Who knows for sure if all dogs really go to heaven, but the 1,000 plus dogs and the 1,500 plus people who attended the ninth annual “Dog Day Afternoon” July 8 were certainly in God’s presence.
Co-hosted by the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, the annual event was held in the Cathedral’s massive neighboring courtyard, every square inch of which was bursting with life, both human and canine.
“It was really about community, the growing residential community downtown, and the role that their best friends, their pets, play in that community,” explains Nick Griffin, director of economic development for the Downtown Center of Business Improvement District (DCBID).
“Interestingly, dogs have been a big part of downtown’s residential area because it draws people together. They bring life to the street. So what we are doing with this event is we’re celebrating that.”
The event connects Los Angeles’ many dog owners not only to one another, but also to a myriad of pet-related vendors selling dog food, toys and equipment, day care packages and even rescued dogs for adoption. One such booth, operated in conjunction by staff and parishioners of the cathedral, featured seminarians giving the canines a “dog blessing.”
“We bless them and say ‘May God protect them, and keep them safe from harm,’” says seminarian Egren Gomez. “We actually bless them with holy water that we get out of the cathedral. And they get a certificate and a St. Francis of Assisi medal, who we all know is the patron saint of animals. It’s a nice little blessing, and people just love it.”
The event was co-founded by Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, pastor of the cathedral, whose dog Joaquin sadly passed away just recently. The other co-founder was Griffin’s predecessor as DCBID director, Hal Bastian.
“One day when I met Al here [on the cathedral’s adjacent 2 1/2 acre plaza] with his dog Scooter, we both realized that downtown was growing, and that 35 percent of the people who live downtown own a dog,” recalls Msgr. Kostelnik of the event’s inception. “So we said, ‘We need to share this space.’ And that’s how it was born.”
Wednesday’s Dog Day Afternoon was Msgr. Kostelnik’s last, as he will not be the cathedral pastor next July. But he leaves behind an event that has grown exponentially since its 2007 debut.
What began as a small gathering of roughly 30 dogs and owners in the corner of the cathedral courtyard has blossomed into a booming annual gathering that fills the space to its capacity.
“I’m blown away,” remarks Griffin of July 8’s turnout. “I just think it’s really amazing.”
“This is a replica of how much Downtown LA is growing, not only in residential population, but also in terms of restaurants and shopping,” adds Msgr. Kostelnik of the event’s growth over the years. “And I’m always reminding the Business Improvement District and the COLA community that Downtown LA’s slogan is ‘Live, work and play.’ And I’m always adding to the end of that ‘and pray.’”