As the founder of Downtown Dog Rescue, working in the community of South Los Angeles now for approximately ten years, I knew that when my friend and dog trainer Larry Hill and I set out to organize an event to promote pet responsibility called DogKnic at St Andrews Park in South West Los Angeles, the approval would not come from City Hall or the Department of Animal Care and Control, it would come from the gangs that control that park, to be specific, The Neighborhood 90s and the 8 Tray Gangsters, two Crip sets. The easy part was getting Anthony, the park supervisor on board to allow us to bring DogKnic, a community event that offered free spay/neuter, vaccinations and micro chipping for dogs and most important, brought together some of the most outstanding training clubs in the Greater Los Angeles area. Immediately, Best Friends, Karma Rescue, Found Animals and Amanda Foundation all came on board to support our family oriented event but we still needed approval from the gangs.
Because Larry lives in the neighborhood, has trained dogs in the community for forty years and understands the challenges of being a youth with little or no alternative to the gang lifestyle, he sat down one afternoon at the picnic area in the park with the 8 Trays, asking them for their approval. They agreed. Now, he needed to get the same approval from the 90s, they agreed. Sounds easy? Not really, despite the relationships that he had developed in the community. When we decided to use St. Andrews Park as our event site, Larry knew that without the 8 Trays and the 90s approval, the event may not be safe for everyone. He also understood the importance of respecting their territory. The complex dynamic of how that approval went down involved Larry calling his nephew, who was a member of the 8 Treys, now relocated in Oklahoma but still the shot caller for this set. Once his nephew called some of the members, explaining that his family was going to be in the park, Larry was confident, nothing violent would happen at DogKnic. Everything was coming together great, lots of people coming to the event from all parts of the City, LAPD was on board, glad to hear about a community event taking place in a park that was once better known for shootings more than people walking their dogs and children playing on swings.
Then it happened, the Thursday before our Saturday event, an LAPD officer was shot in the same neighborhood, off of Western near 70th street. The shooter was able to escape but over 72 city blocks covering nearly 800 homes were included in the police lock down, going on a hunt for two suspects that the LAPD believe are responsible for the shooting. According to news reports, this area of Los Angeles is reported to be among the most violent in South Los Angeles and falls within LAPD’s 77th Division. Our event was on 89th off Western and Manchester. Too close for comfort for a lot of folk to come down to South LA but just another day for Larry who had to drive around the blocked off streets and observe the LAPD tactical alert. As 24 hours passed, more people began to send me messages, “Wish that I could be there, I hope that everything is safe.”
What people didn’t want to write is, I’m not familiar with South LA even though I’ve lived in the City of LA most of my life and I don’t plan to become too familiar with South LA now that a police officer was shot by two gang members just blocks away from the park where our event was scheduled. Nothing hit me harder than the blue spray painted symbol on the sidewalk near the entrance to the park. It looked like a blue cross. Larry explained that it meant that no harm should come to anyone at our event. The gang members had all been told to “stand down” meaning no violence, family members were in the park at our event, including Larry’s wife who received a couple phone calls from 8 Treys to make sure she was OK.
Our day was more than OK, it was beautiful. The remark most often heard was, “No fights’. I would like to assume that the individuals saying this were referring to the dogs not the people, of which there were about 500 in attendance, black, Asian, Latino, Caucasian, all coming together for one reason, their love and dedication to dogs. Not just any dogs, big power breeds, like Pit bulls, Dobermans, German Shepherd Malinois, even a Giant Schnauzer. It was amazing to see one hundred plus dogs all co existing with their people who on paper, shouldn’t get along. We may not have had a big name movie star to sponsor our event, or a TV crew to cover us on the news but we made news, the community is changing.
The community saw the event and thanked Larry and I for hosting it. DogKnic is Larry’s idea, I helped expand it into a show that we are both proud of. So often we hear about the “Pit Bull Problem” or that certain people don’t want to get their dogs fixed or this group of people keep their dogs outside so they don’t love them as much as the people who shower their dogs with love and affection dress them up like children and keep them locked up in the air conditioned house until they are so anxiety ridden that they have to go on anxiety meds just like their owner.
We believe that dogs bring social capital – community goodwill and civic consecutiveness – to a community. The community as a whole benefits by the health and welfare of all its parts, including its companion animals. DogKnic is a blueprint that defines and embraces neighborhoods that are welcoming to animals and people. Our goal is to make the St. Andrews Park DogKnic an annual community event and expand it throughout the parks in South Los Angeles and perhaps across the nation!