The Sudbury Town Crier
February 5, 2004

Playtime for Pooches
Dogs and their owners socialize at weekly playgroup
By Carole LaMond

It’s not the kind of behavior that will get you a date at a singles bar, but when Matt circles the group of beauties gathered at this Sudbury social scene, and gives each one a friendly sniff, he receives the canine equivalent of a high five.

 It’s Doggy Playgroup time at Especially for Pets on Union Avenue in Sudbury, and Matt, a terrier mix owned by Cilla Reising of Sudbury, is just saying “hello” to his buddies in the group for small dogs that meets every Friday morning.  Two other groups for big dogs meet on Monday and Tuesday.

“I call it ‘controlled recess’ for dogs, and they all get to play very hard,” said Paula Adelson, playgroup leader, and owner of Trina, a Cairn terrier.  “I encourage them to play hard, but play gentle.”

Adelson is top dog in this group, setting the rules for appropriate behavior, both  for dogs and their human companions who have to clean up after, and monitor, their pets.  Adelson prohibits toys and treats because that’s what starts the territorial fights.

“Dogs being dogs there is a problem occasionally,” said Adelson, who is also the animal control officer/animal inspector for the town of Sudbury.  “This is not for every dog, and I’ve had to talk to some owners.”

All is well at playgroup this particular morning, although the scene is comparable to a load of ping pong balls being dropped on the floor as 20 dogs chase around the indoor play space and literally jump for joy.

“On Friday mornings when I say, ‘Playgroup Lou!’ he knows what that means,” said Francine Sasso, a Wayland resident, of her Norfolk terrier.  “He gets so excited, he starts twirling and dancing.”

In fact, Lou gets so excited he wears a diaper- albeit a snazzy pair of pants printed with a  paw print motif- so Sasso won’t have to mop up after him as he “plays and marks, plays and marks.”

“Small dogs do tend to piddle a lot,” comments Adelson, who wears earrings in the shape of dog biscuits and a dog sweatshirt.

When Adelson started the playgroup six years ago, a continuation of one run by her friend Lisa Antonucci, she separated the dogs by their ages.  She quickly found out that some breeds grow more quickly than others, and decided to have one group for dogs under 20 pounds and another for the larger dogs.

“They’re all about the sane size so they mingle well,” said Gerold Teplitzky, a Sudbury resident, who has been a playgroup regular for about four years with his dog Foster, and Australian terrier.  “He had one girlfriend named Sadie, a Yorkshire terrier, and he used to kiss her.  Sadie hasn’t been here for a while so now he makes friends with other dogs.  You can tell when he likes another dog.”

Teplitzky nods at Foster who is trotting happily after Onyx, a Pomeranian who lives in Sudbury with his owner Hermel Cassivi.

“It’s not an activity you tell all your friends you go to,” laughs Sasso, who is a tree-year playgroup member.  “Not all your friends ‘get’ why you’re going to Doggy Playgroup.  I love watching the dogs interact and I love meeting the people.  We’re all dog people and we’ve all become friends.  Sometimes you don’t know what to do first, play with the humans or play with the dogs.”

Melinda Berman of Sudbury compares it to the friendships made between parents when they get together for playgroups with their young children.  Just as they once exchanged child-rearing tips they now trade information on pet care.

“This is the next stage after our children have outgrown playgroup,” said Berman, as she watches her West Highland terrier Teddy romp with Winston, a toy fox terrier whose owner is Linda Pavlan, also a Sudbury resident.  “It’s a chance to have our puppies interact with their friends.  We all love watching and laughing at them.”

The dog owners are a diverse group, from retirees to young mothers, and the dogs run the gamut from mutts like Matt to breeds the like of which are only seen at the Westminster Dog Show.

“The playgroup is good because the dogs get socialization and exercise, and it’s socialization for the people too,” said Erny Isabelle, manager at Especially for Pets where playgroup is held in a gated corral.  “This is now an established pack.”

The dogs are so eager to get into the pet supply store for playgroup that each owner has to hold tightly to his dog’s leash in a move they jokingly call “the snowplow.”  Even Annie, a shy Shiba Inu, gives her owner, Carol Telsey of West Concord, a work-out just jogging  through the parking lot.

“It’s like you’re on skis with your feet sliding behind the dog,” said Debs Van Ranst, a Wayland resident who brings Ozzie, a wire-haired fox terrier, to the small dog playgroup and her larger dog Lily, a mixed breed, to the large dog group.

The owners all wear name tags that include both their name and that of the dog.  Some stand and watch while others get into the fray.

Carol Oram of Sudbury watches as Reggie, her Yorkshire terrier who is nearly 10 years old, races around like a puppy.  Tiny three-pound Douglas, a Chihuahua, moves so fast his feet are a blur as he greets his friends.  Douglas is obviously unaware that he is the smallest pooch in the pack as he roughhouses with every dog he meets.

“What Douglas lacks in size he makes up for in personality,” said Diane Shay of Sudbury, as she watches her dog.  “He’s the top dog here – or at least he thinks he is.”

This is the fourth visit to the playgroup for Van Ranst, who is helping Ozzie – “he’s a puppy and clueless” – learn some social skills.  At 17 pounds, Ozzie is also the largest dog in the group, while Van Ranst’s other dog, 50 pound Lily, is the smallest dog in the playgroup for big dogs. 

Lisa Lentino bundles up her seven-month-old baby Elizabeth and come to playgroup every week with Rocky, her pug, just so he knows he’s still top dog in her heart.

“Rocky was my first child and it’s important for him to know that even though there’s another baby in the family he hasn’t been displaced,” said the Sudbury mom.

The cost for six sessions of Doggy Playgroup is $30; small dogs meet Friday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., big dogs meet Monday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. or Tuesdays from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. at Especially for Pets, 81 Union Avenue, Sudbury.  For information call the store at 978-443-7682 or Paula Adelson at 978-443-2578.