Building a Dog Park: The Buck Fund Dog Park in Emporia, Kansas

In my research about dog parks I found out that Emporia Kansas has a dog park; it is called the Buck Fund Dog Park.  I contacted the people involved in the development of the park for information because I thought it would be a great case study in the process of building a dog park because Emporia is relatively similar in size to Hays (Emporia is approximately 26,000 in size and Hays is approximately 20,000 in size).  One of the co-founders of the park, MiChielle Cooper, who is also the Director of the Buck Animal Welfare Fund, Inc., answered some of my questions and provided some additional information.  Here is our discussion: 

Questions:

Kim:  What is your involvement with the Buck Fund Dog Park?

 MiChielle:  I am one of the FOUR co-founders.  MiChielle Cooper, Executive Director of Buck Animal Welfare Fund, Inc.  Also, Renee’ Flott – Business Owner/The Pet Sitting Pal (and Buck Fund Board Officer), Sara Kelley – Business Owner/Tallgrass Art & Frame Shop (and Buck Fund Board Officer), and Debbie Doudican – Business Owner/Bobby D’s Merchant St. BBQ (and Buck Fund board member).

Kim:  What is the relationship to the Buck Animal Welfare Fund?

MiChielle:  The dog park’s only relationship to the dog park is that the four girls mentioned above formed a group called the R-DOG (Responsible Dog Owner’s Group of Emporia) to work with the City of Emporia in creating interest and getting the project approved and constructed with the City.  The Buck Animal Welfare Fund, Inc. did, however, contribute $5,000 to the project which is the momentum that got the project “teeth” and convinced the City to take a look at our project.

Kim:  How did you get the park started?

MiChielle:  Our dog park was started with a small committed group of girls including myself, the local pet sitting company, and two local business owners.  We began meeting once a week and reviewing research from around the country on how to market and implement a dog park.  Once we got all of our “best case/benchmarked” ideas down on paper we requested a meeting with city officials to start talking about the possibility and locations.  We discussed a “city owned dog park” versus a “privately owned dog park” and came to the conclusion that we would get a dog park up and running quicker if we had the City of Emporia’s blessing and a portion of their already designated park grounds.  The city manager asked for a formal proposal regarding the dog park for the city.  We put together our initial ideas in the proposal and went through about a year of meetings with the city commissioners.  We convinced the city to donate the 2 acres of area in an already existing “under utilized” city park area, and from there did the rest of the fundraising it took to get the basic amenities that you see at the park today (total of about $17,000.00) 

Kim:  How did you convince the city to set aside park land for the dog park?

MiChielle:  We scoured the city for several locations.  Specifically looking at already designated city park areas that we felt (and other citizens felt) were under-utilized park green spaces.  (We knew we did not have the funding for a privately purchased and operated dog park.)  From there we built a case for increasing traffic to the park by allocating the space for dog-specific recreation.  See attached original proposal. (keep in mind this was a rough draft of the original idea — it was tweaked to what we ended up with in reality today)

Kim:  How did you come up with the estimates for the cost of the park?  How did you raise the money for the park?  

MiChielle:  After completing extensive research about other dog parks across the country we looked at all of the common denominators of the most successful high traffic dog parks.  From there we knew the number one necessity was fencing, a water source, and park rules.  From there we started contacting vendors for each and collected 2-3 estimates for fencing, water source, Mutt Mitts (for poo clean up), and signage.  RAISING MONEY:  We all worked from our personal rolodex’s to start.  Also contacted the local newspaper to report that we had raised $7,000 for the project so far and let the public know how much additional funding we needed to get basic park amenities to open the park.  We published a phone number for interested parties to contact us for information or donating to the cause.  We also sold Dog Park T-shirts for a profit of $7 per shirt to raise money.  We also applied for “mini grants” to available funders in our area appealing to their sense of community and park improvements(Emporia Community Foundation, Hills Pet Nutrition Inc, Menu Foods Midwest Corp, Wal-Mart, etc…  )    

Kim:  How is the park maintained?  By the city?  By volunteers?  By a Friends of the park organization?  

