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A Visit to Tudek Dog Park Offers Sniffs and Smiles

by on August 01, 2020 1:45 PM

 

Let’s face it, this hasn’t been a very happy summer in Happy Valley. Most of us have stayed at home or hid behind our masks, hesitant to socialize anywhere. Businessmen have struggled mightily to keep their operations going. And virtually every event that enlivens a Centre County summer has been cancelled: Spikes baseball, 4th Fest, Arts Festival, Grange Fair and Ag Progress Days.

But don’t despair, my friends. I am happy to offer you my top tip for shrugging off this season of sadness. Make your way to Tudek Dog Park, with or without a canine, and you’ll leave with a smile on your face. A certain warmth exudes from the dogs and their human owners that can only be described as infectious.

A DOGLESS VISIT

I paid an initial visit to the dog park on a Monday morning. I was dogless during that occasion, but I soon felt at home after meeting several pet owners and watching them play with their pooches.

Shivangi, a law student at Penn State, told me some of the reasons that she brings her pet, Maya, to Tudek virtually every day. “She loves playing with other dogs and she loves people, too,” Shivangi said. “So this gives her the opportunity to be around her friends and to get exercise.”

DJ, a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State, is the owner of Maple, an English Setter who often hangs out with Maya in the park’s enclosure for big dogs. 

According to DJ, the dog park offers a variety of opportunities to match the interests of his nine-month-old canine. “Some days she comes here and wants to chase rabbits. Other days she just wants to play with other dogs. Other times she’s obsessed with the big balls. She’s still a puppy, so she still has that puppy personality – very energetic, very playful.”

Like Maya, Maple visits Tudek on a daily basis. But typically, she shows up twice each day—in the morning with DJ and in the evening with his partner, Mona. “It is very important for her development to be here,” DJ said. “I think any time that would be true, but it’s more important now that there’s a quarantine. If it weren’t for this, I would be very concerned that we were raising a puppy that had no experience with other dogs or humans, other than us. She’s becoming well-rounded by coming here.”


It’s one of those days when Maple prefers the big ball, and that’s fine with DJ.  Photo by Bill Horlacher

VISITING WITH HUGS & BETSY

Properly impressed by that outing to Tudek, I returned to the park two days later with my wife, Kathy, and our 15-pound mutt, Winnie. I was the newbie; they typically visit Tudek at least once per week.

While Kathy introduced me to fellow pet owner Rachel, Winnie used a sniff or two to renew her friendship with Rachel’s two Miniature Schnauzers, Hugs and Betsy. (Rachel previously owned a dog named “Kisses,” but after that Schnauzer passed away, she got Betsy as a Christmas gift from her husband and son.)

In talking with Rachel, I described the excitement shown by our Winnie as we approached the park’s entrance. Do her dogs show that kind of enthusiasm for Tudek?  

“Oh yes,” she said. “I cannot say the word ‘park’ without bringing them. Because if I say, ‘I’m thinking of going to the park later,’ they think it’s now and they start howling and going to the door. So I tell my son, ‘I’m going to go to the p-a-r-k later.’”


Winnie eagerly pulls Kathy Horlacher toward the park entrance.  Photo by Bill Horlacher

EXERCISE BENEFITS

I couldn’t help wondering about the actual benefits that dogs derive from a park like Tudek. After all, I’m a tax-paying resident of Ferguson Township, and I’d like to think my dollars are working for the good. (The Tom Tudek Memorial Park was established years ago as a partnership between Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tudek and the township as represented by its then-manager, Mark Kunkle. The Tudeks wanted to create a remembrance of their son who had died in a 1972 accident, and they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in land value. The fenced dog park was added in 2006; the entire park area is managed by Centre Region Parks and Recreation.) 

When I asked various owners about the park’s value to their dogs, all of them underlined the exercise benefits.  Right now, it is the only public dog park in our area that offers off-leash exercise. 

“Because of the quarantine,” DJ said, “everybody’s working at home. Myself included. Which means I’m home with Maple all day. If I didn’t bring her here in the morning I’d never get any work done because she’d have so much pent-up energy. But here, she can chase birds, wrestle other dogs, run circles around the area and burn off a lot of energy.”

Frank, a professor at Penn State, noted that his dog thrives from the freedom to run within Tudek’s large enclosure. 

“Gunnar is an Australian Cattle Dog,” Frank said, “and the cattle dogs are a very active breed.  One memory that is still pretty fresh was from a day when Gunnar, a Border Collie and an Australian Shepherd were the only three dogs here. Because they were all herding dogs and like to chase each other, they didn’t really know what to do. It was like a tornado of dogs chasing each other in circles. They were all perplexed.”

