Dog day peace in a South L.A. park
But it might as well be, because this DDR was dealing with a piece of Los Angeles turf that in its own way is as disputed as the divided old East and West Berlin.
DDR is Downtown Dog Rescue, a group devoted to the tough cases of people and their canines -– homeless dogs and folks, alpha-dog breeds like pit bulls, and to making contact with hard-to-reach human and canine populations.
In this case it was "DogKnic," like picnic, a recent all-day pet responsibility event with free spay and neuter services, vaccinations, micro-chipping and dog responsibility and skill demonstrations at St. Andrews Park in South Los Angeles.
It had the potential to be not exactly a picnic. DDR founder Lori Weise told me that getting city agencies to sign on -- City Hall, the LAPD, the city’s Department of Animal Services and its parks operation -- was easy. The hard part, she said, was getting cooperation from the gangs that consider that park their turf.
Animal services worker Larry Hill, who lives in the neighborhood and has also trained dogs there professionally for decades, volunteered to help.
"He sat down one afternoon in the picnic area of the park," Weise said, asked each gang for its seal of approval. It was a "complex dynamic" in which Hill called a relative, a former veteran gang member living out of state but still holding influence with the L.A. gang group.
Once that man called some gang members and explained "that his family was going to be in the park," said Weise, "Larry was confident nothing would happen at DogKnic."
(Ten years ago, a blameless 13-year-old student named Marquese Prude was shot to death in the park’s gym, a random choice for the gunman who shot the boy at an after-school program. A tree was planted in the park in Marquese’s memory.)
Then, several days before DogKnic, an LAPD officer was shot and seriously wounded in South Los Angeles as he questioned people on the street. Although St. Andrews Park was about 20 blocks away, a vast part of the neighborhood was cordoned off in the tactical alert and manhunt.
Weise began to get messages from volunteers who had said they’d be there to help, now sending their regrets like, "Wish I could be there; hope that everything is safe." On the day of DogKnic, some organizations were no-shows, Weise said; on Monday morning after, they called her to apologize.
"I really attribute it to the shooting that added attention to the neighborhood people were already nervous about." (One animal assistance group that does have a regular presence in South L.A., as well as Pacoima, Watts, Boyle Heights and other neighborhoods, is the Amanda Foundation, with its spay, neuter and vaccine mobile clinic.)
Nonetheless, DogKnic was a success, she said. Police officers kept an eye on the place, and so, according to Weise, did some gang members, to make sure nothing went amiss.
"Our day was more than OK –- it was beautiful. The remark I heard most often was, ‘No fights.’ I’d like to assume this was referring to the dogs, not the people!" A crowd of several hundred residents came to watch; dozens brought Dobermans, pit bulls, German shepherds, even a giant schnauzer. More than 40 dogs, most of them pit bulls, were spayed or neutered and vaccinated; almost as many were micro-chipped, as was one cat.
"We may not have had a movie star to sponsor our event, or a TV crew to cover us, but the community saw the event and thanked [us] for hosting it," said Weise. "So often we hear about that certain people don’t want to get their dogs fixed or [they] don’t love them as much as people who dress [their dogs] up like children and keep them locked up in an air-conditioned house."
Dogs, said Weise, "bring social capital –- community goodwill. The community as a whole benefits by the health and welfare of all its parts, including companion animals. And DogKnic is a blueprint. Our goal is to expand DogKnic throughout the parks in South Los Angeles."
-- Patt Morrison
Photo: St. Andrews Park in South L.A. Credit: Clarence Williams / Los Angeles Times