Cape Cod town rolls out the pooch welcome mat, making it the most dog-friendly town in the U.S.
Arnold, a 12-pound white poodle, prances around Provincetown like he owns it.
He kind of does.
Like many of the canines here, Arnold has his own following. The town, which lies at the tip of Cape Cod, is known for its love of dogs, and the numbers prove it: About one out of every five residents has one.
"They've made a pretty concerted effort there to be the ultimate canine resort," said Ernie Slone, the editor of Dog Fancy magazine, which recently voted Provincetown "DogTown USA."
The locale beat out 94 other entries in the annual competition, which evaluates cities based on the number of dog-friendly open spaces and dog parks, events celebrating dogs and their owners, available veterinary care and laws that support pets. Carmel came in second, and three other California cities, Benicia, Ft. Bragg and San Diego, were in the top 10.
But what sets Provincetown apart, people here say, is its ingrained dog culture. Dogs like Arnold can accompany owners into the bank and post office, and they can dine on the patios of a variety of restaurants. In shops, dogs are put to work greeting visitors.
"People seem to bond to dogs a lot more here than anywhere else I've been," said Greg Johnson, a computer science instructor from Atlanta. He's vacationed here with Miles, a wirehaired fox terrier, six times.
Sunday is the last day of Pet Appreciation Weekend, sponsored by the local animal shelter, complete with a blessing of the dogs, pet parade and a pet tea party. Last week, the town unveiled a new animal (and human) drinking fountain at the historic town hall. Pets even have an acre of playground at the $200,000 Pilgrim Bark Park and can trot along miles of dog-friendly beaches.
Along Commercial Street, the town's main strip, water bowls sit outside almost every business for dog passersby. It's also not uncommon to see a shopkeeper grab a plastic sack of dog treats from behind the counter to lure dogs (and their owners) inside. The local animal shelter places four to six dogs per year, said Kathy Clobridge, the shelter's treasurer.
"Fortunately for us, Cape Cod is not a place with a lot of dogs in need," she said.
The town's affable history with dogs began in 1620, when its first European canines -- an English mastiff and an English springer spaniel -- docked in Provincetown Harbor aboard the Mayflower, according to the city's tourism office. More recently, a group of citizens led by resident Candace Nagle helped make the town more welcoming by pushing for a leash-free dog park in 2007 and then the fountain.
"We're just crazy about animals," said Nagle, co-founder of the dog park. She named her own pups Pilgrim and Mayflower.
Some dogs, like Arnold, are local celebrities. Arnold has his own line of black-and-white postcards at the Recycled Retriever, a shop that sells eco-friendly pet products.
Rich Close, the shop's owner, said that when he takes Arnold on his daily walk to the shop, the poodle is the star.
"Everyone knows his name," he said. "I don't think I've once ever heard anyone yell out my name; it's always, 'Arnold!'"
Provincetown, or P-town, as it's called by locals, has a high concentration of gay residents, which could be one reason pets are so popular, Close said.
"Many gay families don't have children, so their pets are their children," he said. "It's their family."
He has seen more than one instance of a dog sharing a stroller with an infant.
"Rather than leave the dog at home, it's bring the dog with you," Close said.
A couple of doors down at Wired Puppy, a coffee shop that sells dog leashes and pet treats, Matt Peterson, a 23-year-old barista, said dogs go everywhere.
"Most of the time," he said, "I know the dog's name but not the human's name."
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-- Nicole Santa Cruz
Photo: Dogs play at Pilgrim Bark Park. Credit: Cold Nose Photo