Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Makes a Great Dog Park?

Hilda came to the dog park yesterday with a handful of photos she had taken on a visit to Ashley Memorial Dog Park in Auburn, and it started me thinking. What do the really good ones have in common? What can we do to put our own dog park within their ranks?
Big Dog, Little Dog Statue at Ashley Park

I googled "best dog parks" and found quite a few candidates for greatness. Here is a sample:

Pilgrim Bark Park, in Provincetown Massachusetts, is free to all licensed dogs. It is run by the Provincetown Dog Park Association, Inc., which has 4 volunteer Directors. It is entirely funded by donations and grants. Their website has a "merchandise" page on which donors can purchase park pavers with a dog's name, t-shirts, art, and other items, proceeds from which go to the park. Among their corporate sponsors are listed such companies as Petco, Purina, and Eukanuba. The park features sculptures and other works by local artists.
A Bench at Pilgrim Bark Park

Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park, Iowa City, Iowa requires a $35-per-year access fee for local users. It's run by the city Parks & Recreation Department. The park has 12 acres, including a pond and playground for the dogs, and sponsors many doggie recreation events throughout the year. It got a special mention for its bio-degradable poop bags with pipes to underground "poop tanks" where the waste is processed.
Map of Thornberry Off-Leash Park

The Millie Bush Dog Park (named for First Dog, Millie), in West Houston, Texas, is one of 20 dog parks in the Houston area that were created by the Houston Dog Parks Association, a 501c3 (non-profit) staffed entirely by volunteers.  The HDPA looks for land for new dog parks, oversees their construction, promotes them when they open, and serves as liaison and trouble-shooting organization for Houston dog park users. Amenities in the 13-acre park include swimming ponds, showers, and fountains for the dogs, shaded areas with benches, and a walking path.

Millie Bush Dog Park

Jackass Acres K-9 Korral, New River, Arizona is a members-only park run by Anthem Pets, a non-profit corporation whose mission is "to implement a fully rounded animal welfare program." It calls itself "the first ALL GREEN dog park in the USA." It operates a solar water pump and solar lighting. The artwork is created from recycled cars, and the artificial turf is retrieved from football fields.

Dog Playground at K-9 Korral

So what do all these very different dog parks have in common?

First of all, they all have enough money. If they are not part of a city parks department, they have corporate donors or reliable sponsors. Many of them, including the city-run parks charge an access fee to help with expenses.

Every single non-government run park is organized as a formal non-profit (501c3) organization with a federal tax identification number and a board of directors who operate under clear written rules and accounting practices. Their non-profit status allows them to attract corporate sponsors (who CANNOT donate to an entity that does not have that all-important tax i.d.) Small donors can also write off their donations on their tax return, which is not otherwise (legally) possible.

They are pro-active. They have goals, mission statements, and a vision of where they want to go and what they want to do. Because they are well-organized, they are able to mobilize volunteers and attract sponsors. They know where they want to go, and they have a road-map for getting there.

In addition, the people running these dog parks, as well as their donors and volunteers are well-protected from the liabilities that ensue if their organization is either unaware of or does not follow the laws governing charities and non-profits.*

For more information on the rules governing charities, see:

Here are links to some lists of "best dog parks."