Hot dogs! Hot dogs! • No, you're not at the ball park. This may only be the first weekend of summer, but it already feels like the dog days, and your furry friend is hot. My dogs Bear, Sassy and I have been keeping cool the low-power way: swimming at one of the bay area's dog-friendly beaches. • We do face challenges: We must note the water depth because Bear is a Chow who can't swim. He's a wader. Sassy is a long-haired dachshund. If allowed, she'd swim until she sinks from exhaustion. • Here are a few South Pinellas venues we've tested and approved — noting a few caveats.
Fort De Soto Paw Playground and Beach, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde.
Two words: doggie paradise. This fenced dog park opens onto a public beach and even has fire hydrants in the play area. Out of the gated area, dogs can run free as long as they respond to voice commands. Owners do a great job of cleaning up after their dogs.
Done playing in the water? Back into the fenced area for a shower and a drink from the dog-height water fountain. The play area is fenced off into two sections, one side for small dogs and one for large. So Bear and Sassy had to be separated, but they had a great time anyway.
Gandy Beach, 1.5-mile area on the St. Petersburg side of the Gandy Bridge.
This mixture of beach and mangroves is a nonstop party for families and their furry friends. Feel free to bring grills, campers, tents, kayaks and boats.
Dogs love it here. The wading area extends 20 feet or more before getting deep, so big dogs and little dogs can have fun in a large area. It's best to keep dogs leashed because of heavy traffic on Gandy Boulevard.
A big negative is the trash. There are plenty of cans, but when we visited, they were overflowing, sending garbage into the mangroves and along the shoreline.
Abercrombie Park, 3800 Park St. N, St. Petersburg.
This beautiful city park opens 30 minutes before sunrise, closes 30 minutes after sunset. Rules are clear: Keep dogs on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Clean up after your dog.
A quarter-mile paved path lined by low-hanging oaks leads to the small dog bathing area. Daredevil Sassy chased a lizard over the edge of the boardwalk and practically hung herself from her leash.
The beach is disappointing for swimming, but the view of dolphins and birds in the water is incredible. Broken shells cover the wading area, so wear shoes and check the dogs' paws after playing in the water.