Feature Article - January 2009
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Going to the Dogs

A Growing Community Trend

By Stacy St. Clair

Not in My Back Yard!

In most communities, the people who don't want to hang with dogs can often be the largest obstacle. When considering a dog park, the first hurdle most recreation managers must clear is local opposition. It's not that people don't want dog parks—the majority of pet owners do. It's just that they don't want them near their homes, where they worry about incessant barking, runaway dogs and increased traffic.

Neil G. Baron, president of the League City Dog Park Association in Galveston County, Texas, has endured significant NIMBY opposition in his quest to open the county's first canine playground. The group initially targeted a pretty tract near a residential area, but it backed away from the plan after vocal opposition.

"The people living there also wanted League City to have a dog park, just not in their neighborhood," he said. "The people in the neighborhood gave many reasons why they didn't want the park in their neighborhood, including the fear of people bringing pit bulls, dog fights, the doggie waste issue and extra traffic in the neighborhood. There's a group of people that don't like dogs—they're a minority, but they're out there."

Baron, however, remained committed to the project because he understands the need. He has two rescue dogs—an Aussie shepherd named Grace and Callie, a golden retriever—and he believes they deserve a place where they can exercise safely and not interfere with the recreational pursuits of humans. Galveston County's lack of a dog park seems even more stunning, given its proximity to Houston, which is home to two of the most preeminent dog parks in the country.

Spurred by a desire to do the best by their dogs and their community, the association kept searching and came up big. It's located an 8-acre tract in the middle of the city that serves as a detention area. Though the parcel had been undeveloped because 90 percent of the park is unsuitable for building, it was the perfect site for a dog park. The land is flooded for about 24 hours after a heavy storm, but the rest of the time it's an ideal place for canines to exercise.

"That piece of land has negative value. We have to pay to maintain it anyway," Baron said. "We just need to clear it, fence it and use it as a detention area."

If approved, the park would include dog showers, bathing stations and walking trails. The park will offer separate areas for big and small dogs, as well as a double-gated entrance with automatic closing devices for liability purposes.

The group has submitted a request for a park improvement fund and hoped to have the money in place by the end of 2008. Construction could start as early as 2009. It has been an arduous process, but Baron believes it'll be worth it for both him and his dogs.

"It's been a lot harder than I thought it would be," he said. "Anytime you're the first at something, you have to expect it's going to take longer."