By Barry Janoff
March 27, 2017: In August 1996, the Chicago White Sox became the first MLB team to host a dog day in a ballpark, according to various sources, fittingly called the Dog Days of Summer, which allowed fans to bring their dogs to the game.
Fast-forward to Sept. 12, 2016, when 1,122 dogs (with their owners) came to a White Sox game in U.S. Cellular Field, setting a Guinness Book world record for most dogs attending a sports event (other than Dog Shows).
MLB is infamous for its dog days of summer, when oppressive heat appears to make players and play slow and lethargic.
But baseball is now also known for its Dog Day promotions, when fans can play for the day with their four-legged friends in MLB stadiums.
About half of MLB teams will host a version of Dog Day promos this season, with many of the events benefiting a local pet adoption or rescue agency.
Some dog days will host upward of 700 canines and their owners, in most cases supported by multi-media efforts including TV, Internet, social media and in-stadium signage and activation.
Central Garden & Pet brands AvoDerm Natural Pet Foods and Nylabone will partner with seven teams this season for Bark in the Park, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.
Central Garden & Pet also works with Tony La Russa, Hall of Fame manager and chief baseball analyst and advisor for the Arizona Diamondbacks, through the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), of which La Russa is co-founder and chairman.
Among other promotional efforts, celebrity chef and author Rachael Ray’s Nutrish Pet Food will oversee Pups at the Park, with teams including the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rachael Ray’s Rescue, part of the Rachael Ray Foundation, said it has donated more than $14 million to organizations to supply food, medical supplies, treatments and other assistance.
And the St, Louis Cardinals will again host their annual Nestlé Purina Pooches in the Ballpark, among the longest-running MLB canine efforts, which dates back to 2005.
"There was only a handful of teams doing it when we started back in 2006," Doug Nelson, founder of Echo Marketing, San Francisco, which works with client Central Garden & Pet to oversee Bark in the Park events, said in a statement. "You want to do what?' they’d say.
"But little by little we brought Bark at the Park to teams like the Dodgers, Rangers, Rockies, Mariners, A’s and Brewers, and the teams all love it . . . We’ve done almost a hundred of these events now, set a Guinness World Record, generated billions of impressions for our partners and created hundreds of thousands of priceless memories for fans and their pets," said Nelson.
While some teams have one or two day days per season, others go all out. The Cincinnati Reds, with Rachael Ray Nutrish, Kroger supermarket and SPCA Cincinnati, plan to have four such events this year.
The Washington Nationals are scheduled to have six Pups in the Park days, sponsored by Budweiser in association with the Humane Rescue Alliance.
But the leader in this category is the Pittsburgh Pirates Pup Nights at PNC Park presented by Rachael Ray Nutrish, with more than a dozen events planned for Tuesdays throughout the season, an annual festivity dating back to 2006.
While most teams have temporary sections in their stadium to host dogs and their owners, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the most dedicated area for canines in MLB: the PetSmart Patio, located behind the wall in left-center field, with a multi-tier seating arrangement to accommodate owners and dogs.
For the team’s planed six dog days this season — five Dog Days of Summer presented by national pet center PetSmart, the sixth under the auspices of Central Garden and ARF — pets can “enjoy concessions such as dog-friendly ice cream (and) pet parents will also receive a PetSmart 'Doggie Bag,' complete with free items from PetSmart."
In addition, directly behind PetSmart Patio is the PetSmart Park, an outdoor and indoor (air conditioned) dog park where pets can play
The San Diego Padres last season also created a permanent area, The Barkyard, under the auspices of national pet supplies retailer Petco, headquartered in San Diego, which has naming rights to the Padres home venue.
Although the section is not permanent this year, the team is scheduled to host a Dog Days of Summer presented by Petco in June.
Teams generally have a ticket package deal for pets and their owners to enter the respective stadium on the day of an event. Many also offer dog-specific giveaways on dog days.
The Pirates, for example, this year will offer a Treat Bag, a Ball Thrower and a Placemat, respectively during three of their Pup Nights.
Some teams build other events around their dog days
The Cardinals’ Purina Pooches in the Ballpark presented by Nestle Purina will have prior to the game an Ultimate Air Dogs Competition, where "highly trained dogs compete in dock diving exhibition (during which they) run, jump and dive into a 40-foot long, 10,000 gallon pool (located) in the Ballpark Village Parking Lot."
According to Echo Market’s Nelson, which is planning numerous events for Central Garden & Pet this season, "It’s a ton of fun for the fans. We have parades, contests, video board features and special vendors catering just to the dogs."
