Finance Fur-Friendly Spaces
By Jonathan Rudie
It seems that every day I receive calls or emails from another sports-enthusiast group, requesting space or accommodations for its particular recreational pursuit. So when I received a request three years ago for an off-leash dog park, it seemed reasonable enough. The Kenosha County park system had a number of suitable areas where a dog park could be built; the issue was how to pay for the construction and operating costs.
After a bit of research, the parks division developed an estimate for construction costs and presented it to the governing committee. Its response was simple: “If you can find a way to build it and operate it at no expense to the taxpayers, go right ahead.” We were fortunate to have a solid core group of dog-owning citizens who were passionate about the idea and willing to help. The problem was that no one was sure how to start the ball rolling. Finally, the county executive launched the effort by pledging $25,000 of non-tax dollars, if the community would match it. He also set the price for the purchase of naming rights.
As fundraising began, temporary dog parks were set up in two county parks by cordoning off large sections with snow fencing. Residents were asked to make a donation. To kick off the opening of the temporary parks, which happened to be in December, we charged $5 for families to have a photo taken of their dog with Santa. The response was huge. Word spread rapidly, and we were on our way.
Drumming Up Support
With guidance from the University of Wisconsin-Extension county office, a Friends of the Dog Parks Committee was formed to help organize fundraising and to establish rules and fees. The county executive’s office created a dog park Facebook page with a new mascot—a cartoon named “Woofie” through a community contest. Advertising space was sold to dog-related businesses. Two months into the fundraising campaign, the first party stepped forward to purchase naming rights; a second followed shortly thereafter and two years later, a third.
During the initial fund drive, gifts were received from as far away as California. Donation boxes at various locations throughout the county collected $5’s, $10’s, $20’s, and even checks made out for $100. In less than a year, there was sufficient funding for the match, and fencing bids were collected for three permanent off-leash dog parks.
Municipalities in the county offered to sell annual tags at their town and village halls, as did the county treasurer’s office. Tag sales and daily fees cover the dog parks’ operating costs and fund additional amenities. Two of the dog parks now have lighting, and one sports a doggie drinking fountain. Other amenities have been added along the way, including shade shelters, trees, drainage, paved pathways, poop bag dispensers, and signage. Kiosks and benches also have been installed as Eagle Scout projects. Future improvements include additional trees, shelters, doggie playground equipment, and possibly even a water feature.
Working from an idea to the reality of three operational dog parks has been quite an experience. Some homeowners adjacent to the proposed sites expressed concerns of constant barking and unpleasant smells, but their fears never materialized. Neither did the lawsuits and severe injuries that others predicted would result. Yes, there have been a few stitches required because some dogs simply get too excited when playing, but these incidents are few and far between.
Elected officials are always hesitant to support an idea if it means using tax dollars. We were lucky because our county receives an annual payment from a landfill located in the area, and the county executive was willing to pledge those non-tax dollars towards the dog parks. Other counties or municipalities may consider using tax dollars to build a dog park and then fund its operation and maintenance through user fees.
The most important and largest source of funding was selling the naming rights, which covered approximately 60 percent of the total construction costs. To raise awareness and generate small-dollar, broad-based fundraising, the county executive’s $25,000 pledge match was instrumental, as it gave the community an initial goal to work towards. We easily raised double that amount in two years. Without the match, construction would have been another year down the road.
The Friends volunteer group was vital from the start, helping organize the fundraising, educate the public on the benefits of dog parks, and establish rules and fees to ensure sustainability. Volunteers also staffed booths at community events to spread the word and solicit donations, but while there was a lot of interest in the cause, they had little success securing donations at those venues. The Friends continue to provide essential support—supervising the dog parks, answering questions from new visitors, participating in “Tour of Doody” clean-ups, and generally being dog park ambassadors.
In the end, the success of the dog parks comes down to dog owners and their love for dogs. The idea of a place where dogs are free to run, jump, sniff, wrestle, and otherwise socialize is very appealing, and finding financial support and active involvement from county dog owners was easy. Dog parks also connect dog owners. A park provides a great atmosphere for owners to relax and talk about their furry friends. In our few years of operation, we boast that three marriages have resulted from couples meeting while exercising their dogs.
The Kenosha County Dog Park website can be found at http://dogparks.kenoshacounty.org . To view the Facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Kenosha-WI/Kenosha-County-Dog-Parks/292774818134?ref=ts .
Jonathan Rudie is the General Manager of Park Operations for the Kenosha County Division of Parks. Reach him at Jonathan.email@example.com .