Feature Article - January 2011
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Dog Parks 2.0

Taking America's Dog Parks to the Next Level

By Daniel P. Smith

Cosmo Dog Park
Gilbert, Arizona

Thanks to the Cosmo Dog Park, an unused retention basin has become one of Gilbert, Arizona's prime attractions. More than 5,000 visitors came to Cosmo's grand opening event in 2006, a sign of the park's standing in the community and the pride residents hold for the recreational offering.

Described by Gilbert spokesperson Beth Lucas as "a special oasis that has captured and celebrated the unique bond between dogs and humans," the Cosmo Dog Park welcomes an estimated 600,000 annual visits from residents alone, many waiting at the park's gates for each morning's opening.

The park's unique layout—its drainage infrastructure creates an amphitheatre look—and special features attract dog lovers from neighboring areas. Unlike most dog parks that separate canines by size, Cosmo identifies its dog areas based on temperament: an active dog area, which includes a number of obstacles made of masonry blocks, and a timid dog area.

"We made the decision to identify areas by dog temperament because people often know if their dog is timid or not, and that can include big dogs as well as little ones," Gilbert Assistant Town Manager Tami Ryall said.

Everything in the 17-acre Cosmo Dog Park, honored by Dog Fancy magazine as the nation's best dog park in 2007, celebrates dog life: Lights are decorated with bright and colorful paw-print décor; paw prints also run along the amphitheater steps, shape the tot lot and cross the lake, allowing children to leap from one to the next; and finally, a retired fire hydrant from the town's public works department has been reinvented as a water feature.

Aside from playing and exercising, residents can also train their dogs at the park, using the same equipment as the police department's K9 team, including an obstacle course as well as a popular dog beach that features a dock for dogs to leap into the water. The police connection also provides the park's name: Cosmo was the city's first K9 cop.

Yet, the park was built with humans in mind as well. Ramadas offer an opportunity for picnics and community activities, the nearby tot lot features safe climbing toys, and trails allow for a stroll along the slopes that lead to the lake and dog beach. All amenities interconnect and sit within sight of one another to allow the entire family an opportunity to enjoy the dog park together.

"We discovered that people using dog parks tend to be social, so we wanted to create areas for people to congregate as well," Ryall added.

The park's entry also features a brick memorial that acts as a special place for residents to honor their dogs. Over the course of six months, nearly 1,400 bricks were sold at cost, as an outpouring of residents expressed messages of love and memories for their dogs past and present.

Above and Beyond: A ramp over the water allows dogs to jump into the lake and fetch a ball or stick. Often, Ryall said, up to 20 dogs will line the ramp waiting for their turn to jump. It's the same ramp K9 officers use for training their police dogs, partners who must often leap into the canal to fulfill their law enforcement duties.

"The wet dog area and dog beach are a real centerpiece," she added. "You can go down there anytime of day and you'll see a group of dogs playing in the water."

Wish List: Investigations are under way for the addition of a dog waste light generator device. Such a device would transform dog waste into energy (methane) through a publicly fed methane digester. Once the dog waste is mixed using a hand crank, energy is formed to produce light. Currently, park leaders are discussing a partnership with Arizona State University Polytechnic to challenge students in the science and technology field to develop such a novel system.