Tequila occupies the "Imagine" mosaic in the middle of Strawberry Fields. Courtesy of the the Central Park Conservancy
There are foxhounds and deerhounds, mastiffs and salukis, mutts and mongrels, Alaskan malamutes and English coonhounds, Great Danes and Japanese Chins, clumber spaniels and long-haired terriers.
And you don’t need a $200 ticket to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show to watch them trot. All it takes to see the best-in-show — relaxed, content, in their element, cost-free — is a stroll through Central Park.
The city’s backyard has welcomed these furry friends since it opened to the public in 1858. Now, the Central Park Conservancy is getting ready to immortalize 13 of them in a 2019 calendar it has branded “Central Bark.”
The nonprofit, which manages the park for the city, has been seeking one picturesque dog for each of the 12 months — plus a “cover dog” — in a contest that appears every bit as competitive as any blue-ribbon dog show.
Consider that the park’s 21 dog fountains, 23 “dog-friendly areas” and 843 acres of lawns, lakes, brooks, paths, fields, rambles and woodlands play host to an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 dog-walkers every year, according to Conservancy research findings.
To winnow the field and identify what it calls the “cutest canines,” the group fired off five dedicated online messages promoting its campaign to tens of thousands of email addresses, and it also put out the word via its website, social media channels, member newsletters and seasonal guides.
Starting on May 17, dog-lovers were asked to submit color photos of their beloved pets, with a park landscape as a backdrop, and by July 16, the submission deadline, more than 1,000 pictures had been received.FROM LAKE TO ARCH TO MEER
The Conservancy’s internal jury reviewed the entries. But as it turned out, selecting 13 noble, soulful winners wasn’t so easy. On July 23, another mass email went out:
“We’ve narrowed it down to our top contenders,” the message said. “But now, we’re stuck — they’re all so adorable, we can’t pick favorites. We need your help!”
Park stewards selected 24 finalists — there was Wally relaxing next to the model sailboats, Tequila posing on the Imagine mosaic in the center of Strawberry Fields, Misha at a boat landing on the lake, Emma in front of the Glen Span Arch, Sister Rosetta Tharpe on the Harlem Meer — and it then asked online voters to select their own personal favorites.
In the five-day period between July 23, when voting began, and July 27, nearly 5,500 votes were cast to help determine which entrants would appear in the 2019 calendar. The ballots are still pouring in.
“We’re thrilled by the public response to the contest,” said Jane McIntosh, the Conservancy’s vice president for development and external affairs. “So many adorable dogs, and as you would expect, a great range in terms of breed, size, color, grooming and so on.”
The ubiquity of cellphones also offered a ready tool to highlight and showcase the “diversity of dogs” in the park, she said, providing a unique opportunity to “engage with the community and Central Park’s many devoted dog owners.”
Noting that contest rules require all photos be taken in Central Park, McIntosh added, “The initiative also highlights the Conservancy’s work — you get to see the beautiful landscapes, rustic benches and other features that highlight the beauty of Central Park.”
Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 6. The winners will be unveiled in mid-August. And the Central Bark calendar, which can be purchased in advance with a $25 donation, will be shipped out around September or October.
The Conservancy raises 75 percent of the annual budget of Central Park, which is America’s most frequently visited urban park — and boasts vast, green, seemingly infinite, dog-roaming open spaces.
One of missions of the nonprofit is to “advance the stewardship of other urban parks and green spaces,” McIntosh said.
The calendar project is exactly the kind of “engagement effort that could be replicated in other parks with other friends groups in the five boroughs and across the country,” she added.