News & Politics

Not Just Puppy Love

The dog park led to happily ever after for these couples.

Amy and Ed Gaus with dogs Sarah and Maxine. Their third dog, Charlie, recently died. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

When Amy Gaus and her husband, Ed, sent out save-the-date announcements for their 2009 wedding, they made sure the cards pictured Maxine, Sarah, and Charlie. After all, the three dogs were responsible for bringing the couple together.

At the Arlington dog park where the pair used to spend evenings and weekend mornings, Ed’s black-Lab/beagle mix and dachshund/beagle and Amy’s Redbone-coonhound mix hit it off right away. So did Ed and Amy. They started dating in 2006.

“It was almost like a little happy hour,” Amy says. “Everyone would chitchat, and you had to go because of your dogs. If you didn’t have anything to talk about, you were like, ‘So how old is your dog? What’s your dog’s name?’ ”

According to Michelle Jacoby, a dating coach and the owner of the service DC Matchmaking, pets often bring couples together. For several of her clients, Jacoby says, finding another animal lover is a top priority: “The hardest thing for singles is figuring out how to talk to one another. Pets are an icebreaker.”

Dan Cohen made a similar observation while sitting at an Adams Morgan sidewalk cafe crowded with people and their dogs in 2003. The animals seemed to give the people an instant connection with one another. Cohen was inspired to launch Animal Attraction, a dating Web site turned social network for pet owners.

“A site where everybody had something in common was more appealing to me than the mass-market sites,” Cohen says. “I started to think, ‘What are other things that are really important to people?’ And for whatever reason, my mind went back to that patio.”

After the recession took a toll on ad revenue, he closed the site in 2009, though it had more than 100,000 members. Cohen, vice president at a nonprofit, was even invited to a handful of weddings for couples who had come together through Animal Attraction.

Kelly Shannon’s rat terrier, Loki, met Haofeng Xu’s then-eight-month-old yellow Lab, Butterbean, at a Clarendon dog park in 2005. Loki and Butterbean’s high energy made them ideal playmates. Shannon and Xu also turned out to be compatible. When he came over to cook dinner for Shannon a few weeks after they met, he brought tulips for her—and dog treats for Loki. The pair eventually moved to Alexandria’s dog-friendly Del Ray neighborhood and married in October. “The dogs are a big part of our lives together,” says Shannon.

Allyson and Eric Trail feel the same. During a visit to an Alexandria dog park in 2002, Eric’s boxer, Tosh, tussled with a Dalmatian, and when Eric tried to break them up, the Dalmatian bit his hand. Allyson, who’d been trying to keep her crush on Eric under wraps since she’d started bringing her shiba inu, Umi, to the park months earlier, volunteered to take Eric to the hospital. Tosh and Umi shared a ride in the back seat before getting dropped off at a friend’s house. “They were both squished together in the back growling,” Allyson says. “Little did they know they’d grow old together.”

Ten stitches and a decade later, Tosh and Umi, now both ten, get along great with each other and the Trails’ three young sons. The couple, who married in 2003, say not a day goes by that they aren’t grateful for their four-legged matchmakers.

Says Allyson: “I definitely think of them as the reason this all happened.”

Kelly Shannon and Haofeng Xu met at a dog park and now live in Alexandria’s dog-friendly Del Ray. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

Allyson and Eric Trail married in 2003. They now have three sons plus dogs Umi and Tosh. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

Se all Love Your Pets stories.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.