Dog Parks Fill Social Niche
Looks like the media is catching on to something we Dogsters have known for a long time -- dog parks are the wave of the future.
Thanks to AZ Central.com for this article.
Dog parks new meet-and-greet spots
The Associated Press
Oct. 30, 2007
WASHINGTON - Sherrard Foster's marriage of 30 years broke up recently, and she's now going through a painful divorce. Her elderly father died a few weeks ago after a lengthy illness. And her multiple sclerosis is advancing again after years of remission.
Amid all that heartache, though, there's still one thing she looks forward to every day: spending a couple of hours with her best friends, and her golden retriever Abby, at a dog park.
"I'd be suicidal if I didn't have this park," Foster, 62, said recently as she sat on a picnic table surrounded by friends - and dogs - at Fort Ethan Allen park in suburban Arlington, Va. "Coming here is the central part of my day. I couldn't live without it."
The local dog park has found a permanent home in the Washington region, evolving into a place where people can find and build a community in a sprawling metropolitan area that offers few venues outside the workplace to make friends, particularly for baby boomers or for those who find themselves alone.
Once a bone of contention in some communities, local officials are catching on to how important these parks have become, not so much for dogs but for their owners. In recent years, two dozen have opened across the region.
"At first, people questioned why we were building parks for dogs," said Tim White, acting director of the suburban Fairfax County (Va.) Park Authority, which has opened seven dog parks since 2000. "But they're not for dogs. They're for people. Saying you're building a dog park for dogs is like saying you're building a golf course for golf balls."
In many instances, the dog park has become the equivalent of the neighborhood bar for people looking to socialize, expand their circle of friends - or just have a pleasant conversation with someone after work. Dog parks are usually busiest from 5 to 7 p.m.
"Some people go to happy hour and have drinks," said Mariesa Barros, sitting at a picnic table recently with friends in Georgetown's Rose Park. "I come here."
Barros, 46, got her current job and her apartment through friends she made at her local dog park.
"I get all my socializing done here," said Barros, who recalls one couple who met at her dog park and later married. After the wedding, they showed up at the park in their wedding clothes with champagne - and their dogs - for an impromptu reception with their friends.
Barros recently befriended Alexis Maurikakis, who moved to Washington from London with his partner over the summer and said having the dog park nearby for his boxer Daisy has been "fantastic" because his partner travels frequently for work and he didn't know anyone in the area.
"Everybody I've met in D.C., I've met at the dog park," Maurikakis said. "For people whining about being alone, I say, Get a dog.' You meet far more people very quickly."
Arlington is a dog-park pioneer: It opened its first "community canine area" 10 years ago.
"We realized a long time ago that these parks weren't about the dogs so much but about people coming together and building communities," said Steve Temmermand, division chief for Arlington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. "There are potluck supper clubs, book clubs, people exchange movies, all kinds of stuff. It's an entire social network. People have met their boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses at these parks."
Cathy Salgado, director of parks and recreation for suburban Vienna, Va., attributes the rise in popularity of dog parks in part to heightened awareness about pet care.
"People are expected to do all kinds of things for their dogs these days," she said. "It's blossomed into a whole industry now, with pet spas, grooming places, doggie day care, specialty care places. When I was growing up, my mother would kick the dog out the back door and say, Go do your business.' "
Most regional dog parks are established, funded and cared for by dog owners. Judy Pedersenof the Fairfax County Park Authority said the sponsoring groups raise funds to build the parks, write matching grants if needed and then enforce the rules.
"We've got a system that manages itself and works very well," Pedersen said. "There is such a passion for these parks that these groups really take care of them. We don't get a lot of complaints about the dog parks."