Feature Article - January 2011
Find a printable version here

Dog Parks 2.0

Taking America's Dog Parks to the Next Level

By Daniel P. Smith

Todd Reubold, a regular guest at the Minnehaha Dog Park in Minneapolis, calls the expansive setting a "doggy oasis in the middle of the city."

Tucked alongside the west bank of the mighty Mississippi River, the park features a half-mile-long sandy beach juxtaposed against wooded trails, inviting idyllic adventures when Mother Nature smiles upon the Twin Cities. In winter, frozen waterfalls make the park a winter wonderland for humans and dogs alike.

Minnehaha, however, is but one of six dog parks scattered throughout Minneapolis, with many residents able to walk to the parks with their canines in tow before taking off the leash and letting Fido run wild. Across the country, dog parks such as those in Minneapolis serve as an important amenity for canines and their owners, providing the opportunity for dogs to exercise and socialize off-leash. They are a particularly important public resource for disabled and elderly handlers who often have companion animals yet sparse opportunity for those dogs to interact with their four-legged friends.

"The socialization and exercise aspect available at the dog park is different than in any other environment," said Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spokesperson Dawn Sommers. "It's a place for dogs to be off-leash, socialize, exercise and have fun in a safe and free environment."

While any dog park—most generically defined as a fenced-in area allowing dogs to run about—is a welcome community amenity, a number of parks around the nation go well beyond the norm. Some integrate dynamic natural elements; others incorporate human-made artistry that serves both practical and aesthetic purposes. Some champion socialization and programming opportunities; others bring a social consciousness to the park setting, touting such causes as dog adoption or innovative energy alternatives. Some revitalize a downtrodden area with energy and movement; others embrace an area's historic or natural character and blend into the landscape. Each in its own way does something to separate itself from the pack and, in the process, inspire new ideas in others.