‘Dog Day Afternoon’ at cathedral aims to create community, says priest

LOS ANGELES – Most of the 517 pooches and their 950 doting, loyal custodians – don’t dare call them “owners” – who registered for the fourth Downtown Dog Day Afternoon on the plaza at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels showed up for the annual event in Los Angeles.

In the early evening July 27, they sallied forth and sniffed their way around the 2.5 -acre sandstone plaza while mellow jazz and soothing classical music played nonstop in the background.

There were Afghan hounds with flowing silky coats and short-legged basset hounds, their ears brushing the ground. Snoopy-looking beagles mixed it up with black Russian terriers. Chihuahuas, cocker spaniels and border collies checked out dachshunds, Dalmatians and Doberman pinschers.

Pit bulls and Rottweilers were surprisingly on their best behavior, while Great Danes hovered over pampered Pekingese. English and Irish setters simply stopped in their tracks to be petted. And wrinkled Shar-Peis didn’t seem as worn and worried.

“The purpose of this is to create community,” explained Monsignor Kevin Kostelnik, pastor of the cathedral, and co-sponsor of the outdoor event along with his 8-year-old black Lab, Joaquin. “It’s to allow residents, the humans, to get to meet one another because the animals are one part of God’s creation that brings everybody together.

“One of the reasons we did this was cathedrals of old have always been places of hospitality, of welcome, of concerts, of dance, of music, of drama, of mimes,” he told The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“And I thought, you know, we’ve got a beautiful space here in downtown, and there’s a great necessity for dog parks downtown. So this was a great space I thought we could gather downtown residents and their pets,” he said.

Chloe, a 7-year-old cocker spaniel and Dotson mix, had her nose to the ground, taking in a plethora of aromas. Her 29-year-old handler, Khristie Garcia, was smiling, following closely holding the leash.

“She was so excited, she woke up early this morning,” reported Garcia, who works in downtown LA for the nonprofit Central Mental Health. “Now she’s going crazy over all the smells, and we’ve got a lot of free samples from the doggie booths. So we love this.”

Not far away, Mr. Tofu, a tiny 4 1/2-month-old Chihuahua mix, was bravely going nose to nose with a pit bull five-times his size named Pancake. The situation looked definitely dicey, until Pancake backed off.

Claudia Luevanos, a 23-year-old vegetarian who works at Bark Avenue, a doggie day care and boarding center, told how Mr. Tofu’s poor pregnant mother was rescued from a “high kill” shelter.

“I think this is a great thing,” she said. “There’s not a lot of space for dogs here in downtown, so for the community and businesses to come together like this is such a wonderful thing. It’s so amazing that this strikes so many people. It’s really great that downtown has this for our fellow animals. You and your dog might meet someone special.”

The tail-waggers seemed to thoroughly enjoy the urban mid-summer get-together. There were none of the snarling territorial fights one often encounters at dog parks and, amazingly, very little barking.

Hal Bastian, senior vice president and director of economic development of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, which co-sponsored the pooch party, called it “a joyous thing.”

“This is all about creating community,” said Bastian, who was with Scooter, a young Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever mix, at his side. “Because downtown isn’t a place. It’s 15 different neighborhoods. And even those of us who live in a building, we never see each other ‘cause we’re working and out and about.”

“We’ve had a lot of dogs the three previous years,” he added, “but this is the most we’ve ever had. It shows how downtown is growing and is a viable series of neighborhoods.”

Monsignor Kostelnik thanked Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who has two cats, for having the vision to create the special urban space that the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels has quickly become.

“We don’t do a lot here in terms of talking about the faith of our dogs, but our dogs really are our best friends,” the priest said. “One of the great things about the word dog – ‘DOG’ – just spell it backwards and it tells you what we’re all about, and who blesses us.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.