Prince as she explains to a visitor that when Prince's mother, Queen, had a male puppy, only one name suggested itself.

Before she can explain the names of her other two dogs, a trim 2-year-old boxer gallops by, his owner, Maria Barsegian, following at a discreet distance. Barsegian, a manicurist at a Beverly Hills salon, figures that it's better to bring Capone to the park for an hour than have him pester her with his basket of toys while she's trying to cook dinner. Although his name is Capone--because of his likeness to the gangster--she calls him Baby. She jokes that if she had an infant, she'd call it Dog. At home in her one-bedroom condo, she speaks to Capone in Armenian, except for two words of English that send him careening to the door: dog park.


Ryan Laney and Jesse usually arrive at the dog park in the early evening. Jesse stands out; he's the only dog who dresses for the occasion. Sometimes he wears a standard red cowboy bandanna, one of the 30 such items in his growing wardrobe. Other times, he wears a kerchief with a smiley face. For summer evenings, he's got Hawaiian bandannas, which give way to earth-tone prints for the fall. Christmas? Red and green, natch.

When Nick, a 2-year-old golden retriever, breezes by Jesse in hot pursuit of a much-chewed tennis ball, Laney explains that Jesse is uninterested in such pastimes.

"He doesn't fetch. It's beneath him," he says, good-naturedly. "Fetching is for dogs."


Dog Park Locations

The city of Los Angeles runs four fenced facilities that allow dogs to run off-leash. Los Angeles County does not maintain dog parks. The locations:


Name Address Acres Sepulveda Basin* 17550 Victory Blvd., Encino 5 Westminster 1234 Pacific Ave., Venice 0.75 Laurel Canyon 8260 Mulholland Drive, Studio City 3.7 Silver Lake 1850 W. Silver Lake Blvd. 1


* This park has a separate enclosed half-acre area reserved for small dogs.

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