MiChielle:  The reason our group chose city park land was simple.  The city labor force ALREADY maintained the park as part of the existing city budget.  So that would not be an additional cost for us.  City Parks/Recreation Dept workers take care of all the mowing/weed eating etc..  at the park.  We have volunteers from R-DOG that periodically “de poop da park” if you know what I mean.  When we go out with our personal dogs, we take industrial pet poop scoop rakes and bags to clean up.  We also have “Mutt Mitt” dispensers on each side of the park for people to take a Poo Bag with signs to encourage cleaning up after your own pets.

Kim:  Does the park get used?

MiChielle:  It has been a wonderful addition to the recreational park offerings here in Emporia and is one of the busiest parks in town (especially during good weather!)  The Buck Fund Dog Park being created in the Dryer Park City Park Area increased traffic in the park from practically ZERO usage to there being almost no room for people to park during the busy times of the year (good weather, right after work, or right before work, and on weekends).  Although the park is being used a good deal even in the snowy weather by some dog owners.

Kim:  Are there rules for use of the park?

MiChielle:  YES!!  (Please click the following to open up the list of rules:  park-rules.doc OR you can access them through the PowerPoint at the end of the article. You can also find the rules and other important information on their brochure:  brochure-dog-park.doc)

Kim:  What are the essential elements that the Buck Fund Dog Park incorporated that you believe ALL dog parks should have?

MiChielle:  At least 1-2 acres of land, fenced with a small dog (under 35 #) and a large dog (over 35#) side.  This helps protect smaller dogs who think they are big dogs from invited a big dog bite 🙂  Another essential element is a DOUBLE – GATED Park entrance.  This is a safety feature to lessen the chance of dogs escaping the park while someone is entering the park.  RULES are essential to educate owners about safety in using the park.  WATER SOURCE – Alot of people come with their own dog bowls and water, but during the busy spring/summer/fall months it is great to have our doggie bowl fountain at the entrance so that people can fill water bowls on-site and enter the park and refill as often as they need to.   PET INFORMATION KIOSK – to post educational materials and fundraising information. One or two picnic tables on each side of the park is a nice amenity as well.

Kim:  Anything that you would like to add?  Any tips on getting a park started?  

MiChielle:  We started with temporary agility equipment, but since it was temporary it only lasted the first year the park was operating.  We are trying to raise some funds now to build more permanent addition agility equipment.  We would also like to add lighting eventually so people can use the park at night as well.  Also looking at developing perimeter asphalt walking trails to promote fitness by walking with your dog at the dog park.  TIPS:  Try to get confirmed pledges of support to at least 1/2 of the funding you will need for the basic amenities before approaching your city commission with a proposal.  Do not accept monetary donations until the method of deposit is determined.  We decided to deposit through our City entity so that the donations could be tax deductible as they support local park systems.  We could have accepted the donations through the 501c3 non profit, but due to our special circumstances and relationship with the city we decided to deposit with the city treasurer.  That was a bonus in collecting donations for them to be tax deductible.  People are a little more willing to donate when they can use it as a deduction on their taxes….  FIND a volunteer grant writer who can prepare a well-thought out and researched piece to prepare mini-grants and a proposal to your city or private funders.  FIND a friendly reporter on your newspaper staff who is dog-friendly and interested in the project enough to follow it with your through development and completion to keep the public informed and interested.

Thank you MiChielle for that great information.  I appreciate your willingness to share information and help Hays get a dog park.  MiChielle has provided additional information–video of the dog park, a list of rules, etc.–to view this information, which I have incorporated into a PowerPoint, click here: The Buck Fund Dog Park PowerPoint

The Anatomy of a Dog Park

There are different models for dog parks in the U.S.: city operated free parks, city operated fee-based parks, and privately owned fee-based parks.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of park.  The type of park that is right for Hays depends upon the local resources and community desires (which is one of the reasons I started this blog-to let the community discuss what their needs and desires are!).  Despite the dog park model that is adopted, there are some basic amenities that ALL dog parks should have.  The purpose of this article is to discuss these basic needs; I am going to use the Hills Bark Park in Gage Park in Topeka as an example. 

