Sunday Conversation with … Jeff Clark

Annual dog swim is a true family affair

The final lifeguard whistle at Atlanta’s Garden Hills Pool, for people this is, can only mean one thing. Call in the dogs! For as long as anyone can remember, the pool nestled in a Buckhead neighborhood closes out the summer with a dog swim, as in families bring their dogs for a dip. On Sept. 14, the tradition drew some 175 canines of all shapes and sizes, from Labrador Retrievers that refused to get out of the water to Corgis that refused to get in. To find out more about why the dog swim is so popular, and inherently different from a people-only swim, the AJC talked with Jeff Clark, president of the Garden Hills Pool and Park Association, the neighborhood group that manages the pool for the City of Atlanta.

Q: What does the dog swim do for the neighborhood?

A: There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who are very passionate about their dogs and adore bringing their dogs to the pool. We are trying to encourage people to love the pool by involving everyone in their family. For a lot of people, dogs are a big part of their family.

Q: What kind of planning does the dog swim take?

A: First of all, we are very, very conscious of safety. We add more guards and staff. This year, we kept any owner under 12 out of the pool.

As you can imagine, there’s greater maintenance of the facility. We only had one really bad incident of a dog throwing up but you don’t want to hear about that.

There are big issues around the quality of the water since there are people in the pool in addition to the dogs. We tried to restrict people getting in a couple of years ago but there was real pushback.

There is only one entrance and exit from the facility. This year we had staff at the front gate steering dogs that tried to run out back in. We did have one get out and he just kept going.

Q: Do you worry about all those dogs behaving?

A: We get nervous about dogs in general because you never know what you are going to get with them. But these are all family dogs — every dog has an owner who really loves them and is focused on them having a good experience. It is an interesting filter for the kind of dog we get.

Q: Speaking of filters, what’s the pool filter look like after the dog swim?

A: It is horrible. There is a reason we do the dog swim on the last day of the season. There are literally plumes of hair floating around in the pool. It takes anywhere from two to three days to clean the pool afterward. And you have to do an aggressive clean right away. God bless the staff.

Q: Do you take your dog to the dog swim?

A: We do. My oldest, Molly Grace, who is 12, is Chili’s biggest fan. I have never known a Golden Retriever who doesn’t love water but he doesn’t. He gets in to about his chest.

Q: Some dogs are better swimmers than others, correct?

A: Half of the dogs are kind of in shock first, because they get to go in, and second, this is a new experience for some of them. My observation is that you don’t really see dogs swimming together playing, that swimming for a dog is a one on one sport.

Q: Any thought about a cat swim?

A: You know what, I’m not the president next year, so sure, why not? We have not had anyone suggest a cat swim. It could happen. Tell you one thing that won’t happen. We will not have a dog swim and cat swim at the same time.