Matt's Siberian huskies are all leashed up with nowhere to go.
He used to take his dogs to his neighborhood park, Chew Playground, in Point Breeze. His huskies, Jack and Ollie, especially loved the park in winter.
"They swim through the snow like seals," says Matt, who asked that we use a fake name for him because he sometimes works with the city. "It's awesome."
But one day last March, a banner went up: "NO DOGS ALLOWED IN PARK," it said in big, red, capital letters. It wasn't clear if it was an official sign or the work of some vigilante dog opponent.
Either way, Matt didn't fight it, and neither did his neighbor, a fellow dog owner named Tom Posey. Since that day in March, neither of them has taken his dogs to Chew. Instead, they've had to get creative.
Posey haunts a few vacant lots so that his 9-year-old bulldog, Liberty, can get some exercise. But they're always grimy, Posey says, thanks to short dumpers and drug users.
Matt has taken to creating his own dog run in a school parking lot at night. He bought 100 feet of fencing from Home Depot and fences in the parking lot when no one's around.
"This is how desperate I am for space," Matt says.
The sign, it turns out, is official: Dogs are not allowed at Chew Playground. But this still leaves a couple of questions, including: Why? And, is there some other way for Matt and Posey to get their dogs exercise in the neighborhood without toting around portable fencing?
NO (DOG) PARKING: Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis explained that the reason dogs can't go in Chew Playground is that dogs aren't allowed in playgrounds (as opposed to parks, where they're allowed).
It's a health thing, as well as a safety thing, he said.
"Even if people clean up ," DiBerardinis said, "it still creates a problem." You can't clean up urine, and no one wants their kids rolling around where dogs did their business.
Asked why a homemade-looking sign randomly popped up one day, instead of the playground being clearly marked, he admitted that his department could do better with signage, saying that it's "inconsistent."
As for why the sign went up when it did, Carol Mackin, Vice President of Chew Playground's Advisory Council, said that it was put up because of an overflow of dog owners turning the playground into a dog run.
Many more children used the playground now, said Mackin, a dog-owner herself.
HOW TO BUILD A DOG PARK: We agree that there's no room for Jack, Ollie and Liberty in Chew Playground. But there has to be another way, right? Matt and Posey expressed interest in finding a more permanent place for their dogs to play, one that wouldn't upset any of their neighbors.
That just might be possible. Here's how you build a dog park:
We spoke with Barbara McCabe, community liaison for the Parks and Recreation Department, who told us that you start by organizing a committed group, which will have to raise funds and maintain the dog park on its own.
The group also will need to find a space. If the space is Parks and Recreation-owned land (like part of a city park), then the group could contact the department and explain its interest. If Parks and Recreation doesn't own the space, go straight to the owner.
It's also a good idea to get support from a Council member. Councilman Frank DiCicco helped create Orianna Hill Park, in Northern Liberties, a private dog park that gets no financial support from the city. The Friends of Orianna Hill Park were able to buy the land, which used to be an abandoned lot owned by the Redevelopment Authority.
Parks and Recreation is working on a dog-park policy, McCabe said, but it will address only dog parks that are on Parks and Recreation land.
Since there don't seem to be many city parks fit for dog parks in Point Breeze, Matt and Posey will look elsewhere. We put them in touch with Krista Milito, of The Philly Pack, who is starting a dog-park advocacy group. Good luck to Jack, Ollie and Liberty!
Trying to build a dog park? Or barking up some other tree? Let us know at email@example.com, @phillyhowl on Twitter, or at 215-854-5855. Live chats, Wednesdays 11 a.m. on Philly.com.