On a warm, sunny afternoon last week, I went to one of Ann Arbor’s city pools knowing full well I would not be allowed to swim. As I walked in, I spotted some serious dog paddling. But the swimmer would probably just call it paddling.
That is, if he could speak.
He’s a black Lab that just retrieved a tennis ball from the deep end.
Labor Day is the end of the human swimming season here at Buhr Park Pool, but then the pool stays open for two more days and the only swimmers allowed are dogs. A few dozen canine customers in all shapes, colors, and sizes showed up, some of them wearing little life jackets.
Normally the no-running rule is strictly enforced, but good luck with that now. A fluffy black and white Australian shepherd was racing around the outer edge of the place and he was dry as a bone. His owner Kim told me his name is Jimmy. Earlier, I'd heard her calling him "Jimmy Buffett."
“Yeah, we call him Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy John's, Jimanji, you know, just anything. But his name is really Jimmy Barker,” Kim said, laughing.
Yes, Kim’s last name is Barker.
“Every year I mean to do this and this year, I put it on my calendar and I’m like, ‘We’re doing it.’ I’ve never seen my dog swim before and he’s just so excited," Barker said. "Look at him greeting all of the dogs. Hopefully we’ll eventually be able to get him in the kiddie pool.”
This is the 16th year Buhr Park Pool has hosted its Dog Days. For city residents, it’s six bucks for the first dog and three for any additional dogs.
David Lieber has a pair of golden retrievers named Indie and Ellie who were jumping into the deep end together like a synchronized diving team. Lieber likes watching less experienced swimmers in the wading pool normally reserved for toddlers.
“It’s also nice to see other dogs watching the dogs that can swim and hopefully learning," Lieber said. "Because that’s how our dogs learned as well, is by watching other, larger dogs just sort of dive in."
Indie and Ellie were in and out of the deep end constantly. I mentioned to Lieber that the massive basset hound over near the wading pool had probably made a wise choice. Lieber agreed.
"I think if he went in this one, he might go right to the bottom,” he said.
The pool's assistant facilities supervisor Emma Mees says they drain the chlorinated water and refill the pool before the Dog Days, so the pups don’t have to swim in the same chemicals we do. Does fur pile up in the filters?
“Yes. We are constantly, I would say every hour, cleaning out the gutters ‘cause they are filled with hair," Mees said. "I’m not going to lie. It’s kind of gross.”
But Mees is a dog person and her two dogs were running around the pool, too. She’s worked here for eight years, but this was her last day.
"Well, that’s sort of nice to have the last day be the dog day,” I said.
"Not that I don’t love working the whole summer, but it gets a little hot and tiring," Mees said with a smile. "But these last two days with all the dogs and seeing all the fun they have, it makes it all worth it.”
Judging by all the wagging tails, the dogs seem to agree.
And as I got ready to leave, I spotted Jimmy Barker, aka Jimmy Buffet, with his black and white fur soaking wet after his very first swim.