John Howell Sr. 4/30/13

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Neighborhood, now gone to dogs, much improved

If you’ve read these lines from time to time you might have thought this New Orleans place is dominated by damncats.

Not really. It has gone to the dogs.

There is a dog society that orbits around the Wisner Playground and ball field across Laurel Street from our house. It started several years after Katrina — after the park was first converted to a FEMA park where 33 small trailers were placed to house displaced city workers, police, firemen and the like.

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After that use, every trace of the trailers and their extensive infrastructure was removed and the area was restored to its former life as a park. More than restored. Old structures were demolished and a new Kaboom Playground, like the new one now at Trussell Park, was built. And the fences were rebuilt.

Nice new fences and gates replaced the old sagging and porous pre-Katrina fencing that surrounded the ball field and separated the ball field from the basketball court and children’s playground. In recent years more and more dog owners have discovered that they could loose their dogs to run inside the fenced area of that ball field. 

There aren’t that many places in New Orleans where dog owners can release their dogs to run in such secure confines, so word spread rapidly, and more people brought their dogs.

Soon dog owners clashed with ball field users, especially parents and coaches from nearby Zavier Prep, whose softball team uses the park as its home field. How can you concentrate on fielding a grounder that comes hopping through a pile of dog poop?

Police occasionally came by and yelled at people for violating leash laws. Sometimes they wrote citations, but the momentum was on the side of the dog owners. Too many of them versus cops with more serious problems at every turn.

For their part, the dog owners appear to have become extremely conscientious about picking up the poop. A dispenser of plastic bags has been placed at each entrance gate. Not only do they pick up their own dog’s droppings, I’ve seen them pick up unclaimed poop after another dog owner has been neglectful.

So the view from our front porch all day long is dogs arriving in cars. Happy dogs, some smiling in anticipation, anxious to join their buddies for a romp in the playground. And happy owners. This goes on all day long, but the number of dogs really swells on late afternoons and on weekends.

On a recent Sunday, I counted 17 dog people and at least that many dogs. The numbers ebb and flow, but their presence almost ‘round the clock has changed the character of the park. Wisner Playground has not slipped back into the gathering place for dubious characters that it had become before Katrina. The change is undoubtedly due in part to an overall gentrification that is transforming this neighborhood close to the Mississippi River that remained unflooded when the levees were breached in 2005.

But with that came the dogs. Somehow, the dubious characters whose presence once dominated Wisner Playground, and who occasionally walk through still, can’t find a comfort level when happy dog owners are constantly coming and going with  happy dogs who want to come close for a friendly sniff.

And that’s how things are on Laurel Street in New Orleans, where the hoods once outnumbered the neighbors. But that was before the neighborhood went to the dogs.