Feature Article - January 2010
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Barking Up the Right Tree

Tips & Trends From Today's Hottest Dog Parks

By Kelli Anderson

Bow-WOW Factor

What ultimately sets a good dog park apart from the pack are the amenities that make the recreational experience more comfortable and fun for all involved. Sandy digging pits and agility courses are just some of the added features that don't cost a lot to create and add great play value.

Just as aquatic recreation (think spray parks and swimming pools) is an irresistible magnet for kids of all ages, dog ponds, spray features and swimming holes are equally fun for person and pooch alike. Even more appreciated are the cleaning stations that some parks provide to give the owners a place to rinse off their dogs before jumping into an upholstered car seat or to use as a regular alternative to the sudsy bathing mess washing Fido can create at home.

Where many dog parks are really hitting it on the nose is the recognition that dogs are social creatures—and so are their humans. Adequate seating in shaded space and gathering spaces like a coffee shop or doggie supply store or station are all special features that encourage people to relax, create a sense of community and enjoy the exchange of ideas with those who share their love of all-things-canine.

Even those limited by space are not letting their desire for a dog park deter them. According to Stecchi, newly constructed upscale apartments and condos are offering rooftop dog parks for their dog-owning residents. Even shopping malls are beginning to offer indoor dog parks to lure their patrons to linger longer.

Dog Teams

The good news is that because this growing demographic is so invested in caring for their dogs, there is much to be gained from their enthusiasm—volunteering, for one. For many communities eager to have dog parks, a happy partnership between park district and user group has evolved.

"If they (the park district) can provide the land and assist with the infrastructure (running water to it from the city line for example), then the dog park citizens group can work together to get donations or equipment and services, raise funds, sign up volunteers and so forth," Stecchi said. "A very resourceful group might be able to get the land donated too—there are endless possibilities on how to make it happen."

That partnership has certainly been an integral part of Indianapolis's success. "We have to be open to user groups and their suggestions and to work with our community to come up with a product that's meaningful to them," Knorr said. "We meet annually to see what's working well and have an open line of communication during the year."

And while Knorr acknowledged that some of their users have begun to turn their attention and spend their dollars on more expensive and elaborate private dog parks in the area, he believes that the park district provides a balanced, affordable option for those users who just want a dog park well done. It's not about competition. "If something becomes important to our users," Knorr said about the district's commitment to serve the community, "we'll work with them with partnerships and a team effort to make it happen."