A neighborhood gone to the dogs

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August 18, 2008
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

Stevens Square has high doggie density


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STEVENS SQUARE — The small, shady park, the historic brownstone apartments, the proximity to Downtown — all those attributes have drawn generations of young professionals to Stevens Square.

Why is it, then, so many of today’s residents brought their Labs, shitzus, collies and pit bulls with them?

“It’s kind of hard not to see it,” said Steven Gallagher, executive director of the Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO). “I would say that it seems like we have the most dogs per any other neighborhood around.”

Stevens Square has long been one of Minneapolis’ most densely populated neighborhoods. But it may also be in the running for the neighborhood most densely populated with residents of the hairy, four-footed, barking variety.

Anecdotally, it seems to be true. In conversations with neighborhood residents, many suggested Stevens Square had an unusually high number of canines.

But it’s an observation that’s difficult to confirm.

Minneapolis Animal Care and Control had on record 204 licensed dogs in the 55403 ZIP code, an area that includes Stevens Square as well as portions of The Wedge, Lowry Hill and Downtown. Those dogs represented less than 3 percent of the 7,049 licensed dogs in the city as of July.

Still, city spokesman Matt Laible said the numbers didn’t disprove a theory of high doggie density.

“In general … less than 5 percent of cats and dogs are licensed,” Laible said. “… Nine out of 10 dogs in the city, we estimate, are not registered.”

He agreed an accurate pet count could be even harder in Stevens Square, where a high proportion of renters to homeowners makes for a mobile population.

One of those renters, Gretchen Page, was walking her miniature dachshund through Stevens Square Park before work on a Friday morning. During a recent move to Minneapolis from Madison, Wis., Page struggled to find dog-friendly housing.

“I know when I was looking for an apartment, Stevens Community Apartments was one of the only ones that allowed dogs that was anywhere near Downtown [and] that wasn’t ridiculously overpriced,” Page said. “… There were a lot of places that, for dogs, you had to pay like a $500, nonrefundable pet deposit.”

Page put down a refundable deposit of $100 for Gigi the miniature dachshund, an expense she found reasonable.

Tamara Hillis said her Stevens Square apartment was “pretty much” the only housing she could find for Komichi, a Pekingese, and Arashi, a Yorkshire terrier mix.

“I basically came and looked at it and said, ‘OK, I’ll take it,’” Hillis recalled. “I didn’t have a choice.”

JAS Apartments allows dogs in most of the 400 units it has in 10 buildings around the neighborhood, said Manager Angela Conte. Copenhagen Properties owner Diane Hansen said dogs were allowed in all four of her neighborhood buildings.

Other apartment managers couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hansen, also member of the SSCO board of directors, suggested the numbers of dogs might be related to the nature of the neighborhood apartment stock. She suspected all the young, single people living in the many studios and one-bedrooms were simply looking for company.

“People, probably more so than they used to, treat their dogs as company,” she said.

It would seem there are scores, maybe even hundreds, of canine companions in Stevens Square. That can be a problem when the largest green space is a one-square block park.

Diane Moe of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) recalled leading a group of Xcel Energy volunteers through the park during a spring cleanup event. They encountered a lot more than litter.

“It was a huge problem,” Moe said, referring to dog waste along sidewalks and in the park.

George Pragel, a member of the MPRB crew that maintains Stevens Square Park, said a big to-do over doo-doo wasn’t warranted.

“Every park has its dog issues,”
Pragel said.

Still, both Pragel and Moe were working with neighborhood resident Sue Crockett on strategies to tackle what many others said was undeniably a problem. Crockett led a neighborhood effort to clean up litter, a campaign that has expanded to include dog waste.

Crockett recently vacationed in Eastern Europe, where she noticed free doggie bags — and not the kind for restaurant leftovers — were widely available on city streets. Inspired, she brought back several examples and was working with the Park Board to install more dog bag dispensers in the park.

If there is a small price to pay because of a few inconsiderate dog owners, a pet-filled neighborhood has its advantages, too.

Crockett described the many dog-walkers as a sort of informal neighborhood patrol, monitoring the streets at all hours of the day and night. And dog owners said the park, especially during the hours before and after the workday, was a place to socialize while their pets played.

With that in mind, Crockett planned a unique promotion for the neighborhood’s annual Full Moon Harvest Festival, which this year will include a doggie costume contest. Dog owners will get their invitation to the Oct. 18 event on the back of a dog bag. “It promotes our event,” she explained. “It also promotes, in a gentle way, ‘Pick up after your dog.’”