Behind Every Good Dog Is An Engaged Owner

By Roseanne Conrad

Any manager, volunteer, or patron with an interest in dog parks has heard all the stories by now, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Dog fights and people neglecting to pick up after their dogs top the list, and many of these situations happen mostly at unsupervised municipal parks. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are things that go wonderfully right.

The Proof Is In The People
So what sets a good dog park apart from a bad one? People. The Blair County Dog Park, a fee-based member park located in Martinsburg, Penn., went through years of growing pains since the idea to build a park was first launched in 2011. After a dozen dog lovers were turned down by the local powers-that-be to build a municipal dog park, they found the means to build a private park in the middle of nowhere. The story of how the dog park finally came to be is long and interesting, but the short version is that the group was able to rent 10 acres of beautiful land for only $600 a year on a 10-year contract. Because of the struggles the group endured in realizing their dream of having a safe place “where dogs run free,” a strong bond was formed among the core members. As other people and their dogs joined the park at just $50 per year/per dog, many of the patrons became volunteers. According to Carol Johnson, president, “No one is paid at this dog park, so we rely on our volunteers [to] do everything. They take care of ground maintenance, planting trees, keeping the access road in good shape, clean-up, and heading up events and fundraisers.” The dog park is managed by a small board of directors who meet monthly from April-October. Johnson, who lives with her husband Harold in the Martinsburg area six months out of the year and in South Carolina during the winter months, has visited many dog parks during their travels. “The best ones are the active ones, where the people take responsibility and ownership of their park. When the people aren’t involved in the park, it tends to become neglected, not maintained, dirty, and unsafe,” Johnson says.

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Sense Of Community
Whether it is a municipal dog park or a private one, the key to an active park is building a sense of community among the owners. One way to do this is to offer plenty of organized play dates when members and their dogs can socialize and build friendships. The Blair County Dog Park has offered several events: “Mini-Mutt Monday,” “Serenity Sunday,” “Boys Night Out,” “Ladies Night,” and other special events have worked well to get owners of dogs together.” They even utilize a local public pool to hold an annual “Dog Dip ‘N Dive.” Although this event is off-site, it still brings the community of dog park members together for a fun day.

Sense Of Camaraderie
The key to getting the word out is most definitely through social media, in particular Facebook. In addition to a general page, the Blair County Dog Park has a separate “Members Page,” where members can post messages about coordinating times to be at the park. It has worked well and is a great tool to bring new members into the mix. It is also a great tool to let members know about upcoming events and volunteer cleanup dates.

Sense Of Ownership
How does having an active membership keep a dog park safer and better maintained? When people and their dogs are together, there is a natural tendency to look after and police “their park” to make sure others respect it and abide by the rules. They take pride in the park and want to keep it safe and clean for themselves and their dogs, as well as for others who use the park. Of course, some people will not want to participate in the big picture and are primarily interested in having a place to play with their dogs. This should be totally acceptable, as long as they are friendly, respectful, and follow the rules of the park. Not everyone is cut out to be a volunteer.

Sense Of Involvement
Another key to keeping an active dog park is consistency. It’s a good idea to keep patrons/volunteers motivated by having something on the books for them to look forward to. And ask for their participation. Let them know they are needed and appreciated. It’s good for the dog park manager to have a yearly calendar and evaluate the events, keeping those that work and letting the less-successful ones go. Keep it interesting and fun. You have probably heard the term, “It takes a village.” This is certainly true in endeavoring to build a strong dog park community.

Roseanne Conrad is a member of Dog Writers of America. She is the owner of AlleyRatz Lit’l Dog Daycare and was instrumental in building the Blair County Dog Park. She is the former president of the National Dog Park Association. She can be reached by e-mail at videorose@aol.com.