Welcome to Durham, North Carolina, home to the most iconic minor-league franchise in professional sports, the Durham Bulls, the team depicted in the Hollywood film Bull Durham. On this beautiful June night, the Durham Bulls are proud to host hundreds of dogs, dog owners, and dog lovers for an event called Bark in the Park.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already very fond of dogs. If you’re anything like me, then from April through October, you’re also obsessed with baseball. Thank the marketing genius who decided to bring these two loves together for Bark in the Park events, at which dogs and their owners can enjoy a baseball game together.
At Bark in the Park, certain sections of your local stadium are set aside for dog owners and canine friends of all shapes and sizes to share a night at the ballpark. The Durham Bulls have held Bark in the Park events two times a year since the start of the 2008 season. These Bark in the Park events have proved so popular that in 2014, there are three chances for dogs and dog owners to congregate, make new friends, and take in a baseball game.
I’ve always loved seeing Bark in the Park events on television, but nothing could have prepared me for attending my first Bark in the Park in person. During televised games, cameras may pan around and show dogs occasionally, at the start or end of an inning, as a sort of pleasant distraction. Take this friendly Cardigan Welsh Corgi for example.
When you’re seated in one of the dog-friendly sections, though, the dogs are a constant part of your gameday experience, and there is nothing quite like it. Busier than your typical dog park and more fun than any dog show, you’ll bear witness to every kind of canine companion, from the compact Dachshund to the massive Bernese Mountain Dog. The Durham Bulls estimate that, on average, any given Bark in the Park event attracts between 300 and 400 dogs.
Having hundreds of dogs wandering the concourse before the baseball game starts is one thing, but Bark in the Park must devolve into utter chaos once the home plate umpire yells, “Play ball,” right? The Durham Bulls have a number of guidelines in place to ensure that every human and every dog enjoys their Bark in the Park experience.
For everyone’s safety, all dogs in attendance are required to be current on their vaccinations. There is a designated gate, which provides easy egress and re-entry for moments when dogs need to stretch their legs or relieve themselves. Four outfield sections are reserved for dogs and their owners. At this distance from the action, no dogs or dog owners are imperiled by foul balls.
Common sense plays a part as well. All dogs are required to be on fixed-length leashes at all times. Keeping retractable leashes out of close quarters reduces the risk of entanglements and of freak injuries to people and dogs alike. Additionally, dog owners assume all responsibility for their dogs while they are at Bark in the Park. This means that people tend to bring dogs who are well-trained and accustomed to being around other dogs and people.
In the heat of summer, of course, there’s increased need for everyone to stay hydrated. The Durham Bulls had three kiddie pools full of water on the concourse behind the dog-friendly sections at Bark in the Park, along with a cooling tent that provided a constant mist. Even with these provisions, I found a large number of dog owners brought their own water bowls to their seats, which they were happy to allow neighboring dogs to utilize.
When hundreds of dogs occupy a relatively small area, there must be trouble at Bark in the Park events, right? I asked a Bulls representative whether they’d ever had incidents where dogs fought with each other or caused difficulties for fans. I was assured that dog owners had a great sense for what their dogs could tolerate, and that they’d never had to ask a dog to leave a Bark in the Park event.
I arrived when the gates opened to dogs at 6 p.m., and stayed until the 7th inning — just as the clock struck 10 p.m. — by which point, the vast majority of the dogs and their owners had headed for home. There was plenty of barking, occasional howling, and I’m convinced one dog tried singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” a couple of innings early, but otherwise, the entire Bark in the Park event was incident free.
The Durham Bulls had plenty of help in carrying off this Bark in the Park night. The concourse behind the dog sections was staffed by volunteers from at least four different organizations, including their partner for this event, Second Chance Pet Adoptions. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Second Chance is the oldest no-kill shelter in the area, and has partnered with the Durham Bulls for Bark in the Park events since 2011. The Bulls donate $5 from every Bark in the Park ticket to support the shelter and its valuable work.
I had the time of my life at Bark in the Park with the Durham Bulls, and these events are only growing in popularity across the country. There are now Bark in the Park days at Major League, Minor League, and even collegiate baseball stadiums nationwide. If you live anywhere near a baseball team at any level of competition, check their promotions schedule for their next Bark in the Park event!
Have you ever taken your puppies or dogs to a Bark in the Park night? Please share your experiences and photos in the comments!
Special thanks to Matt Sutor, media relations coordinator for the Durham Bulls, for taking the time to answer so many of my questions about the team’s involvement and history with Bark in the Park events.
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