It’s Friday afternoon in Galveston and several dozen locals are gathered at an East End watering hole to sniff out the news of the week.
Annabel and Ramses have their heads together with Molly. Bella prefers Simon’s company until Tank shows up. Boone is visiting from Houston, and Bob is self-absorbed.
When an ambulance passes on its way to the emergency department, sirens blowing, there’s a moment of hesitation, then the air is filled with a raucous chorus of howling.
It’s happy hour at the Lindale Dog Park, 400 Marine Drive, a socializing time for canines and their human companions.
Except for a lack of bar stools and cocktails, it could be a local pub.
People call to each other, shake hands and lounge around in groups telling stories and sharing weekend plans. Others stare into space or throw a ball to a four-legged friend.
The great common denominator is the love of dogs.
“The camaraderie is just as important for the people who come to the dog park as it is for the dogs who play here,” said Matthew Gunter, a Lindale neighborhood resident.
“Dog people bond like no others,” he said.
Gunter comes here every day with Ike, his svelte white husky. Sometimes they come in the mornings and other times in the afternoon, so he sees different groups of people with different dogs, but almost all are friendly and ready to talk, he said.
There’s a wide age range at the picnic tables under seven shady oaks.
A teenager reads George R.R. Martin’s science-fiction novel while medical and graduate students chat with nurses, researchers and retirees. The conversation is wide-ranging and inclusive.
Everyone pets everybody else’s dog.
“You may not believe it, but the dogs make special friends, and even have cliques,” said Nancy Crites, a physician assistant student who brings her dog, Rudder, after she is finished with classes and work.
“The dogs play, and the people talk, said Jason Kirk, who brings his dog, Simon, every day.
He said the dogs seem to enjoy the smells and playing with other dogs.
“When a new dog comes, he may be shy, but after a few visits, he’ll play with the other dogs,” Kirk said.
There are rarely problems and when there are, people take care of them quickly, said Patrick Reeves, a third-year medical student.
“People abide by a code of unwritten rules. If dogs are being aggressive with each other, their owners separate them no matter whose fault it is,” he said.
Lindale Park became Galveston’s first official dog park more than three years ago in May 2011.
“We began taking our dogs to the park after Hurricane Ike,” said Sally Mihovil, one of the park’s initiators.
Along with nearby neighbor Teri Kingsley, the duo decided that there were so many people walking dogs, they needed a fenced dog park with running water, poop bags and benches.
Barbara Sanderson, director of Galveston Parks and Recreation, agreed and offered first-rate assistance, Mihovil said.
“They met with us; they liked our plan; and soon there were fences, double gates and the dog park was a reality.”
Last year, a park for smaller dogs was opened on the park’s south side.
Kingsley brings her three dogs, Meeka, Ozzie and Sadie Laverne — who she says is queen of the dog park — to meet with friends and enjoy an early morning walk. She said the crowds taper off during the summer because it gets so hot.
“When the temperature drops, they’ll be back, she said.