Still On The Fence?

Fido wants to play, so you oblige by taking her for a walk. After tossing the Frisbee for a while, you let her run on a dirt trail through the beautiful yard you perfected during the dog days of summer.

And still your pooch looks at you afterwards with a sad face that you interpret as...“More play time, pleeease!”

You are out of breath--and options--until you remember...the dog park.

This destination for people and their pets serves as an additional way for dog owners to keep their canines healthy and well adjusted.

Experts like Elizabeth Barker--a veterinarian technician at Greenwood Farms Veterinary Clinic in Macon, Ga.--swears by dog parks, and uses her hometown’s designated green space in the city’s west-central district as a venue to train and rehabilitate the dogs in need at her workplace.

Barker describes dog parks as a convenient, neutral space that introduces dog owners to an alternative place for their pets to run and play.

“Dog parks provide stimulation and afford the animal and owner a chance to bond beyond their daily routine,” she explains.

On a sunny fall day, Barker’s statement resonated loudly as a woman who referred to herself only as Heidi and her 6-year-old Boston terrier named Terrence took full advantage of the opportunity to get out and about in the overtly Fido-friendly environment.

She and her “guy” have been frequenting this spot for the last five years, and Heidi says a day at the dog park is a much better way of expressing love, respect, and appreciation for a pet than the ongoing confines of a small backyard, the inside of a house, or the end of a rope or chain.

“People who bring their dogs here obviously care about their pets. I bring him here every week,” she says. “And it’s nice and relaxing for me.”

Diana Williams agrees with Heidi and uses the park when she’s not serving as treasurer to the Macon Dog Park Pals to Animals. The nonprofit organization oversees and maintains the city-owned property with the help of the Macon-Bibb Parks and Recreation Department’s Grounds Division.

She believes the social, psychological, and physical benefits of going to the park for both dogs and their owners are immeasurable. And with obesity at an epidemic level across the country, going to the dog park might contribute to the creation of a more-fit nation.

“The park gets people out and communicating, and reminds them that pets are very, very healthy for owners,” Williams notes.

A Dog-Lover’s Paradise

Going to the park is easy. In most municipalities that have one or more, they are just a walk, car cruise, or mass-transit ride away.

But what to do once owners and dogs are there? If looking for the answer, the award-winning Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert, Ariz., is a dog-lover’s paradise.

The 2007 Dog Fancy magazine’s Best Dog Park winner opened in July 2006. Today, nearly 600,000 people visit annually from all over the country and bring their canines to run, jump what dogs do in great dog parks.

According to Gilbert’s Public Information Officer Beth Lucas, the primary draw at Cosmo is the amenities. Built in the shape of a dog’s paw and named after Gilbert’s first police dog and local hero, the park sits on 17 acres, and features two dog-wash stations, a wet-dog area, a lighted, open dog park, a timid-dog area, and a water-crazy canine’s favorite--a doggy beach.

In addition, owners can take advantage of a basketball court, walking trails, picnic tables, and an amphitheater.

Lucas says Cosmo epitomizes what a great dog park should look like and also serves as a place where the community comes together.

“People love their pets and [love] having a great place to take them. Cosmo Park is not just a drop-off area, but a place that people bring their dogs for a good time for both their animals and themselves,” said Lucas.

Health Benefits

Barker says the hallmark of an excellent dog park is great accommodations. Macon’s park has a water stream and fountains for both dogs and people. A small bridge, vertical car tires, and ramps lace the property on one side adjacent to shaded rest areas for worn-out “mommies” and “daddies.”

This type of environment is just what the doctor ordered for owners trying to improve their pet’s health. The dogs being treated at Greenwood Farms that she brings to the park for workouts are fit and trim as a result of their routine visits. They also rest better, maintain beautiful skin and coats, and don’t have as many joint and digestive issues as their inactive counterparts.

Barker adds that dog parks enhance animal and people skills through contact with other dogs and residents, and typifies a dog-park visit. And all this equates to a better way of life for the entire community: “Having a socialized dog is another world. These dogs are more versatile and can handle various situations well.”

The Power Of Dog Parks

The power of dog parks goes beyond the quality of life for local residents and their pets, however. Lucas says Cosmo has created additional reasons for non-residents to visit Gilbert and even stay awhile, which translates into more tourism dollars.

Back in Macon, Lucas’ words come to pass as Danny Vanvalkinburgh relaxes under a shade tree across from Heidi, while his buddy, a stray wiener dog he found a week earlier, tussles with Terrence the terrier. The Chattanooga, Tenn., senior biology major at nearby Mercer University says that he is just one of many people who use the park.

His and Heidi’s presence along with that of an elderly couple and their two four-legged comrades supports Williams’ and Lucas’ claims that dog parks attract an array of people, including professionals, the young and old, people of various races, and even the less-fortunate.

“It’s an escape for both the dog and me,” Vanvalkinburgh admits. “Dog parks are a really good idea because they bring people together in a safe haven. They are great places for people to get together.”

Clarence Thomas, Jr., works full-time as an Athletic Coordinator and Marketing Assistant with the Macon-Bibb County Georgia Parks and Recreation Department, and doubles as a freelance writer and public-relations specialist. He can be reached at