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Feature Article - March 2017

Parks Gone to the Dogs

Planning & Programming a Park for Pooches

By Dave Ramont


Keeping Things Clean

Speaking of cleaning up after pets, some parks are trying new approaches, since pet waste is not only an annoyance, but a health hazard, too. At Central Bark Park in Carmel, Ind., users must become members by paying $10 per month per dog, plus a $40 registration fee, which covers a DNA test. Owners provide two cheek swabs from their pet, which are sent to PooPrints, which manages each dog's genetic profile. If pet waste is discovered at the park, samples are collected and submitted to PooPrints for processing, with pet owners fined accordingly. Since opening in 2015, the park has issued three fines. Matt Whirley, recreation services assistant manager for Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation, said the program has been a huge success—the park is waste-free, and members are very satisfied.

Whirley explained that in the planning stages of the park, they created a detailed operations plan to avoid pitfalls other organizations had experienced. "We gathered national benchmark data from comparable parks agencies. We also completed an analysis of local dog parks in the Indianapolis metropolitan area to gather information on membership fees, ID requirements, park size, rules, amenities, maintenance standards, sponsorships and obstacles they experienced."

Speaking of cleaning up after pets, some parks are trying new approaches, since pet waste is not only an annoyance, but a health hazard, too.

Through this research, they determined they'd open the park to 300 dogs. They initiated an application process and now have a waitlist in place. Each member gets a key fob that gains them access to the park. "We were looking for a balance of serving the community while ensuring park maintenance standards could be met," Whirley said.

Indeed, everyone agreed that maintenance—and clearly posting dog park rules—is critical. "Parks require daily and regular maintenance and cleaning—make this part of the business plan up front," Sarver said.

VandenBerghe explained, "Maintenance tends to be one of the most challenging aspects of managing a dog park. From users who don't pick up after their pets, to maintaining the grass and keeping waste stations well stocked, these problems can often be alleviated by partnering with or developing a dog park committee or off-leash group." She said these folks can make a big difference—acting as park advocates and helping to take some of the load off as far as basic park maintenance. "Posting clear and enforceable dog park rules and/or requiring a tag for entry can also help to keep issues like these to a minimum," she added.

Be People-Friendly, Too

Dogs require exercise—without it they're prone to obesity, joint disease and other health problems. But dog park operators also understand that attracting humans is good for business, and many offer events and activities to do just that. Palacios and Marler offered the Charleston County Dog Park in South Carolina as an example. Every month from May to October, they host a Yappy Hour for a small fee, with live music, beverages and food. They've also held Oktoberfest, Santa Paws and Dog Day Afternoon. Pet Fest offers exhibits, demonstrations, experts and entertainment.

VandenBerghe said they encourage parks to partner with their local humane society or shelter to offer adoption events, with trainers to host dog-training workshops.

Sarver said that regular events such as a Halloween costume contest, cutest pet contest or events that tie into utilizing the agility equipment have proven successful. He also pointed out that other social groups may congregate during regular times, with the dogs becoming familiar with each other and the owners also becoming acquainted. "These parks are great places for both dogs and people to develop friendships," he said.

Besides charging membership fees, there are other creative ways for parks or municipalities to fund their park. Sarver suggests working with local scout troops or schools to help with fundraising, adding that these groups sometimes get involved with servicing the park as well. Other ideas include dog walks, dog washes and bake sales. VandenBerghe said that veterinary clinics or pet stores are often willing to help. "Also, look for dog park companies that offer the ability to customize amenities with park donor or sponsor information," which allows parks to add amenities while offsetting the cost.

Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert, Arizona features a Brick Memorial, where about 1,400 bricks were installed and available for purchase by users who wanted to memorialize a lost furry friend.