I visited the Hill’s Bark Park this summer (yes, alone…my dogs were not too happy with me!  I am a BAD doggy mamma!).  The park is very impressive and well organized so I took a lot of notes and snapped a number of pictures.  The founders of the park, in coordination with the City of Topeka Parks and Recreation, planned a well designed, aesthetically pleasing, functional park.  I would like to use their model to discuss the anatomy of a dog park.

The basic elements that are essential to all dog parks are:

At least a 6 foot tall fence: It is important to have a fence that is tall enough that dogs cannot get in or out of the park without human help.  The most common type of fencing is chain link.  The Hill’s Bark Park has a chain link fence that is approximately 6 foot in height.  The link allows people to look into the park and those who are in the park to look out.

                        fence.jpg

Separate spaces for big dogs and small dogs:  Not all dog parks have this amenity, but the Hill’s Bark Park does.  I have talked to small dog owners who really appreciate this feature because their dogs are intimidated and overrun by larger dogs.

                        little-dog-entrance.jpg

                        big-entrance.jpg 

A separate entrance space:  This feature is essential for the safety of your dog.  It is an enclosed staging ground (see above images) to leash and unleash your dogs.  So, in essence, there are two entrances to a park; the first entrance into the staging ground and a second entrance into the park.  This creates a double barrier to be sure that your dog does not slip out when the gate to the park opens.

A water source:  It is absolutely essential to have a source of water for your dogs, especially on a hot day.  Some parks have a natural source, others have a built-in fountain.

                         water-source.jpg

“Poop” bags and trash cans:  One of the first rules of dog park etiquette is that you clean up after your dog.  Therefore, a dog park needs a number of trash cans.  And as an added amenity, a source of “poop” bags.  In the images below you will see two kinds:  the first is a place for people to deposit their recyclable plastic bags for people to use to clean up, the second is a dispenser of small “poop” collecting bags within the park.  Both are handy.

                                   trash-bags.jpg

                        poop-bags-and-trash-can.jpg

A bulletin board:  These are a must for any dog park.  A bulletin board allows one to post the park rules, any special announcements or park events, and any pertinent information.  It is also a place for the local Humane Society to list fundraisers, events, and post images of their adoptable pets. The one at the Hill’s Bark Park is particularly nice and sturdy.  It is also two sided; with a side in the little dog areas and the other in the big dog area.

                              bulletin-board.jpg 

Shade and a place for the humans to sit:  Shade is essential, especially on a hot summer day, for both human and pooch.  Some parks offer chairs and picnic tables for the people to perch on.  Other parks I have seen used natural items–boulders, trees, etc.–for people to relax on.

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Toys:  Some parks, like the Hill’s Bark Park, have toy boxes filled with balls, Frisbees, and stuffed toys, for visiting canines to play with.  After play, the toys are returned to the toy box for the next pooch.  The “friends” organizations come in occasionally and clean the toys or replace them.  Another trend is for dog parks to install agility courses.  These are particularly fun to run (especially after taking an agility class to begin training) and they give the dog a way to focus their attention if no other dogs are present.

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Finally, and most importantly, a list of rules:  A dog park must have rules of use and conduct and these rules must be posted in several areas.  It is the responsibility of dog park users to “police” the park and ensure that not only are they following the rules, but others are as well.

                        rules.jpg

I encourage you to visit the Hill’s Bark Park if you are ever in Topeka.  Or, visit another dog park and let us know what other innovations they included.  Your input is always welcome here.

Dog Park Resource

One of the best resources for information on building a dog park is a book by Susyn Stecchi called So You Want To Build A Dog Park?  A Comprehensive Guide for Municipalities and Private Entities.  The book is available through CafePress. 

The Benefits of a Dog Park

A dog park in Hays would benefit not only dogs and dog owners, but also the community at large.   Some of the benefits include:

For Dogs

  1. Exercise.   This is especially important when my spouse is gone and I cannot walk my two dogs.  Or when the sidewalks are icy and I am afraid I will fall.  Plus, dogs will exercise more when they are off-leash.
  2. Socialization.  A well socialized dog is a better behaved dog around other dogs and people.  They are less likely to be aggressive, to bark a lot, or to participate in obsessive behaviors like digging. 
  3. Fun.  Let’s face it, it is much more fun to explore a park with new sights, smells, dogs and people than it is to spend time in the back yard.  Again, troubling dog behaviors usually manifest themselves when a dog is bored (digging, barking, etc.).
  4. Safety.  If a dog park is designed correctly and monitored correctly, it provides a safe environment for you and your pet to play and exercise.  You can avoid moving vehicles (even down some of the smaller side streets cars tend to move really quick around town) and salt on the sidewalks (while great for melting ice, it is dangerous for dogs).

