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Having a doggone good time

Dog lovers admit to sometimes doing crazy things in the name of love - baking their own homemade canine biscuits, dressing their pets in costumes and occasionally even serenading them.

So when they arrived at a pool party for dogs yesterday at the Roger Carter Recreation Center pool in Ellicott City, they didn't hesitate to jump right in with their pooches.

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"He's like our child," said Vince Pasko, a financier from Woodstock, as he tried to coax his Australian shepherd, Kia, to jump off the diving board by whispering encouragement: "You can do it. Come on, Kia."

Kia liked the deep end, but was a little spooked by the diving board. "He loves the water," Pasko said, while his wife, Missy, snapped pictures of the dog party. "We've taken him to the beach. And there's a pond in our neighborhood he likes to jump into to fetch sticks we throw."

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A few dogs had their own pool towels and life preservers. The splashing was good material for home videos and pictures.

In all, nearly 80 dogs attended the party - the first sponsored by Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks.

"We had heard about events like this in other places," said Barbara Lett, special events supervisor for the recreation and parks department.

"But I was concerned it would be total chaos. It's actually been unbelievably successful. Within a week, we were filled and had 20 people on a waiting list. We even had one person call who wanted to come just to watch her friend's dog swim."

Since the pool officially closed last weekend, there weren't health issues with people who didn't want to share the pool with canines. The pool will be cleaned and freshened for the next people-only season, said Art Downing, the director of the pool complex.

On a normal sunny Saturday, the happy shrieks of children splashing can be heard from the basketball courts. But yesterday, barks filled the air. And most of the swimmers used the same stroke: the dog paddle.

The lifeguards allowed running for the special event, since there really was no way to stop the dogs.

Lifeguard Emily Cooke expected to see some dogfights but said the pets seemed to be on their best behavior.

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"We also thought we might have to jump in to rescue a few dogs," she said. "But I think swimming comes pretty naturally to dogs."

Monee Hill, 10, of Clarksville started her two small dogs, Lucky, a King Charles spaniel, and Max, a Chihuahua, in the baby pool. "Lucky hasn't learned how to swim," Monee said. "But you just put them in the pool and they start kicking."

By the end of the afternoon, her dogs were in the big pool.

Because Ellicott City's pup playground - where dogs can roam without leashes if they're licensed - has been so popular, event organizers expected requests for more events like this one.

"It'd be great if they did this on a regular basis," said Karen Hanson, whose golden retrievers, Maggie and Max, were in the pool with her husband, Danny. "We've found that a tired dog makes a happy human."

The Hansons regularly take their 11-month-old puppies on walks and hikes around their Columbia neighborhood.

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"It looks like everyone is having a great time," Downing said. "It's just unclear who is having more fun - the dogs or the people."


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