EAST SIDE — Rosemary Hurley and Claudia Paolone have become known as “the Dog People” in the East Side neighborhood, helping to train dogs at the Calumet Park Field House.
But after 61 years at the field house, their South Side All Breed Dog Training Club is out after a months-long fight with the Chicago Park District tied to a tick outbreak.
The club left the field house in September and set up shop in New Lenox, but it marked the end of an era for neighborhood residents, particularly the ones who can’t make the trip to the new location.
Supporters of the club say its move has left pet owners in the area with few affordable options for dog training.
“We’re very upset about this,” said Hurley, the club’s vice president. “They’re depriving the community [of] dog training, serious dog training.”
If there’s a question about the care and training of a dog, Hurley and Paolone, the club’s recording secretary, have been the ones in the neighborhood to ask. They’ve fostered and adopted numerous dogs and helped train hundreds more at the club, which opened in 1942 and started working out of the Calumet Park Field House basement in 1958.
Up until the club’s closing in September, it offered weekly training sessions for the area’s dogs, with programs costing $10 a class for 10 weeks. The club also trained numerous show dogs and had obedience trials.
The club’s problems with the Park District started in July, Hurley said.
That’s when the district found ticks in the field house basement where the club was housed.
For the first time, the Park District requested the club provide veterinary documentation that dogs entering the field house had been examined and were up to date on vaccinations, according to a statement from the Park District.
According to emails from July 29 between the Park District and the club owners, the basement of the field house, where the training club was housed, had “a large outbreak of ticks.”
In the summer, the club shared a space with the district’s summer camp, and ticks had gotten into multiple children’s ears and onto their limbs, according to emails. The Park District brought in a specialist and an exterminator who determined the dogs were hosting and bringing in the ticks, according to the email chain.
Because of the infestation, the district decided classes could not be conducted until all the dog owners provided proof their dogs had been vaccinated and cleared of ticks, fleas and kennel cough.
Hurley said she was shocked by the emails.
Hurley said each dog already had to meet certain standards — including being cleared by a vet — before he or she can step foot in the club’s door. And the trainers do hands-on work with the dogs, she added, so she would know if any of the dogs had ticks.
“We’re not new at this stuff,” she said. “The first thing we check before dogs come in here is fleas and ticks.”
Hurley said she understood why the district officials thought the dogs were carrying ticks, but there were other ways the children could’ve gotten them: The kids play outside in the tall grass surrounding the building, and there are animals like deer in the park that could carry ticks, or some of the kids might have had dogs at home who carried ticks.
Hurley pointed out these issues in an email to the district and received no response, she said.
But the dog owners complied and, one by one, the dogs enrolled in training visited a veterinarian. None of them had ticks, Paolone said.
Going to the vet for many of the owners was difficult, Paolone said, and it was early September before all the dogs had clearance to begin training again.
“This is a poor area,” she said. “People don’t have large incomes. It’s difficult to take the dog to a vet one time. To have to go back and forth and get new records isn’t easy.”
Before it was forced to temporarily close in July, the club had 11 new beginners. But while dog owners scrambled to meet the Park District’s new requirements, the club lost customers and money.
When the club opened again in September, it had $140 left, which was not nearly enough to pay rent, insurance and other fees needed to stay open.
In a statement, the Park District said it values long-standing community partnerships, such as that with the South Side All Breed Dog Training Club, and wants to continue working with them.
“Yet there are safety and wellness guidelines that all must adhere to — considering park facilities are utilized by various programs and groups,” according to the Park District. “The club has an open door at Calumet Park, given those guidelines.”
But the cost made staying open in the field house too difficult, Paolone said, and the club decided to move to New Lenox to survive.
Unfortunately, that is too far to travel for dog training for many who live in East Side, Hurley said.
One of the hardest parts of moving is knowing the lack of resources the East Side neighborhood has for new dog owners, Paolone said. The club was one of the only places near East Side that offered dog training at affordable prices.
The club’s well-known in the community, said former member Denise Barnes, and it’s the best training in the area.
Many people in the community have no idea how to train their dog, Barnes said. The club gave them the opportunity to learn.
“I learned more from them than anywhere else,” Barnes said.
Besides having to move to New Lenox, the club combined with the Francis Field Dog Obedience School. Trainers at the school now teach classes while the South Side All Breed Dog Training Club hosts obedience and rally trials under its original name.
At its height, the club had hundreds of dogs in training. It helped open the Calumet Park dog park. It put on a dog fest yearly. It even brought dog behaviorist Cesar Millan to Chicago.
And the club was good for individual families, too, its past students said.
When Baby Diaz — a shepherd, Labrador and pitbull mix — was a puppy, she always jumped on her owners’ dining table. She had a lot of energy and loved to run. Her owners, Barbara and Rick Diaz, decided to take her to training; living in East Side, the club’s Calumet Park location made it a perfect fit for the family.
Within the first five minutes of training, Baby had calmed down, Barbara Diaz said. She was a different dog. The couple continued to bring Baby for training once a week for more than a year.
The training was amazing, Barbara Diaz said, and the long-term members were some of the kindest, most patient people she’s ever met.
“Baby loves it there,” Barbara Diaz said. “And now she’s a very manageable, well-trained dog.”
The club is still in the process of moving out of its field house space, which has a large area of mats for dogs and old training posters tracking dogs’ progress. It has a no-peeing sign and filing cabinets filled with old paperwork and archives of the club’s decades-long run.
Hurley, who’s been a part of the club since the early 1980s, got emotional as she thought about cleaning everything out.
“The community’s really going to miss it,” Hurley said.
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