A couple of years ago, it began as a discussion between a few local citizens and their children about the need for a social venue in the City of Washington Court House. What has transpired since that time is a plan – with the city’s blessing – to build an off-leash dog park at Christman Memorial Park.
“My youngest twin, Jessie, was graduating from Ohio State and she was in the process of moving back to the community,” said Mikki Hunter-Smith, co-chair of the Washington Court House Dog Park Committee. “One of the things she said was, ‘You know, I have my dogs and we don’t have a dog park in Washington Court House. I said, ‘Well I don’t know why we don’t have a dog park in Washington Court House. Then last year, I was introduced to Bruce Willis and he was having the exact same thoughts. We got together and did a lot of research before approaching anyone.”
Willis, a dog park committee co-chair, was also being encouraged by his son, Adam, to get involved with a community-oriented project. “And then there was Daniel Kasberg, who’s a local fireman, whose nephew was asking, ‘Why don’t we get a dog park?’ So then we started to get some momentum.”
Kasberg, along with Jessie Hunter and Caitie Huffman, are also dog park committee members.
Dog parks are being built in many parts of the country, explained Willis. Members of the local dog park committee visited parks in Wilmington, Circleville, Xenia, Columbus, Dayton, etc. to gather ideas in order to formalize their own plan for a park.
“The central idea behind a dog park is to create a facility where citizens can bring their dogs to a fenced-in area to release their dogs to socialize and exercise, under the owners’ supervision,” said Willis. “The dog park is divided into two sections, one area for small dogs and a larger portion for bigger dogs of more than one acre. Yes, there are rules to be followed such as: no aggressive dogs, clean-up your own dog waste in provided bags to be placed in trash cans, and the park hours are sunrise to sunset.”
Hunter-Smith said it’s not just a dog park, it’s a people park. “These are people who get to interact with other members of the community who have some of the same likes, such as dogs,” she said. “It promotes exercise, responsible dog ownership and education of dog ownership. Dogs that go to dog parks seem to be less stressed, cause less damage and are just more relaxed because they get a chance to burn off energy.”
Hunter-Smith has visited many dog parks, including the relatively new ones in Wilmington and Circleville. She has also been to four or five in Columbus, one in Florida and one in Boston.
“They’re all very nice,” she said. “It’s amazing. Dog people will shame you if you don’t do what’s right for the dog park. It just doesn’t happen….I’ve never been to a dirty one.”
This will be a fenced, public park where people and their dogs can play together. This park will offer an off-leash play area where the owners can enjoy a park-like setting and the chance to socialize with other canines and their owners.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), puppies and adult dogs need room to run, and enclosed play areas permit them to do so while preventing them from endangering themselves and others. In addition, dogs who are accustomed to playing with animals and people other than their owners are more likely to be well-socialized and react well toward strangers.
Dog parks prevent off-leash animals from infringing on the rights of other community residents and park users such as joggers, small children, and those who may be fearful of dogs, according to the AKC. Parks also make it easier for a city to enforce its leash laws, as resident dog owners with park access have no reason to allow their canine companions off-leash when outside of the park.
Also according to the AKC, dog parks make for a better community by promoting public health and safety. Well-exercised dogs are better neighbors who are less likely to create a nuisance, bark excessively, and destroy property. Their presence in the park, along with their owners, also may help deter crime.
“We are looking at a minimum of an acre with a possibility for more,” said Hunter-Smith. “Our goal is to break it into a small dog section and a large dog section. When you walk into a typical dog park, it’s a square. One door will take you to the right, one door will take you to the left. The reason we like that is you get your dog in a confined area, you get them under control, and you get them relaxed before you turn them loose. That doesn’t mean that a small dog isn’t allowed in the large dog area. That’s up to the individual small dog owner, but there is a possibility that the small dog could get hurt because larger dogs run into it.”
Currently, the committee hopes to have the dog park operational by Oct. 1. However, that means significant private funds will have to be raised.
To get the dog park up and running, the committee will have to raise a minimum of $25,000. However, in order to construct the best possible park, the total estimated cost is $44,508, according to Willis.
The estimated one-time costs to construct the dog park are:
– Fencing that would cost $18,983
– Concrete for a dog entry vestibule and for a water fountain area estimated at $3,200
– A dual-purpose water fountain for humans and dogs estimated at $3,800
– Shelters to provide shade in each area (materials only, to be built by volunteers) estimated at $13,800
– Durable benches estimated at $3,475
– Picnic tables for shelters (materials only, volunteers to build) estimated at $1,250.
Of no cost will be three used fire hydrants donated by the city, water furnished by the city, and new trees to be planted by the tree committee for future shade.
“We’re hopeful that businesses like Mars Petcare step up and that maybe local veterinarians might have an interest,” said Willis. “I think many, many citizens will be interested. I want to thank the City of Washington Court House for agreeing to handle the funds, pending the passage of legislation.”
Although this project is of no cost to the city, city council recently passed the first reading of an ordinance that will create an account and designate a “dog park fund” to accept funds from private citizens, organizations and businesses for the purpose of funding improvements, maintenance and operation of a dog park. The second reading will occur at Wednesday’s council meeting. It takes the approval of three readings to pass an ordinance.
“This will be quite easy for the city to manage and we are under no liability,” said Washington C.H. City Manager Joe Denen. “Dog parks are increasingly popular, they also tend to attract a spirit of volunteerism and civic involvement. While labeled dog parks, my observation is that this is a people issue. The dog or the care of the dog is the motivation for the person to go enjoy themselves.”
If the ordinance passes, the fundraising process will begin in earnest.
“Until we got the 501C3 set up, we really couldn’t go and solicit,” said Hunter-Smith. “As far as someone handling the funds, we looked at some other options before approaching the city. But the city just made sense and we thank them for doing it. We have received some verbal commitments for donations and we will start drafting letters.”
The dog park has also received much support from social media. The committee’s Facebook page, “People and Paws for Parks – Fayette County” currently has around 930 members.
“The social media presence is very relevant,” said Willis. “It shows that we are receiving support from the community and that’s wonderful. It’s for a lot of people who have dogs who may have small apartments and they have nowhere to exercise those dogs. This is a public thing. If you’re a traveler from out of town, those people are looking for communities where they know there’s a dog park so they can get out and exercise their dog. This is a community project….it’s our project.”
Donations can be made to: City of Washington C.H. Dog Park, addressed to 429 East Court Street, Washington Court House, Ohio, 43160. Funds paid to the city for public use are charitable contributions (IRS Publication 526 page 2).
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica