Creating a Pool Gathering for Dogs

By Brooke Dougherty
Special to the Palisades News

Becoming a puppy mom is challenging. But I didn’t have a choice when my friend surprised me with the gift of a ten-week-old Yellow Labrador puppy, along with a gift certificate to Dr. Condello in Marquez. She knew that five years was too long for me to go without a dog. We named her Winslow Mary Dog, or “Winnie,” and I named her Director of Community Service Dogs for my non-profit, Young Angels Network.

I didn’t know what to do as a new puppy mom, so I did everything. Puppy Kindergarten, puppy books, homemade pupsicles for those aching gums, but it wasn’t until she leapt into my daughter’s swimming pool and refused to stop that I knew what I had to do for her. Find a swim group. So I put an ad in Nextdoor Palisades (the app that links). It read, “Pup Seeks Swim Pal.” I kid you not, 27 people replied, the first of who was Dr. Eleanor Haspel-Portner. She and her husband, Dr. Marvin Portner, live in the Riviera and have a beautiful pool and a solo Labradoodle, Mac, who was game to improve his somewhat limited aquatic skills.

Mac, a Labradoodle, welcomes dog friends at his Riviera backyard pool every Friday.

We looped in Mac’s trainer, Annica Evans, and scheduled each of nine dogs to appear fifteen minutes apart over the course of two Friday mornings to see if everyone could get along. Although Mac wasn’t an enthusiastic water dog like Winnie, he was gifted in teaching her some of the basic points of Reiki for Dogs, a practice both of his parents use, and how to use your outside bark appropriately.

Out of the dogs that showed up, we ended up with a group of five permanent members. There is Big Walter, a ten-year-old Golden with a body shave. He swims up and down the pool very slowly, like he’s a bass player in a jazz band. Every once in a while Winnie jumps on his head. There is Crosby, a Springer Spaniel who has some Steph Curry in her, and then there is Rufus, who is a miniature poodle with a water phobia. With Annica’s help, Rufus has overcome his fear and can now swim, although he always stays close to the edge.

Winnie, the author’s puppy.

We’ve had other dogs drop by from time to time, but these five are the core swimmers. So far, it has been the most pleasurable social experience I have had in the Palisades. From day one, nobody asked anybody else for their last name, much less what they did.

You know how as soon as you say, “Oh my daughter is in 7th grade,” the other per- son says, “Oh, where does she go to school?” and from there, some doors flap open while others slam shut. It’s all so loaded. But with the swim pups, all anyone cared about was, “How old is your dog?”“Did you teach her to swim?” or “What do you feed her?” There was no social load in any of it. Not once did anyone mention politics, outside of the politics of what’s going on with the Palisades dog park.

Crosby Choi catches some air.

The pup swim moms each pay $20 a session. This goes toward our Young Angels Network editor, who is creating the instructional videos needed to become a Young Angels Community Service Dog Team. The goal is to help young people share their dogs with those in the community who may need a blast of doggie love and then share it again as media.

In the pool, Big Walter’s slow style.

Young Angels was founded in 2002 to teach young people about philanthropy and community service. We launched with the help of then-resident Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who committed suicide just weeks ago. I was able to ask Chester for help because it turned out our dogs were friends long before I ever knew who he was. He was a kind and generous man, may he rest in peace.

Sometimes it just takes a dog to cross the street or the divide or the aisle to get people who might not speak with each other to have a good chin wag, as my grandmother would say. Or as we say around Young Angels, “Make America Puppy Again.”

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