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In order to exercise her dogs off-leash in early January, Holly Malone woke early—really early. The sun had yet to rise, but Malone knew she could keep the two pups she shares with her ex-husband very quiet as they played on Kingsman Field. She put on her coat and stepped into the cool morning air.
Seconds later, Malone, a 33-year-old executive assistant for a D.C. production company, arrived at Kingsman, which stretches muddily alongside Options Public Charter School at 13th and D Streets NE. She untethered her dogs and watched them bounce free into the field. Then, close by in the pitch black, she heard a noise. Malone turned and saw what she was hoping to avoid.
Gail Kelley, a short, sharp-featured woman, had slipped out of her house and crossed the street to stand by the field’s fence. The sound Malone heard was Kelley opening the field’s gate, which Malone had closed to prevent her dogs from escaping. “And you know,” says Malone, “the gate is right by the street.” She watched as Kelley silently walked back into her darkened house.
Malone gathered her dogs and left, disturbed. She stopped at Kelley’s address long enough to holler, “Get a real cause!”
Kingsman Field would be a natural choice for a dog run, with its chain-link fence and lack of National Park Service patrols. (It’s District-run.) That’s basically what it was in 2004 and into 2005, when a happy band of dog owners appeared twice a day to exercise their pups off-leash. Today, the bare-dirt Frisbee tracks are still faintly visible, but the free-range dogs are not. A bark will sometimes sound, but it will be from behind a door somewhere—a muffled, mournful fooph!—and not from within the field. The virtual canine vacuum is almost entirely due to one person: Kelley.
The unassuming crusader lives in a partly renovated townhouse that faces the playing field. Its large windows provide for 24/7 surveillance of any dog activity. The inside is littered with clothes, stuffed animals, books, and documents; a July 2005 issue of Structure magazine lies open to an article on repairing post-tensioning tendons written by the 47-year-old structural engineer. At the moment, Kelley is searching her three computers for pictures of off-leash dogs in the field, which she says feature hole-digging and jogger-chasing. She talks loud and fast, her sentences sometimes finishing in a wreck of dislocated words.
“They are for some reason portraying me as some kind of insane person, which is fine,” says Kelley. “But I think they will actually find that I am fairly well-respected in my profession, so they may have trouble documenting any kind of insanity on my part.”
“They” are the neighborhood’s dog owners, many of whom indeed believe that Kelley is mentally ill. No sane person, they say, could devote the energy she does into such a pissant issue as the city’s dog-leash law.
“It hasn’t been Gail a hundred feet away from you. It’s been Gail three feet away, her arms waving,” says Jason Lumia, who recently moved to Capitol Hill.
“I think she’s got a map, because she follows a lot of people home,” says civil engineer Bill Schultheiss, 31. “We think she’s unstable.”
The beef began in 2004, after the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) graded the lot across from Kelley’s house and put in sod, trees, and benches. The field became open to sports teams by permit and to children, who have few opportunities for recreation in the neighborhood. As gentrification hit, the newcomers who owned dogs—many for security reasons—found the field to be a perfect place to meet and dish about the neighborhood. This angered Kelley for a number of reasons: the appropriation of a sports field for use by fauna, the barking in the morning, the damage to the grass. But mostly, she claims, she was pissed about the gee-whillikers whiteness of a dog park in a historically nonwhite community.
“These are new arrivals to the neighborhood. Their idea is, My neighborhood has more dogs than kids; therefore I want a dog park,” Kelley says. “And one of the reasons I care is because I am incredibly embarrassed by what white people are doing—and when people look at me, they think I’m like them.” (Kelley is white and moved onto D Street in 2002. But, she says, she began visiting an ex-boyfriend in the area in 1997.)
By late 2004, Kingsman Field had become a hive of canine activity, with nearly two dozen dog owners meeting at a time for Frisbee Olympics. As word of impending dog-park legislation got around, a movement was born among the group to turn Kingsman, or at least part of it, into an official canine Club Med. That’s when Kelley, who works from home, asserted herself.
