Rick and his dog Matilda, who likes to dissect plush squirrels

Thanks to SUDS, the Sunnyside United Dog Society, the basketball court at Lou Lodati Park on Skillman Avenue will be moved back to make space for a 45×90-foot dog run.

“They are loyal—as long as there’s food involved.”

Rick Duro’s mom was allergic to dogs, and while she allowed him to keep snapping turtles, pythons and piranhas, a canine was out of the question. When Rick moved to Sunnyside in 2003, he quickly compensated for those dog-less years by adopting Matilda, an adorable German Shepherd-Corgy-Chow mixture who, according to Rick, knows the words “car,” “Poconos” and her best friend’s name, “Pinto.”

Crazy about Matilda and anything dog-related, Rick became a member of the Sunnyside United Dog Society (or SUDS) and eventually its president. Dedicated to the well-being of dogs, SUDS began quietly in Lou Lodati Park after September 11th, as dog owners yearned for a heightened sense of community and comfort. For the past nine years, SUDS, which encompasses plumbers, teachers, orchestra conductors, architects and cab drivers—“a really nice snapshot of the city, people of all creeds and colors,” says Rick—has gathered each night at a designated area at the park to let its dogs off the leash. (SUDS’s core group of 20 was instrumental in making the Off-leash Hours policy, which has allowed people to let their dogs run freely in public parks before 9 AM and after 9 PM, an official NYC Parks Department regulation in 2007.)

Rick thinks that his group has long earned its exclusive area within the park on Skillman Avenue. Over the years SUDS has tried to clean up and keep the park safe at night.

“The 108th precinct and the parks department appreciate that we are here,” Rick says. “You are not going to do anything in a park where there’s 20 adults and their dogs running around.”

To the delight of SUDS, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announced in a recent press release that he has secured funding for an official dog run inside Lou Lodati Park.

SUDS’s activities extend far beyond the park’s borders. Once or twice a year the group organizes “Pick-up the Poop Day,” and its members have raised funds for sick dogs and taught children who stop by the park how to properly take care of the animals. “Sometimes the park becomes an impromptu classroom,” says Rick, who hopes to soon offer classes on dog behavior and training for kids.

Perhaps most importantly, SUDS—and Matilda, of course—have helped Rick to make friends and relax after spending his day teaching global history to antsy high school students. “It’s a nice way to wind down your day,” he says. Dogs are soothing and comforting, and it’s fun to watch them interact. They are loyal—as long as there’s food involved.”

Listen to Rick’s interview