10 Steps to Starting a Dog Park

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10 Steps to Starting a Dog Park

Looking for a place for your dog to run and play off-leash? If you don’t already have a dog park in your community, your dog may thank you for helping to get one started.

Dog parks exist thanks to determined dog lovers working together to bring this dedicated play area to the community. If your neighborhood needs a dog park and you want to lead the charge, here’s how to get one started.

Dog parks are a great place for socialization

STEP 1: Get Organized
Seek out other dog lovers who want a dog park in the community too. When you find at least five committed people, you are ready to host your first meeting and begin discussions.

STEP 2: Develop a budget and funding strategies
The good news, you don’t have to start from scratch. Contact other groups around the country that have opened dog parks in their communities. They should be able to provide you with a general budget so you can make some financial projections. You will need funding for:
• An acre of land (unless you can get it donated)
• A nearby parking lot
• A fence with double-gated entry/exit
• Water fountains for people and pets
• Benches for seating
• Trees for shaded areas
• Handicapped accessibility
• Trash cans
• Poop bags and dispensers

Because most city budgets are tight, dog parks are often funded through private funding. In order to raise funds, some groups form their own 501(c)3 so they can elect a board, craft a mission, and create a fundraising strategy. If you are not ready to start your own nonprofit, some cities offer community groups a nonprofit umbrella structure to work under. See if your city has one, as it could expedite your planning and fundraising efforts.

You’ve got committed dog lovers on board, created a budget, and developed a fundraising strategy, now it’s time to start talking to your city officials and scouting for potential locations for your dog park.

STEP 3: Talk to the city officials
Before you go public, identify one or more city officials that you think will support the idea of a dog park. Having the early support of someone in the city government can help give your idea credibility in the media and provide contacts and strategies to advance your effort.

Second, contact the Department of Parks and Recreation. They will often oversee the maintenance of a dog park in a community, especially if the dog park is on city land. Be prepared to provide the Department of Parks and Recreation with a proposal that includes information on the successes of other dog parks in the country and reasons a dog park would be great for your community. Here are a few good points to make.

A dog park would:
• Provide a safe place for people to take their dogs to exercise and play, thus reducing aggression and barking in neighborhoods;
• Provide social interaction for pets – and their people, creating pets that are more social able neighbors;
• Promote responsible pet ownership in the community, creating an awareness of local leash laws and ordinances.

STEP 4: Finding the right spot for SpotFinding a location for your dog park is the biggest hurdle you will have to jump. Ask the Department of Parks and Recreation if the city has any available land you can use. Sometimes, there are underused areas or small parcels of land just the right size for a one acre dog park. Provide them with a proposed drawing of the dog park to help them visualize the concept.

If the Department of Parks and Recreation comes up dry, then you will have to begin scouting for a parcel of land to use. Check with major real estate developers. Because they are always scouting for land for potential development, they may be able to suggest an available parcel or better yet, donate a piece of property for you to use.

Once you have talked to city officials, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and determined some land options, you are ready to announce your plan and start fundraising.

STEP 5: Announce your plan
It’s time to issue a press release to the media so they can let the community know about your project. Choose a passionate person within your committee to speak to the press. You should arrange to do the interview on one of the potential properties and bring a dog along. Who better to sell the idea of a dog park than a canine friend?

STEP 6: Start raising money
Let people know in your press releases how much you are trying to raise for the dog park and ask for donations. But this will only get you part of the way. Most of your fundraising will involve planning special events, such as raffles, dinners, even a dog walk. Getting more dog owners involved in the process practically guarantees your success.

Once you announce your plan and start actively fundraising for your dog park, be prepared for the opposition while conducting site improvements to the property.

STEP 7: Prepare for the opposition
While dog parks met with some opposition early in their development around the country, their successes now put most of those nay-sayers to rest. Most often people complain about the use of taxpayer dollars for such projects, but dog owners are tax payers, aren’t they? If you have to sell your idea to the community, the good news is that you can deliver some hard corp facts. Just call other cities, like Seattle, Minneapolis, and Dallas, to get information on how their dog parks have positively impacted the community.

STEP 8: Begin site improvements
Once the money is raised and the site approved, you will need to work with city officials to begin site improvements to the land. You will need to have the land properly graded, water fountains installed for people and pets, a fence installed with a double-gated entry/exit, a nearby parking lot and path between the parking lot and park installed, and everything needs to he handicapped accessible. If the city can’t help you with these details, ask a local architect to volunteer their services to create a site plan. Once site improvements are complete and the city approves, you can install the benches, trees, trash cans, and poop bag dispensers.

You are almost done and it must feel really good to be at the final stages of this project. It’s time to establish park rules and arrange for the area to be regularly maintained.

For safety’s sake, post rules.

STEP 9: Establish dog park rules
While the dog park is in the final stages of construction, your committee needs to meet again and establish the rules and develop the signs that will be placed at the park. Most dog parks put up a sign that says pet owners are entering at their own risk as well as a list of rules that dogs and their owners must abide by. These may include:
• Dog owners are responsible for picking up and disposing their pet’s waste
• Dogs should be social able and easy-going; aggressive dogs should not be brought into the play area
• All dogs must be current on their rabies vaccinations
• All dogs must be licensed with the city

STEP 10: Final arrangements
When your dog park opens, notify the press and have a celebration with all the people who helped make it happen. Be sure to bring your dogs so the media can photograph them having fun in their new play space.

But before you rest too quickly on your laurels, be sure there is a plan in place to take care of the park indefinitely. Trash cans don’t empty themselves and fences and benches may need repair. This may involve some regular fundraising throughout the year by your group or the city may offer to take care of this regular maintenance for you. Either way, make sure these final details are in place to ensure the park is taken care of.

Congratulations, you’ve done it! And your dog is wagging his tail in delight.

Need more ideas. Here are some links to dog parks around the U.S.

The Houston Dog Park Association
Detroit Dog Parks
The Dog Park Association of Greater LaFayette
Montgomery Dog Parks, Maryland

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Cathy Rosenthal (aka The Pet Pundit), CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 35 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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