The Secret Life of the Tiny-Dog Dog Park

Exclusively for small dogs, the Schuylkill River Park’s dog run is a peculiar slice of Philadelphia.

At first glance, the Schuylkill River Park’s dog run looks like a commercial for Philadelphia.

Fit, smiling couples throw Frisbees to chocolate labs as rescued pit bulls romp around with St. Bernard puppies. Runners stop on the bridge overhead to watch the action, cheering for the nimble German shepherd fielding tennis ball pop-flies.

But this is not my dog run. No, mine is off to the side, a smaller space nudged up against a neglected community garden and its rotting pumpkins.

Welcome to the Small Dog Run. Things are different here.

Whereas there are many sane, well-adjusted reasons to bring your golden retriever to the park on Sunday afternoon, we small dog owners are a little harder to figure out. And figuring us out is a must — one wrong move, and you’ll get a 45-minute lecture on organic flea treatments.

We’ll start with the most benign among us: Drexel girls. They stumble across the bridge around noon with their wound-up Yorkies, slightly hungover and completely absorbed in their phones. They’re not here to make friends, and they will not try to talk to you. Good girls.

Next up are the locals, who are also normal enough. A stop at the dog run is just part of a walk around the block, a good opportunity to catch up with the neighbors on Sunday afternoon. If they strike up a conversation, you should engage — FluffFace’s mom has two vacation homes in addition to her Rittenhouse brownstone.

Although seemingly strange, the spectators are also pretty harmless. They don’t have dogs, but were walking through Center City and needed a time-out to pet a pug for a minute. If you’ve spent more than a half-hour in Philadelphia, you can probably understand.

That, unfortunately, would leave you with the rest of us: Small-dog owners who drove across the city to watch our poodles ignore other poodles in a plastic-turfed yard.

Mr. Superhero Rescuer wants to tell you about what bad shape his adopted Chihuahua was in, because your morning wasn’t depressing enough already. The Frenchie wrangler is hoping to meet someone who finds her four grunting, slobbery roommates charming — but in the meantime, will settle for giving you a play-by-play of her last Match date. Team Pomeranian chooses to live with Pomeranians, a fact you should keep in mind before making eye contact.


Murph on the way to the park. He attacked the scarf shortly after posing.

As for myself, I still don’t know where I fit in — but I’m pretty sure it’s on the questionable side of the fence. I claim to be “socializing” my dog, and yet this seems like a doomed mission once you meet him.

A three-legged shih tzu with a Rottweiler-sized chip on his shoulder, Murph barely tolerates other dogs, happily bites humans, and is sexually attracted to handbags. He hates grass almost as much as he hates fetching, which is to say an obsessive, unhealthy amount.

Thankfully, children aren’t permitted inside the dog run — a perhaps extraneous rule considering the patrons — but if they were, Murph would hop on over to steal their food, toys and innocence. (We don’t park near the playground anymore.)

So why are we here, week after week? For now at least, Murph and I have come to an understanding. He won’t question why I have nothing better to do with my Sunday than bring him to a park full of creatures he wants to kill, and I’ll turn a blind eye when he humps a Birkin bag.

Something tells me we won’t be unwrapping that Frisbee anytime soon.

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