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Dozens of Berkeley dogs recently had the rare chance to mingle with other pups and splash around in West Campus pool before renovations started to prepare the aquatic venue for human activities this summer.

Steph Chu, a recreation programs supervisor, said the city’s parks, recreation and waterfront department had schemed to do a similar event in the past after seeing other cities host pool days for dogs, but the Berkeley Health Department vetoed the decision.

Timing aligned perfectly, however, when renovations were planned for West Campus pool, as well as King pool, and the health department agreed that dogs could be allowed in the pool if it would be drained afterward and humans wouldn’t be swimming in it.

“Doggie Dip Day” was a huge success

On April 17, more than 60 dogs arrived for the sold-out event (with their owners) and enjoyed a spring celebration with a prize wheel, treats table, an extremely popular “puppecino” station (cups with whipped cream), an air-dry clay table to make paw prints, a raffle, photobooth, button printer and a bandana for every canine guest.

“We could tell the dogs were having a blast but it was weirdly fun for everybody,” Chu said. “Our tagline was ‘We want to give the dogs a chance to swim in our pools just like their humans do every day.'”

The parks department only had about a week to pull the $10 event together and publicize it, but Chu said it came together well. It was a unique opportunity to host an event for Berkeley residents who may not usually visit the pools, as well as their dogs.

Many of the bigger dogs reigned over the pool while smaller dogs spent their time alternating between land activities. Credit: Steph Chu

“To be honest, a lot of dogs don’t like to swim,” Chu said, explaining that swimming was only one highlight of the event, and some ambitious activities like an “Easter egg hunt” were simplified down to just throwing tennis balls in the water.

Berkeley residents Aarjav Trivedi and Bhumi Shah heard about the event from their neighbors and headed down to the pool with their dog, Mowgli, who spent the afternoon in “bliss.” They’d never been to a similar event in Berkeley before.

“Mowgli loves to swim and always stares wistfully when my son goes for a swim in a backyard pool with friends,” Trivedi said. “It was amazing for him that he got to swim in a pool with his two favorite things: his doggie friends and tennis balls. We loved watching him have a ball!”

Shah added some thoughts from Mowgli’s perspective.

“[If] Mowgli could speak human, this is what he would say. ‘Having only been able to smell the pool from the outside until now, I was thrilled to finally make it past the fence. It was blissful swimming in a pool full of tennis balls, woofing, and drenching the human bystanders on a lovely day. Can’t wait to do it again. Lots of lickies!’”

Scott Ferris, director of the parks department, said West Campus and King pools (which didn’t have a dog event because renovations started earlier) are on track to open by Friday, June 10 — with summer programming scheduled to start that following Monday.

He said contractors are doing a great job installing new tile and plaster at the pools, and they’re going to return the pools to the public “better than ever.”

Sadly, he said it’s unlikely dogs will be welcomed back in the near future. Until renovations happen again in about a decade, it’s unlikely the parks department could get the clearance from the health department. But that doesn’t mean dog-friendly events at city parks are out the window overall.

“We’ve been talking about [dog events] more than ever because there’s so many dog owners in Berkeley,” Ferris said. “There’s nothing planned at this point, but my staff loves special events and they’ve got all kind of ideas. Stay tuned.”

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Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...