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Are dogs a blessing or a curse at Salt Lake’s Downtown Farmers Market?

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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) A dog strains at his leash as it leans to pull the owner along on the east side of Salt Lake City's Downtown Farmers Market, Saturday, June 21, 2014.

By Christopher Smart

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jun 23 2014 07:42PM
Updated Jul 3, 2014 12:56PM

It could be called the Pooch Parade or even the Canine Carousel, but hopefully not Mutts in the Melons or Greyhounds in the Greens.

Yep, it’s summer and, among other Salt Lake City attractions, it’s time to make a Saturday sojourn to the Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park. And what’s a family outing without your four-legged friends?

The market draws throngs seeking locally grown fruits and vegetables. It’s also known for its handcrafted breads, pastries, honey, jam and a host of other items — including ethnic food. It’s a festive place where shoppers also see dogs — lots of them, and all kinds.

Jeff and Jennifer Carleton own two beautiful, well-behaved Bernese Mountain dogs. Jameson is 3 years old and weighs 110 pounds. Brogan is 2½ and tips the scales at 105. These canines are crowd pleasers and grab admiration and friendly pats from passers-by .

The foursome hits the Farmers Market about twice a month. "It gives them exercise and it’s good for them socially," Jeff said of his pooches.

"And," Jennifer added, "it’s good to get them used to crowds."

But dogs can be a frustration, noted Tom Allen, who sells plants at his Days of Our Lilies booth. "I like them as long as they don’t lift their leg and pee on my plants."

Hans Millican, of New Horizons Nursery, offered the same critique. "It’s happened already today," he said.

Millican joked that he was considering putting up a sign: "If your dog pees here, you are buying a plant."

A dog’s behavior is a reflection of its owner, said Mark Vlasic, who, along with his daughter, Kajsa, brought their two Rhodesian ridgebacks, Akila, 6, and Fiesta, 4, to the market.

"You have to invest in training with your dogs," he said, "and spend time with them so they can respond to basic commands."

Of course, not all dogs do.

A quarrel of barking and snapping erupted on the market’s northeast corner near the Chef’s Secret Garden booth. (The park’s southeast corner does offer a fenced off-leash area for dogs.) The dust-up grabbed the attention of brothers Joe and Jeremiah Johnson.

"If your dog can’t play nice, you shouldn’t bring it [to the market]," Joe said. "That’s why I don’t bring my dog."

Jeremiah, who is an insurance agent, said when he looks at the dogs at the market, he sees liability.

"I understand why people bring their dogs, because they are part of the family," he said. "But I’m an insurance agent, and I had a [dog bite] claim just last week."

But, according to organizer Kim Angeli-Selin, there has not been a report of a dog bite at the Downtown Farmers Market in its 22 years. The most common complaint, she said, is people tripping over leashes. She reminds dog owners to keep their pets on short leashes to avoid mishaps — and to prevent their pooches from sniffing the food.

Nonetheless, many shoppers seem to like the added dimension the canines bring to the weekly affair — a down-hominess spiced with a certain air of unpredictability.

"I get to see so many dogs and so many are friendly," said shopper Terri Hale. "I always make sure I stop and pet the doggies."

Hale conceded, however, that dogs can frighten small children.

"You have to get your kids socialized," she said. "And you have to get your dogs socialized."

Every season, market organizers discuss the dog issue, said Angeli-Selin. But each year they have determined that the upside of the pooches’ presence outweighs any negatives.

Shesh Tipton and Jim Wetzel often bring their three small schnoodles — crosses between schnauzers and poodles — to the Saturday gatherings.

"I’m from the Bay Area, where you can’t bring your dog to the farmers market," Tipton said. "So we’re happy."

And as long as the hounds aren’t growling or lifting their legs, most everyone else seems happy, too.

csmart@sltrib.com

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