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Dog Parks - The Garden of Eden

 In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve could do pretty much what they wanted -- as long as they avoided that whole apple thing. With the help of a serpent, Adam and Eve lost their chance at recreational bliss and had to leave  the splendor of Eden. It is rumored that after they left the garden, a municipal parks manager was given control of the place and decreed a second rule for paradise -- no dogs allowed.

 Every city, regardless of size, provides its own little Garden of Eden. City, state and national parks are an accepted part of American life. Most parks include tennis courts, basketball courts, racquetball courts, volleyball courts and  baseball diamonds. Parks departments spend billions of dollars each year to provide a wide variety of interesting activities for citizens. While some recreation departments provide dog obedience classes, very few offer the favorite  amenity of pet owners -- a dog run.

For many communities, the idea of letting dogs run loose in a park is unthinkable. After all, dogs are the creatures  who could spoil the beauty of a park by leaving messes, tearing up the landscape, biting children and disrupting softball games. Regardless of how many responsible citizens would love to allow their dogs to run loose, the parks  administrators will not allow it. While these objections are all valid, they ignore the simple solution to the problem -- chain link fencing.

 The idea of a "dog run" area in a park is not new. In New York City, there are eight parks that feature separate areas for doggie recreation. In Riverside Park, the oldest of these facilities, the dog run has been in existence for  over 15 years. In California, the cities of Laguna Beach and, more recently, Huntington Beach, offer secure areas for dogs. Pet owners and pooches get to commune in an atmosphere of freedom that is impossible or illegal in other  parts of the city.

Major metropolitan areas such as New York and Los Angeles are not the only cities that provide this service to  their citizens. In Arizona there are two dog parks in the Phoenix area. At Mitchell Park, in Tempe, there is a similar fenced area for dogs. Along the fence are dispensers of pooper scooper bags, park benches, elevated lights for  night romps -- and the obligatory signs to set the rules. Inside the fence are as many as thirty dogs at a time, frolicking under the watchful eyes of their owners.

 While it might be assumed that such chaos would lead to dog fights and injuries, the overall result is surprisingly tame. The majority of dogs are so fascinated with their freedom that aggression is kept to a minimum. A  cooperative control is kept by their owners. If a serious fight does occur, it is far easier to control in a fenced area than it would be in an open park. Dogs who are consistently aggressive wear out their welcome and are gently  banned from group encounters.

One of the unexpected benefits of a "dogs only" area is that pet owners form become a de-facto social club. They  swap cute stories about their dogs and share information about training, diet and pet care. This informal association of dog owners has a long tradition in American social life. This is the same interaction that led to the creation of  kennel clubs and the sport of dog showing. This type of voluntary association is reminiscent of "small town" cordiality.

 While some authorities are skeptical of offering a fenced dog area, the practice can actually enhance a city's efforts at animal control. A dog area can be the location for posting local ordinances, advertising lost and found animals  and announcing pet related events. Perhaps the biggest advantage to a public dog run is that it confines the "problems" such as fights and feces to a specific area. With current "no dogs" policies, pet owners tend to allow  their dogs much more opportunity to get in trouble. The best way to regulate "nuisance" dogs is to create a way that dog owners can legally enjoy their pets AND the park.

 If you are interested in proposing a "dogs only" area in your city, there are several issues that you should be prepared to consider.

 * Sanitation is a key issue for any communal dog area. Infectious diseases and parasites can create a serious problem for dogs and people. Your local veterinary medical association and health department may be able to help  you set up guidelines to limit the risk.

* A well designed dog area needs proper drainage, secure fences, lighting, fresh water and cleanup materials. Periodic maintenance must be a planned part of the project.

 * When dogs get together they can create a nuisance by barking. The location of a dog area should be away from other park activities or residences.

 * A sign stating the rules of conduct should be posted in a prominent location. Emergency numbers for local veterinarians and first aid information may also be included.

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 Copyright 1997 by Gary Wilkes -- No portion of this web page may be reproduced without permission.