But the overriding reason for teams to host these events is to raise awareness and funds for animals in need.
"Central Garden & Pet is a long-time supporter of ARF’s mission to save dogs and cats who have run out of time at public shelters and bring people and animals together," La Russa, who led the Oakland A’s to the World Series championship in 1989 and the Cardinals to championships in 2006 and 2001, said in a statement.
"We are especially honored this year to highlight how pets are helping bring strength and comfort to our military veterans, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress, as a result of their service . . . Our ties to baseball obviously run deep and our commitment to people saving animals and animals saving people has never been stronger," said La Russa.
Although they don’t have a dog day this season in Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles produced their 8th annual Pet Calendar presented by Pet+E.R, featuring players and their pets. Proceeds benefit the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, a nonprofit shelter that accepts and cares for all animals in need.
The Orioles said they have helped to raise $180,000 for BARCS over the last few years. On Sunday, Aug. 21, during a pre-game ceremony at Oriole Park, representatives from Pet+E.R will present a check to BARCS for $8,000.
Similarly, the Cleveland Indians produced a 2017 Indians Pet Calendar. of players with their pets, with proceeds benefiting the Cleveland Animal Protective League and Friendship Animal Protective League.
For those pet lovers whose team does not have a pet day, Pets First Inc., based in Elizabeth, NJ, has officially licensed MLB products (as well as NFL, NBA and collegiate) for 29 teams (excluding the Toronto Blue Jays). The inventory includes jerseys, sweaters, toys, pillows, leashes, collars, T-shirts, bandanas and grooming products.
Of course, these Dog Day events are not limited to MLB.
Among the dozens of MiLB teams holding dog day promotions this coming season, usually connected to local animal shelters or adaption agencies, are: the Durham Bulls, Norfolk Tides, Fresno Grizzlies, Albuquerque Isotopes, Rochester Red Wings, Reading Fightin’ Phils, Helena Brewers, Jax Jumbo Shrimp and of course the El Paso Chihuahuas and the Portland Sea Dogs (presented by Planet Dog Foundation).
Not to be outdone, the Lakewood BlueClaws last season held a CATurday event, inviting fans to bring their cats to the ballpark. Players wore special jerseys adorned with pictures of cats.
According to Bob Vetere, president and CEO for American Pet Products Assn., which works with Central Garden & Pet and Echo Marketing at MLB games, "Bark at the Park gives us a great platform to tell people what pet owners instinctively already know: Having pets adds so much to our lives.
"Research shows that pets provide enormous benefits to people’s physical and mental health, ability to learn and in some cases, even function on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s a specially trained service dog or a tank full of tropical fish, pets are important and valuable members of our families and our society. Bark at the Park helps showcase that in a fun and inclusive way," said Vetere.
Dog Days At MLB Parks 2017
• Arizona Diamondbacks Dog Days of Summer in the PetSmart Patio April 9, April 23, April 24, May 14, May 15; Central Garden Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) Sept. 10;
• Cincinnati Reds Rachael Ray Nutrish and Kroger SPCA Cincinnati in the Dog Zone May 3, June 7, Aug. 29, Sept. 21
• Colorado Rockies Central Garden Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) Aug. 16
• Houston Astros Dog Day Sept. 17
• Kansas City Royals Humane Society of Greater KC April 19 (presented by Boehringer Ingelheim), May 30, Aug. 30 (presented by Boehringer Ingelheim).
• Los Angeles Dodgers Pups at the Park Central Garden Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) May 20
• Miami Marlins Bark at the Park Humane Society of Greater Miami June 3
• Milwaukee Brewers Central Garden Wisconsin Humane Society June 6
• New York Mets Central Garden North Shore Animal League Port Washington April 9, Sept. 4
• Oakland Athletics Central Garden; a portion of the proceeds will benefit Dogs4Diabetics and the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). Pet Calendar Night April 21, Bark at the Park July 14
• Pittsburgh Pirates Pup Nights at PNC Park presented by Rachael Ray Nutrish April 11, April 25, May 16, May 30, June 13, June 27, July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 8, Aug. 22, Sept. 5, Sept. 19, Sept. 26
• St. Louis Cardinals Purina Pooches in the Ballpark and Cardinals Pet Bowl presented by Purina (pictured above) May 20
• San Diego Padres Padres & Puppies Calendar presented by Petco April 23 Dog Days of Summer June 29
• Seattle Mariners Central Garden Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) May 18, July 6, Sept. 5
• Washington Nationals Pups in the Park (Budweiser) Humane Rescue Alliance April 29 May 13, June 10, June 25, Sept. 7, Sept. 30.