This site is no longer being updated. Read more on pet behavior and wellness at The Wildest.

Pay to Play

Once free, some dog parks now require a hefty fee.
By Julia Lane, April 2009, Updated June 2021

When we lived in New Orleans, we regularly took our dogs to a fenced-in model airplane  field in the middle of City Park to play.  Friends who lived Uptown took their pups to a grassy levee area along the Mississippi River.  On especially hot days, we’d go to the lakefront, where Bayou St. John met Lake Pontchartrain, forming a perfectly shallow, sandy area for the dogs and their people. The good news was that all of these gathering places were free. The downside? None of them were official dog parks, which meant we could lose the space. For example, bicyclists and horseback riders (understandably) protested dogs chasing them as they rode along the levee. (New Orleans will soon have two legal dog parks, City Bark and the Louisiana SPCA Dog Park.)  

However, as much as I longed for legal dog parks, I was shocked by the sticker price of said puppy play areas when we moved to the Chicago area. If you’re lucky enough to have a nice off-leash spot nearby, the resident fees aren’t too bad – generally $10-$50. But the closest fenced park – just 10 minutes away – is outside of our county, so we have to pay $150 for the first dog and $25 for each one thereafter. There is a free dog park about 15 minutes away, but it’s not fenced and one boundary is bordered by a fairly busy road.

So I feel the pain of a group of California dog lovers whose park access might change from free to a $75 annual fee. I can understand the need for some kind of fee to cover park maintenance and “amenities,” such as poop bags, but $75 seems a bit much. Regulars to Dogbone Meadow in Novato, Calif., are upset and protesting the fee, in part because visitors become a family of sorts and not everyone will be able to afford to come if the fee is implemented. One of the best things about dog parks is serving as a social equalizer. No one cares what you do or how much money you make. All they want to talk about are dogs.

Do you pay a fee for your local dog park? If so, how much and do you think it’s worth it?  

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.