Spacious and often elaborate dog parks are the rage of many American cities, and now Pleasanton is about to join in.
With 26,800 dogs in town and after years of pleading by dog aficionados, the City Council has signed off on a $300,000 plan for a second, and much larger, off-leash dog park on a two-acre site at the Lagoon Road/Bernal Avenue staging area of the Marilyn Murphy Kane Trail.
Although it's flatland sandwiched between the Arroyo de la Laguna just south of the Bernal Avenue bridge and the on-ramp to southbound I-680, heavy brush along the arroyo and the Pleasanton Ridge to the west make the area a bit more attractive than it sounds. But then dogs just want a place to run unfettered, not a scenic park.
But then scenic parks are the trend of dog parks being built these days, with some sporting beach-front land, fountains and even art exhibits for pet owners to enjoy while their dogs run free.
In Pleasanton, it will be up to landscape architect Bob Tanaka and his Berkeley-based design group to deliver an innovative design for Kane Trail dog park that meets the approval of the council and the hundreds of off-leash advocates who have been pleading with city officials for a larger and more attractive dog park since the first one opened in Muirwood Community Park in 1998.
That narrow back-of-the-park exercise area lies just under the noisy I-680 freeway, with the only amenities consisting of a watering bowl and a picnic table.
Tanaka's $49,400 contract calls for design work that will include a parking analysis, site survey and presentation of his schematic design at public hearings before the Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council starting in December. Final approval will likely come next February when a construction contract is awarded. The new dog park could open in mid-2015, according to Steve Bocian, assistant city manager.
Hopes for a second dog park came alive in 2000, when Pleasanton acquired free-of-charge 138 of the 515-acre Bernal site that developers bought. Pleasanton has 52 community parks but only one for dogs, and pet owners badgered the council to place a better and larger one on Bernal.
But those hopes were dashed when in a 2006 referendum on the amenities that could go on Bernal, sports and 4-H demonstration fields, a youth center, cultural arts center, wooded trails and even a meandering creek were included, but specifically no dog park.
So fast-forward to last February after another eight years of petitions and emails to city leaders, the current council -- no doubt exasperated with all the dog talk, and with several on the council who own dogs -- gave the green light to the Parks and Recreation Commission and community services director Susan Andrade-Wax to dedicate 1.5 acres of the 12-acre Kane Trail site for dogs. Planners also acknowledged that at least two other dog parks will be needed in the future to serve those living on the east and south sides of the city, but it could take another eight years before those are considered.
To be sure, dog parks are seen as a poor use of parkland by nearly half the population and as good for pets and families by the other half, according to a report by the Association of Pet Trainers.
In a perfect world, dog parks would not have to exist as well-behaved dogs would have the privilege of being off-leash. And, despite laws to the contrary, dogs often can be seen running free in Pleasanton parks under the benevolent eyes of their owners. Good dog parks, it is said, encourage owners to take their dogs there for safety and hygiene reasons.
Perhaps that's what makes dog parks the fastest-growing segment of the urban park population. Today, in the 100 largest cities in the United States, there are over 600 off-leash parks for pooches to putter around and play.
Here are a few:
Bonita Springs, Fla. Spending almost $400,000 for a dog park in Bonita Springs seemed extreme, especially when critics considered other proposed uses for the site, such as an affordable housing community or a social services center.
"Love for pets is commendable," the Bonita Springs News-Press commented in an editorial. "Dedicating so much land and the cost of such features as an irrigation system and special sod, when there could be a better use for the property, deserves much more discussion that could result in a better long-range plan."
Even so, the Bonita Springs City Council voted earlier this year to spend additional money for the park after costs came in about $93,000 over the original $300,000 budget for the 6.5-acre site. Lora Taylor, the city's communications manager, said last week that construction is ready to start.
Fort Walton Beach. Also in Florida, some residents in Fort Walton Beach criticized the dog park proposed for Liza Jackson Park for relying on taxpayer dollars to pay for lighting, landscaping, maintenance and so forth. The new park is in a woodsy corner of the park that planners say can't be used for much else anyway. Also, it's funded with donated money, not tax revenue.
"This effort was a joint one between our chamber and the city of Fort Walton Beach," said Ted Corcoran, president of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. "The land is unusable for normal park amenities, thus perfect for this dog park concept."
Jacksonville. On Florida's eastern shore, Jacksonville's dog park charges $11 per pup to enter, but the price may be worth it. Here's what you get: 42 acres of open space, closed space, agility courses, 10 acres of nature trails, three lighted acres for use until 10 p.m., and Lake Bow Wow, a 2-acre swimming lake with a fountain.
Shreveport, La. In Shreveport, a proposed dog park has become a political issue. Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover is blocking one planned for his city. The Red River Waterway Commission there put up $280,000 to build the dog park along the riverfront. The city council supports it, but the mayor does not. Now, a lawsuit has been filed by the Shreveport Dog Park Alliance to force the mayor to approve the project. So, at this point, the city is not going to get a dog park for free, and instead will have to spend money defending a lawsuit.
New York City. Tompkins Square, the first of 55 dog parks now scattered across the Big Apple, opened in 1990 after a huge community effort to take it from a square block of urban decay and turn it into a safe place for dogs. In 2008, the park went through a $450,000 renovation that included a state-of-the-art clay surface. The park hosts an annual Halloween dog parade.
Chicago. Mondog Park, the Windy City's first "legal" off-leash dog park, offers a chance for dog owners to walk their pets along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Provincetown, Mass. Although relatively new, Provincetown's dog park consistently makes the cut as a top dog park in America. It's filled with wonderful structures, painted benches and tall sculptures donated by the surrounding artists in the Cape Cod area, making the locale more than just a dog park.
Seattle. In a city where there are more canines than kids, pet owners can find 11 off-leash parks within the city limits, including Magnuson, the only one with access to Lake Washington's freshwater shoreline. At 9 acres, the park also has a special, fenced-in section for small dogs.
Los Angeles. Laurel Canyon's dog park is centrally located high in the hills off Mulholland and home to many of Hollywood's beautiful people and their pups. The park has been described as "a dirt oasis" for dogs, but it doubles as a top, celebrity-sighting destination.
Houston. Remember Millie, President George H. W. Bush's English springer spaniel? Millie died of pneumonia in 1997 at age 12, but Millie's name lives on with the sprawling, 13-acre dog park with three ponds, water fountains and wash-stations established in her honor in Houston.
Even closer to home, there are a number of dog parks that top Pleasanton's single off-leash run at Muirwood Park.
Point Isabel in Richmond is a one-of-a-kind, landscaped, 23-acre off-leash dog park that is one of the largest in the country. It has sweeping views of the Bay Area, and is well known for its dog bath facility, Mudpuppy's. Half a million dogs visit Point Isabel each year.
Nearby cities also have larger dog parks, including Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore, Danville, Castro Valley, Alamo, Fremont, San Leandro, Hayward and Union City.
"Pleasanton has a great park system," said Melanie Sadek, executive director of Valley Humane Society. "It is time to add a great dog park, one that has ground cover that is easy for dogs to run on, shade for the owners, water for the dogs and lots of wide open space for them to run."
"Off-leash parks play a significant role in the health and well-being of our canine residents and their families," she added. "Plus a well-exercised dog is a good dog. Tired dogs are less likely to bark, destroy property or cause problems in general."