24 July 2008

The Latest in Social Networking: Take Your Dog for a Walk

For Melissa Hotchkiss, going on a hike with her Shar-Pei mix, Jesse, took the bite out of meeting new people. The two were among 13 humans and 6 dogs on a hike at Harriman State Park, 45 miles north of New York, by Leashes & Lovers, a social networking group, and its partner, Outdoor Bound, to meet new people. If love or friendship was in the air, their dogs would sniff it out.

Hotchkiss said she's not a social person, but that having her dog along made meeting new people less stressful because the emphasis was on sharing an activity both she and Jesse could enjoy. "I'm coming for her to be outdoors, and I'm just tagging along," she said.

Leashes & Lovers is among a handful of social networking Web sites catering to dog-centric lifestyles, hoping to help the similarly minded connect for fun, friendship or romance. Similar groups include datemypet.com, ­doglover.biz and dogup.com. Rather than simply give dog lovers the virtual tools to meet online, Leashes & Lovers works to bring them together. The New York-based group has held swim meets, pub crawls and cocktail parties. It partnered with Outdoor Bound to bring these hikers and hounds together.

Dogs are always invited on these outings, but they're not required. Some people with shy dogs bring photographs of them to share. The point is to be with people who understand when you tell them that you grieved for weeks when your puppy died, said Sheryl Matthys, a former TV reporter who founded the company. "You really feel like you get to experience something special with your dog and other dog lovers," she said.

Linda Biel, 44, of New York, said she had been to several dog-lover events, including a scavenger hunt, with Bolly, her Shetland sheepdog (named after the Bollinger brand of champagne). On this hike, Bolly would bound up the trail ahead of the pack, then return to Biel, who would spurt water from a bottle into the dog's mouth. Biel said she, too, wasn't on the hike to find love. ”The important thing is I'm doing something I like as opposed to an event that's geared toward meeting people,“ she said.

Matthys said about 70 percent of people who go to Leashes & Lovers events are women. That would seem to bode well for Henry Lin, 44, one of the few men on the hike. He brought along Nala, a shepherd-chow mix. He said such events can help weed out mismatches. "There's dog people and non-dog people,' he said. "I've gone on dates where I didn't proceed because the women didn't like the dogs."

Matthys, who also writes a column for the Web site under the name DogSexpert, said she does not know of anyone who has developed a significant relationship after meeting through Leashes & Lovers. Said Connie Magee, the leader of the hike and founder of Outdoor Bound: "We don't ask. But I do see lots of friendships formed, and lots of phone numbers and e-mails are exchanged."

[Source: Lexington Herald-Leader]