  

For People

  1. It is fun to watch dogs interact.
  2. Or better yet, you could exercise with your dog—walk the park with you dog or play ball. 
  3. You get to enjoy the great outdoors.
  4. You get to meet others dog lovers and share ideas regarding training, dog products, and dog friendly activities.
  5. The dog park provides you an opportunity to train your dog in a new, more challenging situation.

  

For The Community

  1. Well socialized dogs are friendlier dogs and this means fewer dog attacks and less annoying behavior. 
  2. Parks designated for dogs keep other parks dog free.
  3. Every dog park should have a bulletin board where the Humane Society can list the pets they have for adoption and promote membership.  Members of the dog park can also use this to post information and announcements for fellow dog park users.
  4. The ability to meet fellow dog lovers and to post information on a dog park bulletin board might ensure that pets found new homes BEFORE they were surrendered to a shelter.  OR, it will help dogs better fit into their homes because exercise and socialization decrease destructive behaviors and owners are less likely to get rid of their family pet.
  5. A dog park would provide a place to hold “dog friendly” events—Bark in the Park, Agility Training, Canine College—in a safe, dog-friendly environment.
  6. An accessible dog park provides disabled and elderly people a place to exercise their companions. 
  7. A dog park might tempt people off of I-70 who are traveling with pets.  I know that when I travel with my dogs, I plan my lunch/dinners breaks and overnights stays around the presence of dog-friendly places–and I am sure that many people traveling I-70 do the same. 
  8. And finally, a dog park promotes responsible pet ownership.  This benefits the dog, the dog owner, AND the whole community!

Dog Parks In Progressive Communities

Dog parks are often found in communities that recognize the benefits of socialization and exercise both for owners and their dogs.  Dogs that are “raised” in dog parks tend to be better-socialized pets, as they come into frequent and regular contact with other people and dogs.  Dogs that are exercised also tend to be less aggressive.  This applies to owners as well!

I moved to Hays, KS from Santa Cruz, CA two years ago.  Upon my arrival here, I realized how much I missed the Santa Cruz dog park and the opportunity to get outdoors with my briard, Ollie.  Until Hays, I had taken my dog to a dog park since he was a pup.  He would run and play with other dogs, while I would speak with dog owners.  It was great fun to see all kinds of dogs- mixed breeds as well as various pure breeds.  Ollie and I made numerous friends.  It was a positive experience for both of us.

A dog park can begin very simply- all you need are dogs, owners, and a meeting place.  Of course, an ideal meeting place would be large, shaded-in-summer, and fenced in.   In Santa Cruz, we would bring water for our dogs and plastic bags to pick up after them.  The Parks Commission supplied garbage cans and emptied them daily.  We also had some benches and a message board.  The message board allowed for postings of lost pets, pets for adoption, upcoming events, etc.

Our dog park hosted annual events, such as a Halloween costume parade.  This became a wonderful family event, with children dressing up and parading their dogs.  My favorite costume was the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, where an australian shepherd paraded in  a sheepskin!  My other briard, Grizzly, wore a sparkly cape that day.  I recall dogs wearing tutus, hats, and clothes.

I now have a 5 month old Berger Picard puppy named “Luna”.  I find that socializing her is much more difficult here in Hays, as there are not many dog-friendly venues.  I am currently looking for individuals with dogs and puppies for her and Ollie to play with.  Finding owners and meeting places has been challenging. 

 I hope that we can add a dog park to our growing list of activities in Hays.  Perhaps dog training classes can be taught there, with puppy classes and agility training.  Perhaps the Humane Society could show pets that are available for adoption.  Perhaps a business would be interested in having a dog-friendly cafe on or near the premises, which would provide fresh water for dogs and coffee for their owners.  

 We can start slowly and build from there.  We hope to hear from any dog lovers out there!!