Dog Park Idea Fetches Interest And Support

LIVE & LEARN

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In last week's column, I floated the idea of establishing an enclosed dog park in Payson, prompted by a visit to such a facility in Scottsdale recently. I promised more information on the subject, so here goes.

It's been an enlightening week. I've talked to local officials, a veterinarian, two park managers in cities with dog parks, and I've heard from local dog owners, of whom all but one were enthusiastically supportive of the idea. I found a wealth of helpful information on the Internet as well.

The upshot of all this? The dog-park concept is definitely worth pursuing.

Bill Schwind, director of Payson Parks and Recreation Department, indicated that he is open to the idea, which he said is a booming trend around the country.

"We have eight dog owners here on the staff in this department," he said.

He offered to do some research, talk to veterinarians and other professionals who have experience with such a project, and said there's some flexibility in how park land might be used in the future.

"We would need to talk about problematic areas, such as liability, and find some room," he said. He suggested that dog owners interested in a dog park contact him. "We'll take it before the parks board and shake out a lot of problems before taking it to the council."

Mayor Ray Schum, a dog owner himself, also was open to the idea, and encouraged further study, noting that the town might be able to help with a location other than the local parks, if necessary.

Dr. John Smith, a local veterinarian, said he had some familiarity with a dog park in Cottonwood.

"Location and responsible people are most important," he said, "but I think the positives outweigh the negatives."

He said that, in his practice, he sees many overweight dogs which aren't getting enough exercise. An off-leash dog park could help alleviate that problem.

"Socializing with other dogs helps their personalities, burns off energy, and cuts down on aggressiveness," he said.

Is there danger that a dog might contract a disease in a dog park?

Smith and park officials in Prescott and Chandler said the key to such a potential problem is cleaning up after the dogs and quick disposal of the waste. Dog parks must provide pooper scoopers or plastic bags and covered waste containers at the site, and dog owners must use them. A fresh-water fountain is a good idea, too.

Which brings up a concern of a dog owner who responded to last week's column. She thinks dog owners in Payson need to demonstrate more responsibility about picking up after their dogs in their neighborhoods and the parks before she would take her dog to a dog park. She makes a good point.

Ironically, though, a dog park encourages more owner responsibility, say proponents. It's old-fashioned peer pressure. Dog-park users have no qualms about reminding negligent owners to pick up the poop or insisting that aggressive dogs be removed immediately. After all, they stand to lose the park if there are complaints.

Smith pointed out that, in rural areas like Payson, people often take their dogs to undeveloped areas for off-leash exercise, which can be risky.

"Dogs can get into garbage or hit by cars. A park would be safer for dogs and their owners," Smith said.

According to Roz Turbarge in the town finance department, there are more than 2,000 licensed dogs in Payson. Surely, among those owners are many who care not only about their dogs, but also their neighbors and the community at large, and who are willing to take the lead in improving dog owner-community relations.

We need to organize responsible dog owners. Nothing fancy, just form a group to explore the idea of an off-leash park and share other mutual concerns.

Please contact me. We'll make it happen and have some fun doing it. In the meantime, visit a dog park in another city if you can. I can furnish you with a list of Arizona addresses.

If you have Internet access, two excellent sites are www.thebark.com and www.dogpark.com. The latter offers a "digital dog park" where you can chat with other dog owners.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or e-mail viv@cybertrails.com.

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