Finance Fur-Friendly Spaces

It seems that every day I receive calls or emails from another sports-enthusiast group, requesting space or accommodations for its particular recreational pursuit. So when I received a request three years ago for an off-leash dog park, it seemed reasonable enough. The KenoshaCounty park system had a number of suitable areas where a dog park could be built; the issue was how to pay for the construction and operating costs.

After a bit of research, the parks division developed an estimate for construction costs and presented it to the governing committee. Its response was simple: “If you can find a way to build it and operate it at no expense to the taxpayers, go right ahead.” We were fortunate to have a solid core group of dog-owning citizens who were passionate

Photos Courtesy Jonathan Rudie

Photos Courtesy Jonathan Rudie

about the idea and willing to help. The problem was that no one was sure how to start the ball rolling. Finally, the county executive launched the effort by pledging $25,000 of non-tax dollars, if the community would match it. He also set the price for the purchase of naming rights.

As fundraising began, temporary dog parks were set up in two county parks by cordoning off large sections with snow fencing. Residents were asked to make a donation. To kick off the opening of the temporary parks, which happened to be in December, we charged $5 for families to have a photo taken of their dog with Santa. The response was huge. Word spread rapidly, and we were on our way.

Drumming Up Support

With guidance from the University of Wisconsin-Extension county office, a Friends of the Dog Parks Committee was formed to help organize fundraising and to establish rules and fees. The county executive’s office created a dog park Facebook page with a new mascot—a cartoon named “Woofie” through a community contest. Advertising space was sold to dog-related businesses. Two months into the fundraising campaign, the first party stepped forward to purchase naming rights; a second followed shortly thereafter and two years later, a third.

During the initial fund drive, gifts were received from as far away as California. Donation boxes at various locations throughout the county collected $5’s, $10’s, $20’s, and even checks made out for $100. In less than a year, there was sufficient funding for the match, and fencing bids were collected for three permanent off-leash dog parks.

Municipalities in the county offered to sell annual tags at their town and village halls, as did the county treasurer’s office. Tag sales and daily fees cover the dog parks’ operating costs and fund additional amenities. Two of the dog parks now have lighting, and one sports a doggie drinking fountain. Other amenities have been added along the way, including shade shelters, trees, drainage, paved pathways, poop bag dispensers, and signage. Kiosks and benches also have been installed as Eagle Scout projects. Future improvements include additional trees, shelters, doggie playground equipment, and possibly even a water feature.

Overcoming Obstacles

Working from an idea to the reality of three operational dog parks has been quite an experience. Some homeowners adjacent to the proposed sites expressed concerns of constant barking and unpleasant smells, but their fears never materialized. Neither did the lawsuits and severe injuries that others predicted would result. Yes, there have been a few stitches required because some dogs simply get too excited when playing, but these incidents are few and far between.

Elected officials are always hesitant to support an idea if it means using tax dollars. We were lucky because our county receives an

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