Kelley fired a Martin Luther–like opening salvo by posting an anti-barking screed on the field’s gate. Kelley also affixed thick chains with padlocks on all the gates to keep them ajar—showing, she says, that the field is open to children. Not comprehending the symbolism of the chains and unsure of their ownership, the dog people cut them all off, wasting Kelley’s $50 investment.
Next, Kelley managed to get DPR’s Urban Park Rangers on the field during the spring’s high-dog-traffic times. One parked his truck on the sidewalk and yelled at dog owners through a bullhorn. That was good, she thought, but cops—with their ticketing powers—would be better. In December, Kathy Jackson, a 43-year-old assistant editor for a medical journal, was kicking a soccer ball with her kids and some dogs—Jackson says five—when a pair of cruisers pulled up. The police, Jackson says, eventually told her that Kelley had reported 20 dogs chasing around children. Kelley says she doesn’t remember saying “chasing,” but adds, “If I said, ‘There are green monsters out there and dogs unleashed,’ the issue was that the dogs shouldn’t have been unleashed.”
Jackson remains indignant over the police jump-out. After all, she says, dog owners are an important factor in the District’s economic growth. “A lot of us use dog walkers, so we pay income to other people who pay income taxes. We buy a lot of our dog products on the Hill,” she says. “We put back into the community.”
But Kelley couldn’t care less about the burgeoning sales receipts at Chateau Animaux. She’s more concerned with the battery life of her digital camera, which she takes onto the field to snap candids of unleashed dogs, their owners, and their owners’ cars. The tactic has freaked people out. “I think she envisions a future court case and [that] we’re going to be in front of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia,” says Liz Twarog, the 35-year-old wife of Schultheiss. “We’re all going to be prosecuted, and she’s going to pull out a thousand pictures and have it all categorized by date and time.”
Something like that is possible, says Kelley. “If there is an incident where there is a problem with the dogs, and nobody can identify the dog or the person, well, I have quite a few pictures,” she says. But there’s a short-term reason for her tactics, too: “Usually I go out there and take pictures,” she says, “because then they leave.”
On one recent evening, Kelley showcases likeminded people on her block. A few doors down, she introduces Lucille Rowland, an intake supervisor at a local homeless shelter. “I’m frightened of dogs, even though I owned one for years,” says Rowland, absentmindedly brushing her hair. Next stop is Annie Garris’ house. “My great-grandson goes to school over there, and when he sees dogs on the playground, he don’t want to go to school,” says the senior citizen.
“I like dogs,” says her 6-year-old granddaughter, Jordan Laster.
“No, you don’t like them dogs!” says Garris. “You hate those dogs.”
Dog owners are certain Kelley feels the same way; what they’re not sure about are the lengths she’ll go to defend the leash law. Privately, many are waiting for the city to designate Kingsman an official dog park and have gathered 250 signatures for that purpose. That way, they’ll have the law on their side when Kelley comes flying off her porch in a ball of screams. Her sudden stampedes have scared off 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound guys like Lumia, who stopped using the field three months ago after encountering what he calls “Gail ramped up by a hundred.”
“She was more irrational than I have ever seen her that day,” says Lumia, 33. “I don’t have time to jerk around with this crap. I have a house under renovation; I work for Congress.”
Like many other local dog owners, Lumia now pays $165 a year to unleash his animals inside Congressional Cemetery, about 15 blocks to the southeast. The once-tight-knit Kingsman Field dog society is fractured and incommunicado—yet united in moping. “Since we haven’t been going there, our dog has shown visible signs of being depressed,” says Schultheiss. “It’s just a lot less energy, and then when she does see a dog on the street she gets really excited, because she misses them. She knows where everybody lives, the dogs. We’ll walk by, and she’ll stick her head into their fence and be looking for them.”
Though the dogs have been run out of Kingsman Field, another species has yet to move in. A child might bicycle around the backstops or play a quick game of football. Generally, though, it remains wiped clean of life.
Kelley seems perfectly at peace with this. “If it’s a warm day, you often find her on her porch, just watching,” says Jackson. “She sits out there and watches the field.”CP