Rob, another Penn State prof, loves Tudek Memorial Park and described it to me as “an amazing asset for State College.” Not only does he appreciate the dog park, but he said, “I just think the setting is incredible—the butterflies (courtesy of the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden), the horses, the community garden. This place is a treasure, the whole thing.”

At one time, Rob said, the dog park allowed him to easily exercise his pet, Tallulah. “I didn’t have to do the running with her. I’d just go out there and chuck the ball for her, and she’d run back and forth until she was exhausted.” Alas, Tallulah quickly outgrew the little dog area.

And then one day she was chasing a bunch of big dogs and crashed into a park bench. “She’s been a little skittish around the big dogs ever since,” Rob said. Nowadays, he runs with her but brings her to Tudek for water and a chance to greet the little dogs and “touch noses at the fence.”


Owners and dogs typically experience a sense of community at the dog park. Photo provided by Ferguson Township

CHANCES TO SOCIALIZE

Again and again, dog owners told me that their canine friends had learned to socialize on the sloping Tudek field with its separate pens for small and big dogs. Frank somehow created a new verb when he told me that he and his wife say that Gunnar “learned how to dog here.” It seems the four-year-old previously had limited exposure to other dogs, and that’s why he only knew how to play as a herder. Although he still prefers to chase other animals, now he will sometimes grab a ball and let others go after him.

Rachel noted that Hugs has always been an outgoing pooch, but “Betsy is more shy and she stays close to me.” No wonder that the veteran owner of Schnauzers was so delighted to see Betsy get to know Mona, a little Shiba Inu puppy who belongs to Crystal, another frequent visitor at the dog park. “Mona and Betsy just clicked,” said Rachel. “They just love each other.”  

Fittingly enough, David Pribulka has also seen the dog park’s capacity to help socialize a beloved canine. Pribulka is the current township manager for Ferguson Township and in that capacity he serves as a member of the Tom Tudek Memorial Park Trust. He was also the owner of Bella, a German Shepherd who joined him in outings to Tudek Park until her death. 

“I had good experiences socializing her with other animals,” he recalled. “She was a little skittish at first because she was off leash and around a lot of other dogs. But it didn’t take her long to overcome that. So my limited experience with the dog park was very enjoyable. It was just fun to watch them all play together.”

THE ULTIMATE IN DOG LOYALTY

The pet owners I met evidenced a love that reminded me of the devotion shown by human parents to their kids. At times, I felt like I was listening to a dad describing his daughter’s soccer goal or a mom celebrating her son’s wrestling title.

I began to wonder how our four-footed friends inspire such complete and total devotion. And then I solved my own puzzle by remembering a story from an earlier column. In February of 2019, I wrote about the closing of Moyer Jewelers, an iconic State College enterprise, and I related various memories from manager Lori Moyer. My favorite story concerned the friendship between Lori’s Golden Retriever, Sophie, and a store employee.

As I mentioned in that 2019 column, Sophie would wait at the front of the store each morning until goldsmith Bill Wallace arrived for work. She would follow him to his work area and sit with her chin on his leg until the store opened. Then she knew it was time to let Bill alone and go back to the front of the store.  

Bill developed a serious illness in 2010, and when Lori sensed his life was drawing to an end she made sure to bring him a special visitor. One day, she drove to Health South, the rehabilitation hospital where he was staying, and she asked if he would like to see Sophie. Of course, she wasn’t allowed to bring a dog into the building, but she was able to drive her car near a lounge window that offered a good view to Bill.  And there sat Sophie, looking in at her long-time friend.   

“She could see him,” Lori said, “and she sat so perfectly upright, just so regal looking.  She just watched him wave at her, and it was just so sweet.”

Bill died in June of that year, but of course, that wasn’t something Sophie could comprehend. “When Bill passed away,” Lori said, “Sophie laid at that door for weeks until she finally figured out that he wasn’t coming back.”

Sophie’s death last year provided the final note to my favorite “man’s best friend” story. No, she didn’t save the human’s life as Lassie did with Timmy every Sunday evening on a memorable 1960s TV series.  But she modeled the kind of loyal love that helps me understand the depth of feeling I saw in the owners at Tudek Park.   


This was the typical scene at Moyer Jewelers with Sophie awaiting the arrival of Bill Wallace. Photo provided by Lori Moyer

As Shivangi said the other day, “Maya is the most important person to me right now. We came here from Texas alone, so we keep each other company.”  Or as DJ said of Maple, “She’s a member of the family.” Or as Rob put it when describing Tallulah, “Oh, she’s the love of our lives. My wife would say the same, and so would both of my daughters.” 

Sorry that I didn’t tell you more about my dog, Winnie. She’s a little sweetheart. Maybe in another column.

 



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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