Feeling depressed after the election of Donald Trump, Yale Law School associate professor Marisol Orihuela decided this January to get a dog: a chihuaha mix that she planned to bring to local protests.
She named the dog Rigoberta, after 1992 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Indigenous Guatemalan rights activist Rigoberta Menchú.
“She’s lived up to her name so far,” Orihuela said this Sunday afternoon outside of the Edgewood Park dog park. “We’ve gone to immigrant rights protests and universal healthcare demonstrations. If there’s a good protest happening in New Haven, she’s there.”
But Sunday, Orihuela and Rigoberta were not in Edgewood Park for a protest. Rather, they were there to partake in the city’s first annual Be Kind to Your Pet Day.
From noon to 4 p.m. , dozens of local dogs and their faithful owners gathered outside the dog park behind the Coogan Pavilion in Edgewood Park to walk their four-legged friends, play in the grass, learn about healthful pet maintenance, and share stories about their love for their animal companions.
The event was co-organized by the Friends of Edgewood Park (FoEP) and the city’s Parks department. It was one facet of the larger, third-annual Edgewood Park Day, which featured nature tours of the park, horse-drawn carriage rides, bocce lessons, and skate park demonstrations. Be Kind to Your Pet Day raised $550 in donations, to be split evenly between FoEP and the Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter.
FoEP board member Morgan Frawley was the primary organizer of the day’s pet-related activities. A regular user of the Edgewood Park dog park with Jackson, her 4-year-old Australian Cattle Dog-German Shepherd mix, Frawley said that she jumped at the opportunity to help organize the event when she heard that the mayor’s office was interested in supporting it.
“When I first moved here [three years ago], we’d go running in the park and I thought no one in New Haven owned a dog,” Frawley said. Tthen she started going to the Edgewood dog park, and started hosting an early morning dog walk. She quickly met many other pet owners in the neighborhood.
For Be Kind to Your Pet Day, she envisioned putting together activities that showcased the beauty and value of Edgewood Park to some of her other dog-walking neighbors who may not already be regular visitors to the park.
On the tree-lined lawn behind the Coogan Pavilion Skate Park, FoEP volunteers Holly Jermyn and Graydon Chapman sold $1 tickets to a “Ruff Ruff Raffle” that included a variety of donated prizes, including gift cards to Elm City Sharkespeare’s Players Camp, Petco, Edge of the Woods, Kitchen Zinc, and Plan B Burger.
Nearby, Luis and Danielle Rivera parked their Clean Paws Mobile Spa van, where they used manual and electric clippers to help trim the nails of some of the visiting dogs that were a bit long in the paw. Based out of Essex, the Riveras usually charge $25 for a visit that includes everything from general grooming to nail clipping, hair trimming, and emergency skunk spray remediation. On Sunday, they charged $5 for nail trims, and donated all proceeds to FoEP.
Mathew Cardone and his chihuaha-pit mix Daisy traveled with Mathew’s mom from their home in Fair Haven to visit the weekly Edgewood Park farmer’s market at the corner of Whalley Avenue and West Rock Avenue. When signs at the market directed them to the pet activities behind Coogan Pavilion, Mathew and Daisy quickly found themselves posing for a Polaroid photograph in the middle of an oversized, paw-printed picture frame.
Behind the raffle ticket table, other local animal-advocacy organizations set up shop and spoke with passerby about which pet-friendly services they offer.
Patrick Malave and Sabrina Kent from Wallingford’s Canine Cadre shared tips on protection training and behavior modification for dogs. Volunteers at the New Haven Animal Shelter on Fournier Avenue sold T-shirts and spread the word about how the shelter currently has around 30 dogs on its adoptable list, and another 30 on the intake side.
At another table, FoEP volunteers offered free animal face-painting for kids, which Kimberly Avenue resident Jermaine Cowan, 7 (pictured above), took advantage of on his way home from playing soccer. And Michael Bogese from the Canine Cognition Center at Yale presented some basic puzzles and games for dogs, like one that involved finding a treat in a box by pushing open a lid, that got at his center’s central mission to understand what dogs notice and how they think. The center, which opened in 2013, is based out of Edwards Street and St. Ronan’s Avenue in East Rock and currently has over 500 dogs signed up to participate in its studies.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the few dozen dog owners and pups still present gathered alongside the chainlink fence of the recently opened expansion to the Edgewood dog park and watched as Canine Cadre’s Sabrina Kent gave a dog training demonstration with her dog, Mija. Kent walked Mija back and forth across the new section of the park, told her to stop, jog, slow, and sit, as the pet owners in attendance watched patiently and with admiration.
As the day’s events drew to a close, Frawley said that she was very happy with the turnout, and looked forward to hosting another Be Kind to Your Pet Day next year.
“This is just a great opportunity to build community,” Frawley said as she gestured to the surrounding park, filled with people and pets, “and to show what a great space this is.”