Dog Parks 101

We certainly love our dogs, don’t we? Pets mean the world to us, and we often see them as family members. They truly contribute to our quality of life.

Take a look at some statistics:

· There are approximately 75 million dogs owned in the United States.

· About 40 percent of U.S. households own a dog, 25 percent own two, and 14 percent own three or more.

· We spend lots of money on our pets–over $15 billion on food annually, almost $19 billion on supplies, veterinary care and medications, and close to $3 billion on boarding and grooming. Now, is it any wonder that dog parks are popping up all over the country? Clearly, we love our dogs, and it makes us happy to make them happy. Just visit a dog park to see what I mean!

· 68 percent of pet owners travel with their pet, and many hotel chains are now pet-friendly–Holiday Inn, Marriot, Best Western, Econo Lodge and Comfort Inn, to name a few–and some of these offer pet pillows, toys, treats and even a dog masseuse.

· The health benefits of pet ownership continue to get positive press in numerous studies: lower stress, lower blood pressure, decreased depression and loneliness, and pets even help prevent heart attacks.

· Nearly one in five companies now allows pets in the workplace.

· 39 percent of owners display a photo of their pet in their home; 16 percent keep one in their wallet.

· 33 percent of owners talk to their dog on the phone, or leave a message on the answering machine.

· 10 million owners celebrate the dog’s birthday, while 32 million purchase holiday gifts.

· 62 percent of owners sign their dog’s name on cards and letters.

· 32 percent of dogs sleep in their owners’ bed.

And my personal favorite:

· An estimated 1 million dogs in the United States have been named the primary beneficiary in their owners’ will!

Now, is it any wonder that dog parks are popping up all over the country? Clearly, we love our dogs, and it makes us happy to make them happy. Just visit a dog park to see what I mean!

Back To Basics

What is a dog park? A dog park is a space–usually in a public park and typically enclosed with fencing–where dogs can run and play off-leash with their owners and/or other dogs.

A dog park usually “happens” in one of two ways:

1. A group of dog owners come to their municipal board or parks and recreation department and request the creation of a dog park.

2. The municipal board or parks department recognizes the desirability of a dog park facility, and initiates its development.

A dog owners group, with or without municipal support, can be very helpful, like a “friends” group, that is willing to assist with suggestions, publicity and fundraising, if necessary. If there is only minimal support from the municipality, which is usually based on a lack of knowledge about dog parks and a refusal to allocate funding, the dog owners group will petition the municipality, often asking for an acre of land in an existing park, while offering to pay most or all the expenses for construction of a dog park.

Although a dog park created by well-meaning groups is quite common, the municipality often inherits problems and mistakes–sometimes costly to correct–due to their lack of support and interest. It’s always far better when the municipal board members and park professionals listen and educate themselves about dog parks and take the lead. The municipality can then plan, control, and oversee the development of the facility, from conception through completion, tapping its professional staff and resources for any needed additional expertise.

Considering The Project

So, why should a municipality consider developing a dog park? What exactly are the benefits? For starters, a dog park promotes responsible pet ownership and enforces dog control laws. And it provides a safe environment for people as well as dogs to socialize—I’m never surprised to find non-dog owners as “spectators” around a dog park. In addition, a park provides apartment dwellers and elderly or disabled individuals the opportunity to have dogs with an accessible place to exercise them. Finally, a dog park promotes public health and safety–well-exercised dogs are better neighbors and less likely to create a nuisance, bark excessively, or destroy property.

Getting Started

Now what are the important things that must be considered when developing a dog park?

· Appropriate site selection–ideally in an existing park

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