The Bark That Binds

The women gathered in a large group tucked within a shaded area of Mizner Bark dog park don't have all that much in common, yet almost all share a story similar to Jan Waddick's.

About a year ago Waddick brought her French Bulldog named Star to Mizner Bark for the first time. Upon entering the park she saw the gathering sitting on benches.

“They just said, 'Hey, come sit here,'” Waddick said. 

She's been part of the Boca Barkers ever since.

Six days each week (more on that seventh day in a moment) a group that can swell to nearly 20 friends bring their small dogs to Mizner Bark dog park. Nearly all of them first met at the dog park, developing a familial bond.

“My sister is in Hollywood, but this is my immediate family,” said New Jersey transplant Joan Tisch.

Karen Arcadipane has been a regular at Mizner Park pretty much since it opened in 2005. A fourth generation Floridian, Arcadipane often functions as the leader of the pack. She's helped plan day trips to Miami and West Palm Beach, and even brought unattached members to her house for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Jovial and outgoing, Arcadipane is frequently the one offering newcomers a seat in their circle.

“Everybody is from someplace else except me,” Arcadipane explained. “I'm a fourth generation Floridian and I feel like I should be the one to welcome - the hostess to the state.”

On a Tuesday in early May, Arcadipane's two Chi-Chi's, Peanut and Roxy, scurry across the concrete pavilion and shaded grass, mingling with Shih Tzus, Dachshunds, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Schnauzers. All are well behaved. Most are curious. Some aren't too pleased by the flash on a photographer's camera.

The City of Boca Raton owns Mizner Bark, located at 751 Banyan Trail, east of Military Trail. The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District funds the park's operation. Mizner Bark offers separate fenced areas for large, medium and small dogs, along with a fenced area where dogs of all sizes can play together. The Boca Barkers gather in the small dog area, located at the northern end of the park. The area is designated for dogs weighing 20 pounds or less.

Julia Hart owned a bigger dog when she first encountered the Boca Barkers and didn't think it would be proper to break the rules by hanging with the group in the small dog area.

“When my dog passed, I said I'm getting a small dog,” said Hart, who's Shih Tsu, Prada, is a rescue dog.

Hart quickly learned the value of her new friendships.

At the park one morning Hart told the group about falling in her home the previous night, hitting her head hard enough to lose consciousness. Her friends did more than simply listen.

“They took me to the hospital and they sat with me there,” Hart said. “There were three of them and they sat with me there for eight hours.”

On multiple occasions group members aided one of their own.

“If we know of somebody that needs help, needs some money, we'll take a collection and give it to them,” Arcadipane said.
Cindy Chiovitti moved to the Boca Raton area from New Jersey and doesn't have any family in South Florida. She still visits the park four times per week even though her dog, a Pug named Aidan, passed away.

“I've been friends with these people for 13 years, now,” Chiovitti said. “I come here to socialize. This is my family.”

Aidan is one of about two dozen doggy names – along with a few human names - on plaques affixed to a bench the group purchased with permission from the City of Boca Raton. The bench honors pooches and people who have passed.

The group counseled California transplant Dick Malkin through the loss of his dog, ultimately encouraging him to adopt his current dog Zoey, a Schnauzer.

“I come here every day for her,” Malkin said.

While retired women comprise more than 80 percent of the group, Malkin is among a handful of men. Recently retired Charles Cohen is another. Sometimes Cohen is accompanied by his wife.

“My wife says I've got all my girlfriends here,” Cohen jokes. “It's an enjoyable time. These are really super people.”

Men are welcome on the six mornings the group spends at the park. The seventh day is ladies only. Mizner Bark is closed on Wednesday mornings for regular maintenance and lawn care. On those mornings the women meet for lunch, choosing a different area restaurant each week.

“We basically can see each other seven days a week,” Arcadipane said. “With the familiarity that you get just from being together and loving dogs and caring for one another, it's a good thing.”

Carol Tulgan drew from Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird when naming her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel “Scout.” 

Formerly from Albany, N.Y. and Canton, Ohio – home of the NFL Hall of Fame - Tulgan is happy she found her own hall-of-fame crew in Boca Raton.

“We're all different people, all different philosophies - politically and religion - and yet we're all good friends,” said Tulgan, seated on a bench knitting socks for her grandchildren. “I think that maybe we could tell the world something.”

The Boca Barkers

Some members of the Boca Barkers: Back (L to R) Jan Waddick, Cindy Chiovitti, Carol Tulgab, Robin and Joyce Augusta. Seated:  Dick Malkin, Julia Hart, Karen Arcadipane and Joan Gisch.

Karen Arcaidpane  with one of her dogs

Karen Arcaidpane with one of her dogs.

Joan Tisch and Carol Tulgan

Joan Tisch (left) plays with Maggie as Carol Tulgan knits socks.

Scouts comes to say hello

Scout comes to say hello,

The bench honoring pooches and people who have passed

This bench honors people and pooches who have passed.

Want to see more photos from Mizner Bark? Here's the full PHOTO GALLERY.

This story originally appeared in the May 2024 edition of our District Dispatch newsletter. To receive future newsletters via email, enter your email address below, then click "Send Me District Newsletter Updates!"