As the off-leash dog park at Rumsey Park turns one year old, it has taken on an entirely new function -- the hot new place to meet people.
"An interesting phenomenon is occurring," Paws in the Park President Mike Rokoff said. "People are getting to know each other."
Payson residents Herb and Cindy Bartholomew are among those who have made new friends at the dog park, a 1.5-acre facility just north of the library.
They have two dogs, a German short hair pointer named "Ellie" and a mutt from the Payson Humane Society animal shelter named "Max."
"It's a good way to meet nice people," Herb Bartholomew said. "We don't belong to any social organizations, but everybody has a common interest in their dogs."
The Bartholomews have, in fact, met about 15 new friends at the dog park.
"We've met some really nice friends there who we think will be our friends for a long time," Bartholomew said. "We often do things with these folks outside the dog park."
One of those friends is Payson resident Edna Pimental, who visits the dog park every morning. Her dog, "Sabrina," is a mutt from the humane society shelter, that is a border collie-Aussie mix.
"I've met a lot of nice people," Pimental said. "Of course, dog people are all nice people."
Asked to name some of her new friends, Pimental responds, "Cindy ... Susan ... Dee ... oh, it's much easier to remember dog names.
Pimental says the dogs also socialize. "My dog has made a lot of friends, too," she said.
The dogs aren't particular about whether their new friends are fellow canines or people. In fact, Pimental has become close to Max, one of the Bartholomew's dogs.
"Max is a lover," she said. "He loves to kiss all the women."
Denver resident Ami Newland, in Payson to visit her mother, met Barbara Wolf at the dog park on Friday. Newland has a long-haired dachshund named "Stretch," while Wolf, who only recently moved to Payson, has a Scottish terrier named "Bridey Kate McWolf" and a black Lab mix named "Blackie."
"We met when my dog was running away from her dogs," Newland said with a laugh.
Denver has several dog parks, all larger than the Payson park, and they are very popular, according to Newland.
So far, the friendships formed at the dog park have been of the platonic nature, but Rokoff says it's just a matter of time before a romance unfolds amidst the mutts.
"There was an article in the (Arizona) Republic several months ago about how dog parks across the country are becoming like the latest singles bars," he said.
From personal experience, Rokoff knows that dogs truly are man's best friend.
"When we go to the Valley we take both dogs," he said. "My wife will be some place shopping and I'm standing around with the dogs, and it's like a chick magnet. All these women come around to pet the dog, and they wouldn't approach you if you didn't have a dog."
Rokoff likes to tell the story about an elderly lady who moved to Payson from New York.
"This cute little old lady in her 70s came up to me about a week after the park opened last year," he said. "She said, ‘Tell me something, do any single men come to the park?' I said, ‘Actually, quite a few.' She said, ‘I lost my husband seven years ago and, to tell you the truth, I'm looking.'"
All it takes to join in the fun is a dog, and the humane society has plenty for you to choose from. In fact, Paws in the Park sponsors an adoption event at the park from 10 a.m. to noon the first Saturday of each month.
"It's tough to adopt a dog down there (at the shelter), Rokoff said. "All the dogs are barking and everything. It's so neat to get the dogs out of there."
Dogs that are taken to the monthly event at the park have had all their shots and are spayed and neutered so they can be taken straight home by their new owners.
Rokoff says it's probably just a matter of time before a couple who met at the dog park gets married there. "Wouldn't that be incredible? And it could happen. If you go with a dog, you're going to meet chicks, you know."
Paws in the Park upcoming events
Paws in the Park, the organization responsible for getting the dog park built, meets at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at the library. The group's upcoming events include:
- First anniversary of the park on April 13.
"We'll probably use it to announce that the playground for the dogs is done," Rokoff said. "It may be the only one in the country."
The new playground features exercise and agility equipment, and includes a playhouse. Still needed, according to Rokoff: a big concrete or clay "tunnel" for the dogs to run through.
- Annual Easter Bake Sale -- date and time to be announced.
- Big Hairy Yard Sale on Saturday, May 3, at the dog park. Last year's inaugural event raised over $2,000, according to Rokoff.