Fulton Heights hosts weekly pack walk

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fulton Heightsresidentsenjoy weekly ‘pack walk’
By Katie Scarvey
Pack of dogs. It conjures up images of canine mayhem, but on this day, the neighborhood dog pack in Fulton Heights is well-behaved, good-naturedly trotting and sniffing its collective way around the neighborhood.
You can see the dog pack on Saturdays — with humans attached — participating in a neighborhood dog walk.
Since it was organized in November, the dog-walking group has met every Saturday at 2 p.m. at Centennial Park, located at the corner of Wiley and Stanley.
It’s hard to keep a bunch of dogs calm when they are stationary, so the walk often gets started a little earlier than planned.
On this particularly Saturday, Brian Romans and his dog Bubba take the lead, with the rest of the group trailing loosely behind him.
Theresa Pitner organized the walks after a neighborhood meeting in October that was devoted to animal control issues in the neighborhood. She felt that a dog-walking group could be fun — a good way to socialize dogs and a great way for neighbors to meet one another.
Dog trainer Nina Dix, one of the speakers at the meetings, is a regular attender of the walks. Along with her husband Dale, Nina runs a dog boarding business called Doggie Holiday on Pickler Road. She’s well-known in Fulton Heights for helping dog owners work on issues they may have with their animals.
Theresa says that while weekly attendance varies, on average about a dozen people show up — though that’s a minority of the many dog owners in Fulton Heights. It’s a casual group, and everyone is welcome, even those without dogs who just want to walk companionably.
While the dogs are socializing with one another, wagging and sniffing under the watchful eye of their humans, the two-legged walkers are doing their version of the same thing.
Meredith Rowland and her husband Jared are walking with their golden doodle named — appropriately enough — Doodle.
“It’s a good way to meet neighbors,” says Meredith, who moved to Salisbury with Jared six months ago from Roanoke, Va. “It’s really nice to meet new people.”
Brian notes that he met Meredith and Jared through the weekly walks.
Meredith says that while she misses the Roanoke dog park they frequented, the Saturday dog walks in Fulton Heights help make up for that.
As the walk progresses, many dogs relax visibly and it becomes clear that controlled association is good for them.
If you walk dogs together, Nina says, they will consider the other dogs as part of their pack, and not as competition.
“The best way to get dogs not to be territorial is to have them walking as a pack. It’s not so much exercise as it is social,” she said.
“The goal is to keep moving.”
Fulton Heights, she adds, is the perfect place for a social walk.
As the walk progresses through the neighborhood, Theresa points out barking dogs behind fences, many of whom gaze longingly at the exuberant parade in front of them.
Much bad behavior subsides when dogs are walked regularly, Theresa believes.
“A lot of destructive behavior is due to the fact that they don’t get their ya-yas out,” she explains.
Dogs who are walked frequently tend to be less anxious, she says.
Pet owners who have fenced-in backyards often believe that their dogs get enough exercise, but nothing can replace a real walk, Theresa believes.
Jessica Buckwalter is also a believer.
“The walk is the most important thing you can do for your dog, besides providing him food,” she says, her dog Matilda trotting beside her.
Matilda was found on the streets and had been abused, Jessica says.
“Matilda needed socialization more than anything,” Jessica says. “This has been what she needs to learn how to be a dog.”
Dogs participating for the first time can be a bit disruptive, but Theresa and Nina ease owners’ minds, telling them it’s normal for first-timers to be a bit rowdy. Dogs will eventually get used to being around other dogs and calm down, she says.
Kelly Alexander and her two daughters, Callie and Maggie, are walking with their beagle, Snoopy.
Christine Wilson is out with her two little girls, Claire and Sadie.
“Claire doesn’t have a dog,” Christine said, “but she likes to live vicariously during the dog walk.”
While Sadie stays put in the stroller, Claire ambles happily down the streets of Fulton Heights, walking a German Shepherd at least twice her size.
Theresa has brought two of her three dogs: Ellie Mae, who is missing a leg but who still walks like a champ; and Chelsea, a dog Theresa is fostering until a home is found for her.
Theresa tries to spread the word about the walks, particularly to neighbors whose dogs she thinks would be particularly helped by participating. She leaves fliers at people’s homes, encouraging them to join in.
Sometimes, members of the group will dognap a neighbor’s pet to take him or her along, but Theresa adds that they only do that when they have the owner’s blessing.
“I love this,” Teresa says of the weekly walk. “It’s the best thing….it’s so much fun.”