Sometimes, cherished gifts are found in the most unexpected places.
However, no one would ever anticipate stumbling upon such a gift in a dog park. But, it happened in Newport News at Fido Field, which is behind Riverview Gymnastics Center near Menchville High School.
The gift was not something that can be held or displayed. Rather, it was the granting of true friendship with a huge dollop of heart and soul. And it all started with a love of dogs.
Rewind to several years ago. Janet Glasofer began bringing her dog, Mac, to Fido Field both for exercise and socialization. She had no idea what those early visits to the dog park would end up bringing to her life.
What happened was a group of Fido Field regulars discovered a common bond. Not only did they all adore dogs, but they realized they really liked each other as well.
It was the beginning of something very special.
They call themselves “The Morning Crew.” It is a group of up to 20 people. They come to Fido Field most mornings, and what has developed organically is a deep friendship among people who probably would never have crossed paths had it not been for their four-legged friends. Some are from Newport News. One man drives from Gloucester several times a week. They are all different ages and all have different career paths. But despite their differences, they are a tight-knit bunch. In fact, they all have matching “Morning Crew” shirts.
This unique group gathers on benches under a small shelter, and as their dogs run around and play with each other, the group chats and shares their lives with one another. Much like what happens with parents at playgrounds, bonds begin to form. They have a Facebook page on which they communicate with one another, and often they go out to lunch, have pool parties and celebrate each other’s birthdays.
“I look forward to this,” Glasofer says.
When Glasofer’s husband, Stan, passed away recently, she said the group was wonderfully supportive. “We’re family,” says Joseph, one of the Morning Crew members. And he means it. They have each other’s backs, and they are ready to help one another at a moment’s notice.
“I don’t think I could find a nicer crowd,” says Gene, who drives to Fido Field from Gloucester.
On holidays, Shawnee, one of the members of the Morning Crew, sets up a photo booth and takes pictures of the dogs all dressed up. On the Fourth of July, the dogs don red, white and blue sunglasses and hats for pictures. The dogs seem to enjoy Fido Field as much as their owners. They run around like they are a pack, chasing each other and frolicking in the grass.
“Everyone knows everyone,” Gene says. “And the dogs know each other. It’s great.”
Tina, a stay-at-home mother, says her dog looks forward to coming every day. “I get in trouble if I don’t come when she whimpers at the door,” she says with a smile. And after being at the field, her dog often sleeps for three hours.
Fido Field opened in 2006 as Newport News’ first dog park. It came about after a citizens’ advisory group requested such a place, according to Andy Lunsford, superintendent of parks for Newport News. The fenced field is larger than an acre and has areas for large and small dogs. The city requires that dogs at the park be registered and fully vaccinated. Park rangers patrol the area.
An average of 250 dogs use the park each year, Lunsford says. In 2019, infra-red counters on the gate recorded 14,606 people visiting the park. In 2020, due to COVID, the number dropped to 10,000.
“It is well used,” Lunsford says.
“I would call it a success.” The Morning Crew would agree. “It’s a whole little community here,” Glasofer says.
TO THE POINT:
Location: Behind Riverview Gymnastics Center
Contact: Andy Lunsford, superintendent of parks, City of Newport News