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New York  PETS!... PARKS!... PLAY!—When New York's Park-Scape Changed Forever!

That's the day the world's first state-of-the-art doggie playground opens in Van Cortlandt Park, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony promptly at 1:00 p.m.. Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, assisted by his dog, Boomer will cut the ribbon at a ceremony attended by community leaders; celebrity dog trainer Bash Dibra, the driving force behind the playground; and a playful pack of celebrity dogs.

A joint effort of Pets, People & Parks, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park; and the New York City Parks Department, the doggie playground features an enclosed free-play dog run with trees and grass, as well as benches for people. The main attraction is an obstacle/agility course with hurdles, hoops, tunnels, crawl spaces and fences, self-contained within the playground. Dogs are allowed unobstructed playtime both on the obstacle course and in the "free-play" area.

"In an urban environment, pets and their people need a safe place to play," says Bash Dibra. "The Parks Department has been remarkably receptive to those needs." The project was developed after a four-year successful Pets, People & Parks campaign, which sponsors an increasingly popular annual Pooch Picnic. According to Dibra that campaign made city officials realize how much nature and pets enrich our daily lives.

"It's a tough city", says Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, "and dogs have to stay fit, just like people. If we can give our four-footed friends a chance to strengthen their muscles and paws, then their two-legged companions will stay fit chasing after them.

This first-ever dog playground is expected to provide a perfect prototype for similar playgrounds in other city parks, as well as across the country. And it's expected to get plenty of use on April 26, when the Fifth Annual Pets, People & Parks Pooch Picnic takes place in Van Cortlandt Park. Pooches and their people should begin shaping up now!

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