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Barking Up A New Tree

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By Katie O. Clark

If you asked me, I could tell you the name of every dog within a three-block radius, its breed (or a close guess), its temperament and a thing or two about the owner.

Tasha: Rottweiler, very mean and barky. Owner is friendly but slightly bug-eyed and can be found yelling "Shut up!" in response to every bark.

Lucy: Boston Terrier, escape artist and yappy. Owner is somewhat grumpy, feigns interest in your existence, refuses to keep dog on leash.

Chloe: Black Lab, sweet and dopey. Owner is friendly, charming woman who is age 45 but looks 30, great complexion.

Rottweiler and Pitt Bull combo around the corner, avoid at all costs!

I've lived in Port Richmond for six years but only obtained this valuable information about my neighbors in the last six months, after adopting our Rottweiler/German shepherd mix, Aspyn, from the Philadelphia SPCA.

Before adopting Aspyn, my husband and I kept to ourselves. We knew our neighbors directly next door, and the friendly old lady two houses down. Other than that, we didn't really talk to anyone. We work a lot and aren't home much. We're usually busy during the annual block party and ours is a dark, empty house on Halloween.

But, when you get a dog, you have to walk it. And when you walk it you meet people.

So began my real discovery of Port Richmond. I've learned so many things in the past six months. I know the blocks to avoid because of too many aggressive dogs, kooky residents or too much broken glass. I've found the local dog parks or grassy fields where you can let your dog run free.

dog on leash.jpgMost importantly, I've discovered that if you take a minute to talk to people, you'll find some real gems. Many of the folks I've met while out with my dog are regular people, great conversationalists, and they're all in a reasonably good mood because they love their dogs. There are some exceptions, of course, like the girl at the Fishtown dog park who, while she's very sweet, can't stop talking about how her dog could outrun any of the other dogs -- and while she's talking my dog is leaving her mutt in the dust. Or the woman with the lazy eye who laughs nonstop with her smoky chortle as her Boxer named Jackson humps and bites all the nearby female dogs.

The first few years as a resident, I never knew what to make of Port Richmond. I had mixed feelings because, while I thought it was a decent neighborhood, my protective father and older brother constantly complained about my living there. I wondered what they knew that I didn't. But, after my discoveries over the past 6 months, I've made my own decision: I like this place

Most of the people are just like me: hard working, regular people. My dad and brother can pout all they want up in their suburban Bucks County homes. I'm the one that lives here. And I'm the one that's staying.

After meeting all the dogs in Port Richmond and neighboring Fishtown, I was inspired to volunteer at the PSPCA on Erie Avenue in Kensington, a hub for admirable people with an unconditional, undying selflessness and commitment to animal welfare

I do believe that animals, especially dogs, can bring out the very best in people. It certainly happened to me.

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