Metro Parks pool party a hit with hundreds of paddling pooches

Some animal psychologists insist that dogs don’t feel joy.

Saturday’s Pooch Pool Party at Metro Parks’ Stewart Heights Pool might have changed their minds.

The dogs had the pool to themselves for the day, and close to 400 of them had what seemed like a frenzy of fun — splashing, barking, chasing tennis balls and taking great running belly flops into the deep end.

If it wasn’t joy, it was something so close it didn’t much matter.

“Oh, they totally do feel joy,” said Kari Ann Elling of Tacoma, who said she brings her 5-year-old German wire-haired pointer named Harley to the party every year.

“It’s just pure happiness,” she said. “Harley was happy just waiting in line.”

This was the fifth year for the Pooch Pool Party, and according to Metro Parks’ senior aquatics coordinator Jim Biles, it’s grown more popular each year. In the interest of keeping the excitement down to a level of mere bedlam, Biles set a limit of 150 dogs in the pool at any one time.

That number of dogs passed the ticket booth just minutes after the first session started at 10 a.m., Biles said, and a line quickly stretched around the corner of the pool building.

The idea for the Pooch Pool Party originally came from Metro Parks’ Aaron Canfield, who reasoned that, since the human swim season was over anyway and the pool needed to be drained and cleaned, why not give the hairy guys a day of fun?

Canfield even prepared a party CD for the pool PA system, which includes such canine favorites as “Who Let the Dogs Out?” “Hound Dog” and “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”

Biles said pool staffers shut off all the pool’s chemical infusers after Labor Day, when the pool closed for humans, so the chemicals wouldn’t irritate sensitive dogs.

After Saturday’s party, he said, the maintenance staff will drain the pool, making the Health Department happy by first switching the drain lines so the water doesn’t go through the standard filters. When the pool is empty, it will be pressure washed, he said.

Biles said he can’t remember seeing a single dogfight in five years. “We’ve had very minimal dog issues,” he said. “Almost all of them are very well-trained and -handled.”

One dog did have a close call this year. A 3-year-old black Lab mix named Reggie was swimming with a yellow tennis ball in her mouth, and two larger labs were so determined to get it they kept Reggie underwater for a long, long time.

Reggie’s owner, Judy Dingess of Lakewood, saw Reggie go limp and reached for a life-saving pole.

Seventeen-year-old Malia Jensen-Noa saw what was happening, too, and leaped in, fully clothed, for the rescue.

Reggie collapsed on the deck, but she began breathing normally again after a few minutes. Dingess said she would take her to a vet just to make sure.

“I’ve always loved animals,” rescuer Jensen-Noa said later. “So when I saw that, I said, ‘That’s not OK. I need to do something.’ I just jumped in.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693