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How to Create a Dog Park in Your Neighborhood
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Recognizing this community (“constituency”) is a concept most policymakers will appreciate. Your group’s willingness to become a dog park sponsoring group, or to take on stewardship responsibilities, such as self-policing, maintenance chores (ranging from poop clean-ups to wood chip disbursements), fundraising, assistance in shelter adoptions, increasing dog licensing compliance, etc., should not be lost on policymakers. Make sure to include such positive stakeholder assistance in your press release. There will never be enough officers to prevent people from walking leash-free dogs in parks, no matter what New York’s Mayor Giuliani feels—so better to make an alliance with dog people that can take on some of these responsibilities and help to educate others as well.

Discuss the importance for the elderly with dogs to be able to use parks for leashless recreation. Not only does it provide a social avenue, but for those with mobility problems it can be very difficult to walk, much less exercise, a dog on lead. Every local group probably has a dog park champion such as Ruth Wightman, of Alameda County, a “career-change” senior who went from retirement into the “field” of dog-park activism. She attends the bureaucrat’s meetings that other advocates can’t because their work schedules conflict with middle-of-the-day meeting schedules. She’s there keeping careful watch, and she’s having a blast with her new dog as well.

Dog owners are taxpayers, paying taxes into a system that provides parks to the public, yet most of us rarely use these greenspaces for anything but walking our dogs. If you can, get some budget numbers from your recreation department to show the public resources that are being spent on sports. Or make graphs or maps showing how much park area is devoted to a single-use activity, like baseball diamonds and tennis courts—contrast that with how much is set aside for your favorite recreational pursuit.

Public Health Benefits
There are great societal benefits, including enhancement of public safety, in allowing off-leash activity in parks. Dogs provide a safety component in the parks themselves; in fact, many marginal open spaces have been reclaimed for use as safe public space because dog people have “reclaimed and civilized” the space for the whole community. This happened in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, where an ad hoc dog park drove away the drug dealers and other less desirable users from a park that the rest of the community had abandoned. But, as is often the case, after the dog people transformed this park space, others, such as parents with small children, were once again attracted to the park and tried to dislodge the dog people. In many instances, the majority of dog park people are women, many of whom would not venture out to some areas of urban parks without a “guardian” dog.

We all know that the more a dog is socialized, the less likely it will be to develop aggressive behavioral patterns. Exercise not only tires a dog out, but “also generates ample supplies of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has a mood-stabilizing and calming effect on personality,” as Dr. Nick Dodman describes in his book Dogs Behaving Badly. He also adds that you should exercise your dog “preferably first thing in the morning for an effect that lasts all day.” A more relaxed dog also leads to one less inclined to bark the day away, proclaiming her lonely state to the neighbors.

Finally, Jane Dirks, in a paper presented at the 1996 conference of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco, had the following to say about the public benefits of dog parks: “For ultimately, the Dog People find in the Dog Park a sanctuary, a space for healing. Dog People exult in watching their animals run, feeling that an hour or two’s romp with their dogs is essential to health, theirs and their dogs’, and makes up for a week of sedentary working hours. Dog People roam the trails of lower Frick Park [in Pittsburgh], alone or in groups, peeling away the stress and cognitions of the human world, cleansing themselves in the world of nature through the heedless antics of a happy dog.” Now, isn’t that well worth fighting for?
 

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Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and editor in chief. thebark.com
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Submitted by Debra Pughe | January 26 2012 |

Claudia---what an excellent article! I learned so much and it will be such a great help to all of us all over the country struggling to either start or improve our dog parks. Thank You!

Submitted by Anonymous | August 16 2012 |

There are six outdoor dog parks within a 5 mile radius of my home. Today I took my my baby girl German Short-Haired Pointer to socialize with her pals while I socialized with mine.:) We both were happy and as I write this she is napping after eating her breakfast. I've been thinking about this for a long time...I wish someone would build an indoor dog park so we could use it during the rainy and cold weather too. Something to the effect of a juice bar and coffee bar for the owners, grooming area for our beloved dog with professional groomers, a dog running track, a maze of shorts for them, balls hanging from the ceilings so they could jump and try to grab them, dog friendly pee and poop area, an indoor swimming pool for dogs would be awesome. A beach area with a waterfall. Of course a restroom for adults and kids. Benches and perhaps a big television screen to watch the Daily Show with John Stewart! I wonder if the Daily Show might search for possible investors for us. I'm in Northern California.

Submitted by Tania | March 19 2014 |

Hi! I'm from Mexico and want to thank you for this helpful post because I'm tryimg to start this culture of dog park in my comunity and need lots of ideas and inspiration to convince the neighbors that you have gave me ... So glad that there's people out there that not think we are crazy dog lovers but responsible owners

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | March 19 2014 |

HI Tania,

If you need any help, guidance or have questions, do let us know. Hopefully we can help but there are many of our readers who I'm sure can also assist you. Good luck.

Claudia, Editor

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