February 3, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Donna Terek: Donna's Detroit

Detroit dog lovers unite to find places to play

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If you happen to be walking by the old Tiger Stadium field on the third Saturday of the month, you may be surprised to find it full of dogs — and their owners.

Since the pop-up Dog Party at Tiger Stadium began nine months ago, the number of dogs (and humans) has grown from a handful to last month's 50 to 60 four-legged revelers and their humans. And that was on a blustery sub-freezing day.

It was tough on the two-leggers who hunkered into their down jackets and huddled in clutches for warmth. But for the dogs it was bliss. They sniffed and chased each other, ran amok around the covered pitcher's mound and made outrageous tennis ball catches in the outfield.

The parties have become so popular that they've led to a more permanent place for canine revelry in Detroit.

Through Detroit's Adopt-a-Park program, local dog lovers have found the perfect site, a neglected pocket park known as Macomb Playlot on 17th, just across Vernor from Michigan Central Station. Once a playground, it's now a cyclone-fenced trapezoid of occasionally mown grass.

At about three-quarters of an acre, it's not nearly as spacious as the two-acre Tiger Stadium site, but organizers figure there will rarely be more than a few dogs there at a time since it's available every day. Organizers hope the Dog Park will become a model for similar parks in other neighborhoods.

The old Tiger Stadium dog parties were the brainchild of Corktown resident Mary Lorene Carter. After she brought her new puppy home from the dog rescue, her life began to revolve around the black Lab mix, Pasta Batman, who is now 1 1/2. He was her constant companion, even at the local bar.

Through Facebook, she proposed holding monthly "dog parties" at the old Tiger Stadium field. The gatherings, while not officially sanctioned, are "politely ignored" by the city of Detroit, she said.The large open space at Michigan and Trumbull was the perfect location, centrally located in Corktown and completely fenced so dogs could run and socialize without those pesky leashes.

"I don't have a yard but I have this fantastic black mutt that needs a lot of exercise," says Carter, 29, who lives just blocks from the stadium site. Carter works with Loveland Technologies and its project whydontweownthis.com or the Imagination Station where she's a board member.

Carter claims having an off-leash place to run "will cut down on unwanted behavior in dogs: excessive barking, jumping, aggressiveness." And it relieves owners' desire to give their dogs freedom by letting them off-leash in inappropriate places.

And it's not just the dogs who hobnob. Shunda Burks, 27, of Redford brings Remi, her Shih Tzu-Yorkie mix to the monthly meetups and encountered Carter and Pasta Batman early on. "My dog met her dog and they played for hours and hours."

"Our dogs fell in love with each other," says Carter. And now the two women are fast friends as well.

While Carter was rallying the dog crowd to these gatherings, another dog lover, Carly Mys, 36, was hatching a scheme of her own: a permanent off-leash dog park near downtown Detroit, where she is a resident of the Kales Building, and also its leasing manager.

She and her 10-year-old golden retriever, Henry, hunted down Carter at one of her pop-up dog parties and the two joined forces.

Carter launched an online Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,000 in three weeks as Mys and her seven-member board worked on a location for the park. Everyone loved the Tiger Stadium site, but knowing it would eventually be developed, they looked elsewhere.

The women hope the permanent park at the Macomb Playlot on 17th will be open this summer during normal park hours, roughly dawn to dusk. They are planning a shelter with a rain barrel system for canine drinking as well as a playscape for dogs nicknamed Mt. Dogmore.

And for those who love the Michigan and Trumbull location, Carter is planning to keep the monthly Dog Party going as long as the spot is available.

"I think it's really important to achieve that critical mass and that party element," she says. "Everyone likes a party."

Note: Mary Carter's dog's name came from an NPR story about two little boys arguing over naming their dog. One wanted "Pasta," one wanted "Batman." When the debate got a little heated their mom stepped in and declared the dog's name to be "Pasta Batman." Carter and her boyfriend were charmed by the story and hope the name will become the new "Fido."

On the third Saturday of the month for about the past year dog lovers gather at Old Tiger Stadium with their canines for a pop-up Dog party. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
Mary Lorene Carter of Detroit, organizer of the pop-up Dog Party brought ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
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