Hondo Heaven

The City of Hillsboro, Ore., is a rapidly growing and diverse community of 85,000, just west of Portland, where agriculture meets high tech and everything in between. When the parks and recreation department began developing plans for its first off-leash dog park, the organization was committed to making it more than just lumpy grass inside a fence. With a combination of community input, strong partnerships and creative planning, HondoDogPark opened in September 2007 to hoards of wagging tails and howls of support.

The department is proud to provide residents with more than 800 acres of park land, an array of recreational facilities and a multitude of sports, educational and cultural programs. All of the nearly 30 parks and specialty areas the department offers have been creatively designed and are maintained to high standards. With residents accustomed to taking pride in their parks and recreational opportunities, building anything less than a premier dog park was out of the question.

Getting Started

The initial idea for a dog park was born in 2004 from community requests for an off-leash park for exercising and socializing dogs. In 2005, the community-led Hillsboro Vision 2020 process identified and supported the need to “create fenced off-leash dog area(s) to promote responsible pet ownership, public health and safety, and a community gathering place.” While Oregon offers boundless opportunities for outdoor recreation, the growth and development of the Hillsboro community has resulted in smaller backyards for dogs to play in day-to-day. While Portland and other communities in the northwest Oregon area offer some dog parks, the nearest to Hillsboro is about 20 minutes away.

In 2005, a 3.75-acre lot was chosen for Hillsboro’s first dog park. The location is conveniently located across the street from the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation headquarters building and the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex/Hillsboro Stadium, which is also operated by the department.

Design Elements

After seeking input from the community--including a group of citizen dog enthusiasts and neighboring jurisdictions with dog parks--the design and rules for the park were finalized. The design was created by Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Project Manager Laurie DeVos. Not only did this in-house design process save the city a great deal of money on consultant design fees, but it also provided unique flexibility to create the best park possible for the community.

As a result, Hondo Dog Park features three unique fenced-in dog areas, including a large, main, mixed-size dog play area, a small/timid dog area and a special winter-use area that can be enjoyed year-round. The design of the park is especially dog-friendly with double-gated entrances, open grassy areas, trees for shade, water stations, etched garbage cans with images of dogs and even two special doggie-decorated, non-functioning fire hydrants donated to the park by the City of Hillsboro water department. All three areas have wheelchair-accessible gravel paths and park benches for dog owners to relax on while Fido plays.

Honorable Mention

The park’s name holds special significance with dog lovers and the Hillsboro community. Upon a request from the Hillsboro Dog Association during the planning phase, the park was named in honor of Hillsboro Police K-9 German shepherd “Hondo,” which lost his life in the line of duty in 1997. A bronze plaque honoring Hondo was created and sits atop a beautiful basalt column at the entrance to the park. Hondo’s former handler, Police Sergeant Bruce Kelly, who now leads Hillsboro Police’s K-9 unit, provided the following poem that is featured on the plaque:

The Working Dog

My eyes are your eyes,

To watch and protect yours.

My ears are your ears,

To hear and detect evil minds in the dark.

My nose is your nose,

To scent the invader of your domain.

And so you may live, my life is also yours.

~ Author Unknown

The two fire hydrants are a particularly fun addition to the park, and each has a unique theme created and painted by local volunteers. A Hillsboro Police K-9 officer and a fellow dog lover painted one of the hydrants as a special patriotic tribute to Hondo and all service dogs. The Hondo tribute hydrant is in the large mixed-dog area, and is protected from dogs by a pedestal and decorative fence. The Hillsboro Dog Association painted the other hydrant, which is located in the small/timid dog area with a whimsical cartoon dog theme.

An Association Is Born

A beneficial result of adding HondoDogPark to Hillsboro’s park inventory was the formation of the citizen volunteer group--Hillsboro Dog Association. This group consists of more than 15 residents, and their mission is to enhance the quality of life of pets and pet owners through education and support of dog parks and other animal facilities in the community. The members were instrumental in the design and promotion of the park and the opening day celebration event. The Association also officially adopted the park through the department’s Adopt-a-Park program, and is involved with ongoing park beautification and dog owner education. This citizen-government partnership has been fruitful for both organizations, and the community has and will reap the benefits.

In summer 2007, with new grass beginning to grow and planning underway for a park grand opening celebration in the fall, a valuable partnership was also formed with the Hillsboro Police Department. The police proposed holding its annual “Responsible Dog Ownership Day” in conjunction with the park opening. It was a perfect match, and the day brought upwards of 600 people out--even on a damp, grey Oregon day--to see the new park, watch agility and fly ball demos, and visit more than 20 dog owner resource booths.

Enjoying The Perks

Since its opening, the park has been well utilized. Dogs bring their people from Hillsboro and throughout the Portland metro area to enjoy the space and amenities. However, while the city’s parks and recreation department is an expert on people parks and facilities, the dog park has presented its own unique challenges. Educating dog owners about park rules and being a responsible dog park user continues to be a main focus. For example, many well-intentioned dog owners don’t understand that eating their lunch while their dog plays, or rewarding their dog with treats in the park, is unsafe because food causes aggression in many dogs. Another challenge has been facilitating temporary closures of the two grassy areas of the park to let the grass recover from heavy winter use and rains in order to maintain a safe environment. We have also experienced challenges with maintaining a secure fence line. As the soil and new landscaping settled, various gaps formed at the bottom of the fence and needed to be closed to prevent small dogs from escaping the secure enclosure.

While creating and operating the park has not been without challenges common to first-time projects, the outcome is a gorgeous, new off-leash dog park with tremendous community support. Here are just a few of the positive comments we’ve heard from residents:

“The park is absolutely beautiful! And it’s great to see people that I’ve seen before on our daily walks.”

“I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have an off-leash dog park in Hillsboro. I have been many times since the recent opening, and my small dogs and I always have a great time there.”

“Hondo Dog Park is wonderful and I plan to spend a lot of time there. My thanks to all the people who contributed to this wonderful project.”

In fact, now only a few months after opening Hondo Dog Park, we’re already hearing, “When are you building the next dog park?”

Corinne Bloomfield is the Community Resources Manager for City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation. She can be reached via e-mail at corinneb@ci.hillsboro.or.us.