Anniversary overhaul for doggie Petropolis

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Candles and cake kicked off a furry fiesta, as canines and community members gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Van Courtlandt Park’s Canine Court on April 14.

As the world’s first dog playground, the 14,000 square foot obstacle/agility course, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, has drawn canine visitors from around the globe.

With over a decade of extensive paw use, park creator and celebrity dog trainer Bash Dibra said it was time to revamp the space.

Prior to the party, a $10,000 remodeling upgraded some of the park’s equipment, replaced the fencing and, among other additions, constructed a separate space for the Bronx’ smallest dogs.

“We created a very nice, beautiful setting,” Dibra said. “It’s a complete subculture of pet owners. I call it Petropolis.”

Dibra added that Canine Court is not only great exercise for the animals, but also serves as a wonderful training ground for their owners.

“My theme is, a community is measured by how you treat your pets,” he said, explaining that such a facility only enhances such relationships, therefore producing a gentler, more refined group as a whole.

Dibra said he spent many years working on various projects in Van Cortlandt Park when one day he began thinking about a way of connecting people’s intelligence with that of their canines’.

First suggesting a dog run and agility course for the area, Dibra said the park’s committee instantly rejected the idea, saying it was simply too costly.

Forging forward, he committed to raising the project’s funds. On April 14, 1998, thanks to $3,000 from the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and $1,000 from the City Parks Foundation, Canine Court was born.

Along with a self-contained “free-play” area, the course includes hurdles, hoops, slides and tunnels – everything Dibra wanted for his furry friends.

While his love for animals is apparent, as the author of six books and the video “Teach Your Dog to Behave,” his interest grew from an unexpected source.

Born in Albania, Dibra’s family was fleeing communism when they arrived in a refugee camp in Yugoslavia. The previous WWII concentration camp served as his home.

During his time there, from ages two through nine, Dibra said he witnessed the use of the camp’s guard dogs to torture and sometimes completely maul the residents. He said he saw beyond their fierce training.

Dibra said he’d often sneak in to see the dogs. He’d pet them and they’d lick his hands. “This beautiful chemistry just came about,” he said. The rest is history.

After learning his skill from European dog trainers, Dibra began his own business, and has since trained the pets of Sarah Jessica Parker, Mariah Carey and Alec Baldwin, to name a few.

Updated 5:29 pm, October 21, 2011
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