On Saturday May 30th, sometime around 10 pm, someone decided that they no longer wanted their dog. So, they dumped her over a 6 foot fence into the backyard of an apartment building at the corner of Davis and California Avenue in Brighton Heights. Luckily for this nameless dog, she couldn’t have landed in a better place.

This apartment building (a beautiful old home with turrets that we refer to as “the castle”) belongs to my friend Jeff. Among the castle’s tenants are my friends Matt and Traci (along with their daughter Annan), who noticed a dog in the backyard on Saturday night and called Jeff. That night was a long one – the dog was howling, so Matt and Jeff threw some food over the fence and tried to give her words of encouragement from a safe distance.

Kitty WThe next day, Jeff came to investigate the dog (a black pit-bull), carrying an air horn in one hand, and a can of pepper spray in the other. In the daylight, it was discovered that neither were needed to fend off this dog. The pit-bull was a female who had just had pups, and was an extremely submissive and docile dog who adored people, especially when they rubbed her belly.

More neighbors came to help – Shayne and Lisa, who lived next door to the castle, came armed with dog food, and volunteered to take the dog to Animal Friends to see if she was chipped. (They did, and she was not – there’s no way of ever finding out who dumped her or why.) By the time my husband Brad and I got caught wind of this dog on Monday, the small team of neighbors had already made her a shelter out of an old futon mattress and tarp, and she had unofficially been dubbed the new neighborhood mascot.

Brad and I decided to bring “Kitty” home with us (she seemed like a classy lady so we named after Ms. Kitty Wells, queen of country music) where she has been ever since. She has a clean bill of health from the vet, and will be staying with us at least through the end of the month until she is fully recovered from her spaying surgery thanks to the wonderful folks at Hello Bully. She dines on food and plays with toys donated by Shayne and Lisa, is walked regularly by Jeff (who refers to her as his “step-dog”), and is doted upon by the whole gang of neighbors who found her.

Kitty babushkaJPG

Whenever I walk her, I’m usually stopped by someone and asks something like, “Hey…is that the dog that was abandoned in Jeff’s yard?” (Word travels fast!) When I reply that she is, it’s always followed up with something like, “What a great dog! Wonder why her owner got rid of her?” Good question. I have no idea why Kitty was dumped, but as I said before, she couldn’t have been abandoned in a better place. I have a feeling that the love she has been given in the last 2 weeks by our small gang of neighbors is more than she had ever received in her life. Way to go, Brighton Heights!


Spring is officially here! As the weather gets warmer and warmer, those soup nights may start to seem less appealing. There’s always gazpacho, but perhaps it’s time to try something new! How about community gardening?

A community garden is, quite simply, a piece of land gardened by a group of people. This is a wonderful solution for city-dwellers who may not have the yard space to have their own garden, or perhaps don’t have the time to be solely responsible for tending a garden. Some community gardens consist of friends and neighbors working together on a single plot, others offer a pre-determined amount of space within a shared garden for each person to individually grow what they wish. Regardless, community gardens not only provide fresh produce and plants, but also a chance to work together to improve the neighborhood, build community and connect with the environment.

The American Community Gardening Association (which is a GREAT resource to start your own community garden) offers the following benefits of being part of a community garden:

  • Improves the quality of life for people in the garden
  • Provides a catalyst for neighborhood and community development
  • Stimulates Social Interaction
  • Encourages Self-Reliance
  • Beautifies Neighborhoods
  • Produces Nutritious Food
  • Reduces Family Food Budgets
  • Conserves Resources
  • Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education
  • Reduces Crime
  • Preserves Green Space
  • Creates income opportunities and economic development
  • Reduces city heat from streets and parking lots
  • Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections

williams1The Pittsburgh Project recently won the Pennsylvania Horticulture Greening Award for their community garden. The garden helps teach urban young people about basic ecological concepts, principles of nutrition and healthy eating, and skills in environmental stewardship by transforming vacant plots of land into garden spaces, with young people as key participants. TPP’s husband and wife duo, Mark (Community Outreach Coordinator) and Courtney Williams (Community Gardening Coordinator) are pictured here in their community garden (more like community “farm”) on Charles Street in the Northside.

allegheny-garden2Also tucked into the Northside in the Mexican War Streets is The Olde Allegheny Garden, where there are 10×20 foot plots in the garden available for $30 a year. Gardeners are free to plant whatever they wish. A recent campaign for new gardeners produced a rather innovative advertising flyer. Taped up on power poles and street lamps around the area was the following: “WANTED: Seasonal relationship with someone who doesn’t mind a history with a little dirt.”


The Homewood Community Garden is an urban community garden located on Forbes Avenue between Homewood Cemetery and Frick Park. Their mission: “To provide people with a little bit of land on which to grow food, flowers, and the sense of well-being that comes from nurturing growing things.” They offer 20×20 foot plots for a fee of $30 per year.

If you’re interested in starting your own community garden, Grow Pittsburgh is happy to offer advice and can help you plan, provide plant starts, and link you to resources in the community. In the near future, Grow Pittsburgh will also be starting a garden tool lending program. Western PA Conservancy has numerous community flower gardens throughout the city (probably in your own neighborhood) that are planted and maintained entirely by volunteers, and could use your help!

A little dirt under your nails is a great reminder that spring has finally arrived…and summer’s not too far off. Invite those friends you made during soup night to start a community garden. You’ll have plenty of fresh veggies to start soup night again once fall approaches.

One of my favorite things about Pittsburgh is that it is a city comprised of neighborhoods. Nestled within the North Side, South Side, East End and West End are 90 individual neighborhoods all with their own rich history and distinctive inhabitants. This unique city design makes social capital much easier if we begin with our own 1/90th of the city – in our own neighborhoods.

In addition to taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s neighborhood design, we can also use its depressing winter weather to create social capital. Nothing can create warm fuzzies on a dank February night like a house full of neighbors and bowls of hot soup. Hosting a soup night is an extremely easy and affordable way to get to know your neighbors and for them to get to know each other. Once you embrace the Zen of hosting, it can become an easy monthly tradition.

808223_tomato_soup_1My husband and I normally prepare a hearty vegetable-based soup, as you want to be prepared to have something that both carnivores and vegetarians can enjoy. One of our favorites is carrot ginger,* and because carrots are one of the most inexpensive vegetables at the grocery store, we can make a large batch for around $10. Add some fresh crusty bread and butter (or to make it extra special, whip up some softened butter with a few tablespoons of honey) and voila! Simple, delicious, and CHEAP. Start by inviting your closest neighbors, and branch out as you start to feel more comfortable.

The most important thing to remember is NOT TO PANIC! It’s just soup! People of all races, creeds and classes have been eating soup since 6,000 BC, so we have history on our side. Start small and simple, and relax. Then come back to the Bayer Center blog to share your own soup night tips and stories.

*Please e-mail me at richardsc@rmu.edu if you would like the recipe!