Going To The Dogs

Perhaps the best service the park system can provide after building it is educating potential clients. This approach can be a revenue-maker as well. Peterson suggests offering basic obedience classes or certification courses to ensure appropriate training. AKC offers the Canine Good Citizen Test–a 10-step test to prove good manners and the tenets of responsible dog ownership. This program has been adopted in proclamation by 26 states and the U.S. Senate. It also has been used successfully against breed-specific legislation. Some insurance companies will accept the certification and allow coverage of otherwise uninsurable breeds. [www.akc.org/events/cgc/index.cfm]

“We encourage park directors to use AKC as a resource,” concludes Peterson. “We provide educational resources, the canine ambassador program (volunteers bringing dog-safety programs into schools), public education coordinators and 5,000 affiliated clubs and members.” [www.akc.org]

Building PawPark

Mike Knipfer, Chairman of the Friends of Our Paw Park in Sanford, Fla., understands dogs. He also understands political process, fundraising and land utilization. Several years back, Knipfer read an article about a dog park in California and thought it was a nifty idea. There were none in Central Florida at the time, but he did locate one in Tampa and one in Sarasota. He and his two retrievers took to the road and visited the latter dog park.

Knipfer returned to his close-knit historic community of about 400 homes and started talking to other dog owners about the fun he and the dogs had in Sarasota. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a dog park in Sanford?

City officials were open to the idea. Mike put them in touch with their Sarasota counterparts, while he and his group started looking for a possible site.

Jaycee Park in Sanford was old, underutilized and rundown and had become a gathering place for vagrants. It had (excuse the pun) gone to the dogs. Could this property literally be given to the dogs? The decision was obvious.

Friends of Our Paw Park entered into an agreement with the city of Sanford. If the group could raise $10,000, the city would budget the remaining $15,000 needed to build a “bare bones” dog park. “Our biggest fundraiser was a Halloween costume party for the dogs,” recalls Knipfer. “The city let us use a baseball field for a one-day, off-leash party. We had such a good time it really got people excited about building a permanent dog park.”

Unbelievably, the group raised the money in less than a year, and the city built the park.

Today, PawPark is one of the best dog parks in the country. For the second year in a row, it was runner-up in Dog Fancy magazine’s annual contest.

“When we opened on May 5, 2001, we were a bare-bones park with fencing and water. We now have lighting, a paved walkway, enlarged small-dog area, misting towers, dog wash stations, upgraded dog and human water fountains, and, as a result of the $2,500 grant from Dog Fancy magazine, a new doggie playground with ramps and tunnels,” Knipfer says with pride.

Friends of Our Paw Park continues to raise funds for the facility. Halloween in the Boneyard and Paw Park Birthday Bash are the major fundraising events. Although the group is not a non-profit entity, city co-sponsorship allows the funds to be raised tax-free and earmarked for the dog park.

Maintaining The Grounds

Mark Hultin is the parks and grounds manager responsible for maintaining the 1-1/2-acre PawPark. Like most residents, he believes the decision to build was a good one. “We can better serve the needs of our population, and we’ve improved the looks and aesthetic value of the neighborhood,” he says. “PawPark is the most-used facility of the 30 or so parks in Sanford.”

“We’ve been building and tweaking PawPark over the years,” he adds.

A particularly popular feature, the “king-of-the-mountain-tree,” is a gift from 2004’s Hurricane Charlie. When a large tree was downed by the hurricane winds, staff cut off the branches and left the remains in the dog park. The dogs love climbing on the trunk; it’s almost reminiscent of children playing in appliance boxes. Expensive isn’t always better.

Hultin struggles with some of the problems indigenous to dog parks: maintaining turf and providing enough parking for the patrons. Weekends can be a problem despite parking being available on three sides of the park, which spans a city block. Although most of the park’s surface is mulch, the turf areas do tend to get muddy. He and Kniphen have discussed installing a synthetic trade grass in the dog shower area and expect to move forward with the project soon.

Keeping the different animals in mind, Hultin provides flea treatments regularly.

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