Dog Park Love: When Your Dog Plays Cupid

Newlyweds Elizabeth and Tommy Allen, of New York City, and Kista and Robert Icard, of San Francisco, hope their love always goes to the dogs. After all, if it weren't for their dogs playing tail-wagging cupids, they may never have met, dated and exchanged wedding vows.

"When we met, it was instant magnetism," said Elizabeth Allen, a fashion designer of evening and bridal wear, who married Tommy, a record producer/musician last November. "We met one freezing cold day when I was taking my dog, Dozer, for a walk. Tommy was walking a Golden Retriever puppy named Pope.

The two dogs starting playing, our eyes met and the minute we started talking to each other, we knew we were going to get married." Especially compelling to Elizabeth was that Dozer, a 102-pound white American Bulldog usually breezes by all dogs. For some reason, he made an exception with Pope.

Robert Icard won Kista's heart five years ago when he gave her a black Labrador puppy named Layla as a Valentine's Day gift. They married last October.

The outdoor ceremony was highlighted by Layla, decked out in a collar of faux pearls, trotting down the aisle as ringer bearer. Invitees included 30 people, four dogs, two cats, and an aquarium of fish. "Both of us are so attached to animals that we wanted them to share in our ceremony," said Kista, who, with Robert, works at the San Francisco SPCA.

This all points to an interesting phenomenon: Love-seekers turned off by single bars, blind dates, and church socials are finding soul mates by unleashing the match-making powers of their canine companions. These people are meeting and mingling at dog parks, sharing sweet-nothings through Internet chat rooms that cater to pet lovers and becoming friendly rivals at dog agility and breed shows.

Are dogs the answer to finding a human mate? Possibly, say relationship therapists and animal behaviorists. Finding Mr. or Ms. Right could be a bark away.

"Let's face it, it's a grab bag at a bar in trying to find someone who has at least one hobby in common with you," said Alan Beck, Sc.D., professor at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, IN., and co-author of Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship (Purdue University Press, 1996).

"Then you meet someone who has a friendly dog on a leash," he says. "Your perception is that this is a caring, responsible person who values what you value. Dogs make terrific icebreakers and allow you to feel comfortable enough to approach a person and speak with them."

Barbara Lee, M.S., a counselor and animal lover from Newport Beach, CA helps clients of both genders find or mend relationships. She says that men who are willing to pet drool -- happy pooches or clean up doggie do-do tend to be more tolerant toward others. Men who love cats "are secure in their manhood," she adds.

As for women, she warns her male clients about women who are afraid to pet cats or dogs. Those future wives may not be very nurturing -- or, they simply may be allergic to fur.

Credit the need to walk her dog and his need to visit a chiropractor for bringing Debra and John DeNicola together on a street in busy New York City. John normally would not be on Grove Street, where Debra's apartment is, but he was making the walk to be treated by a chiropractor whose office was down the block.

When John first spotted Debra taking her German Shepherd-Chow Chow mix out for a walk, he was smitten. Trying his best to slow his pace as Skat constantly stopped to sniff, John finally stopped himself, turned around and blurted out to Debra, "Are you married or going out with anybody?"

Debra overlooked John's stumbling first line and focused on Skat's body cues."Normally, Skat is pulling on the leash, letting me know he wants to go, but he was very relaxed around John and sat down while we talked for a very long time. I took that as a good sign," said Debra, who married John seven years ago. Today, they share their Grove Street apartment with young son, Jake, and dog Skat.

Dogs are definitely social icebreakers, said Ed Sayres, president of the San Francisco SPCA, one of the first no-kill animal shelters in the country. These days, dog parks are the places for singles to meet and talk," said Sayres. "Typically, there is a brief silence, followed by some remark about the other person's dog and then the conversation and interaction begins. Being social pack animals, dogs help enhance our social skills as well."

For pet owners not inclined to go to dog parks, there is always the Internet. Susan Kordich, of Brooklyn, NY, co-founded Pet Lovers Unite, a website dedicated to pet owners looking for human companionship, last July.

"We found that people were fed up with the traditional methods of finding mates," she said. "Being online, you can talk with people not only in your hometown but across the United States and other countries as well. We have 300 members and the list keeps growing every day."

She shares two personal ads circulating on her web site: My 2 cats are my best friends and are with me for life. Looking for a pretty female who enjoys movies, concerts, dining out and quiet evenings at home hanging out with the cats and someone special. -- A man from New York City.

A woman from Georgia writes: Want to meet a man like my dog Jake. Jake is loving, sweet, lazy and listens to EVERY word I say. Is there actually a man out there that would worship me like Jake?

Sometimes, the love of a dog can re-ignite the love shared by a husband and wife. Tev and Scott Brannon, of Plano, TX, never squabbled much during their 25 years of marriage, but about 10 years ago, they began spending weekends apart. Scott, who works for a major hotel chain, chased the challenge of an 18-hole golf course. Tev flocked to pedigree dog shows to admire the poise and posture of champion canines.

Then, a friend told Tev about a new type of dog competition -- agility training. Pedigrees and mutts were welcomed to compete in timed-events that test their abilities to make sharp turns, leap over barriers, walk on wobbly surfaces, and duck in and out of tunnels. Owners race along the sides giving them encouragement and instruction. Tev took her two Shelties, Amber and Spree, one weekend to witness local competition. Intrigued, she kept coming back.

One weekend, she coaxed her husband into forgoing golf and joining her. That was eight years ago. Now, the childless couple and their dogs drive around the country on weekends to compete in agility contests. "We discovered this common interest, " said Tev, who now works at the United States Agility Training Center in Plano. "Our marriage was never in trouble, but I do believe that our dogs and the agility competition have helped enhance our marriage. This is something we definitely both enjoy."

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