Four-legged friends take in a ballgame

Lily, a nine month old golden retriever, makes new friends with fans at Bark in the Park at the State College Spikes on Thursday, June 30, 2016.
Lily, a nine month old golden retriever, makes new friends with fans at Bark in the Park at the State College Spikes on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Beagles to basset hounds. Dachshunds to Dalmatians. German shepherds to Great Danes.

The State College Spikes took on the Brooklyn Cyclones Thursday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, but the stars of the park were in the grandstands as the evening game also marked the season’s first Bark in the Park night. Those attending the game were encouraged to bring their four-legged canine pals to socialize and enjoy a baseball game.

Pooches of every breed and color, from great to small, were allowed in with their owners. Many simply sported a collar and leash, but a few owners added the extra flair of a bandanna or a Spikes T-shirt.

Mark Long, of State College, waited for friends near the front gate with Darth Vader, a huge, black German shepherd. Long said he’s been to several games himself, but the Bark in the Park was a first time for Darth, who stood by his owner patiently.

“He gets along well with other dogs,” Long said. “I’m sure we’ll have a great time.”

Spikes general manager Scott Walker said Bark in the Park has been one of the most popular promotions in baseball, and has been a staple at Medlar Field since it opened about 10 years ago. State College is a good market for the event too, as it’s a town of dog enthusiasts.

“We used to only do it once a year,” Walker said. “A few years ago we started doing it twice, but this year is the first time we’re going to hold it three times.”

The next Bark in the Park night is scheduled for July 30 — a Saturday for those who couldn’t make it during a weekday.

The final Bark in the Park will be held Aug. 30, he said, so Penn State students could have an opportunity to bring their own dogs.

Safety always comes first at the park, he said, as those bringing dogs must first sign a waiver and show proof of vaccinations before entering. Bowls and kiddie pools of water are scattered about, and Porter Gardens is also opened to give the dogs some running-around space.

The most dogs at a single night came in at more than 500 about two years ago, Walker said.

Among the pups at the park Thursday was Shiloh, a 6-month-old King Charles spaniel-bichon frise mix, cradled in the arms of his owner, Lauren Swetlech. Swetlech, of State College, said this too was Shiloh’s first time to Bark in the Park, but she wasn’t worried, as he’s quite sociable.

“We go down to the dog park all the time,” she said.

Metzger Animal Hospital in College Township sponsored the evening, and veterinarian and founder Fred Metzger said he’s been involved in sponsoring Bark in the Park since day one.

“I said I want to be the sponsor, that’s just cool,” Metzger said. “That’s people and animals coming together for fun.”

What’s shocking, he said, is that the event averages between 300 and 500 dogs, but they get along.

“If you take 500 people and put them together, there’s going to be a fight,” he said. “But the dogs have just been fantastic. Dogs rock.”

Metzger said sponsoring the event was initially a way to get the hospital’s name out, but over the years, it has evolved into something completely different. Now, it’s an event that benefits the rescue organizations in the area.

Metzger said he frequently donates to the rescues, and in previous years pledged $100 to rescues for every hit the Spikes had — which worked out well and not so well depending on the season. Now, he said, he generally donates $500 to $1,000 per rescue.

As a surprise, he said he would be donating $1,000 to each rescue that evening — a donation they didn’t even know they had coming.

“The hospital loves rescue pets,” he said. “I don’t think you should buy a pet. There are too many good ones in a rescue.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews