Dog days have arrived

Park: A place where canines can run free is unleashed in Howard County.

July 14, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Now dogs can run free in Howard County.

After four years of lobbying by dog lovers, the county Department of Recreation and Parks has created a leash-free area in Worthington Park.

More than 50 frolicking Dalmatians, Great Danes, terriers, greyhounds and other dogs gathered yesterday morning with their owners at the park off New Cut Road to mark the opening with a leash-cutting ceremony.

"This is going to be wonderful," said Rachel Walter, the owner of Roxy the boxer, as they tried out the new park.

Until now, Walter has been walking Roxy an hour or more each day, trying to tire her out. "Three hours of walking doesn't add up to the exercise Roxy'll get with just 15 minutes in the dog park," she said.

But Walter had a concern: "I'm going to get lazy and fat," she said.

Across the park, Great Dane puppies Maynard and Diesel had energy to burn as they loped off after other dogs.

"We used to exercise them at the tennis courts at Rockburn Park," said Jennifer Smith, their owner. "That was the only enclosed space bigger than our own yard."

John Byrd, chief of the Howard County Bureau of Parks, said at the opening ceremony that the park represents a lot of time, effort and hard work. "Sometimes I wondered whether we would ever see this day. Sometimes I felt as if we never would," said Byrd.

Shelly Short, president of the Howard County Dog Owners Group (HoCoDOG), said now dogs of all sizes will get the exercise they need.

Forty HoCoDOG members will serve as park monitors to make sure that dogs and their owners have a safe place to play. HoCoDOG also is raising money to pay for amenities such as a water fountain for the dogs and a small-dog area.

"We really felt an area for small or timid dogs was needed, but it wasn't part of the original plans. Howard County graciously installed the small-dog enclosure and absorbed the upfront fees," Short said.

Located on a little more than 2 1/2 acres of the former New Cut landfill site, north of Route 103 in Ellicott City, the park is surrounded by a 6-foot chain-link fence. No one at the opening seemed concerned about the park's proximity to the former landfill.

It is illegal to have dogs unleashed in Howard County's parks and open spaces, and in public areas such as streets and sidewalks. Many neighborhoods actively discourage, if not ban, unleashed dogs from unfenced front lawns.

"Having your pet get exercise like a dog gets in dog parks will often eliminate negative behaviors such as chewing and too much barking," Short said.

Loretta Ames, one of the original members of the HoCoDOG board of directors, agreed.

"A tired dog is a happy dog," said Ames, who is the owner of two dogs, Tootsie and Oreo Cookie.

Until yesterday, Ames had been traveling to the dog beach at Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County to provide her pets with off-leash exercise. Ames plans to help monitor the park.

"There's nothing more a dog loves to do than run free," Ames said.

Howard dog advocates began pushing for the park in 1995. In 1999, John Priest helped form HoCoDOG to work with the county to plan and develop the idea.

"That all led up to Saturday," said Gary Arthur, the county's director of recreation and parks.

"When Gary [Arthur] first approached me with the idea, I didn't know what it was," said County Executive James N. Robey at yesterday's opening. "But when he explained it to me, the idea made sense."

In 1999, the county passed legislation allowing a dog park on parkland. Then a public hearing was held for the residents of the Worthington neighborhood. "They really did their homework and made a nice presentation," Arthur said of the HoCoDOG volunteers. "The presentation answered the residents' concerns and there were no objections."

To use the park, dog owners must obtain a county dog license as well as purchase a user permit, which costs $30 per year per household from the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. The money will go into a maintenance fund for the park.

Permit applications are available from the Department of Parks and Recreation, 7120 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia; or by calling 410-313-7275. The application also may be downloaded at www.co.ho.md.us/recparks/recparks.html.

Alternatively, a daily fee of $4 is charged for those without a yearly permit. Only dogs with county licenses and up-to-date rabies vaccinations will be allowed. Monitors will be checking dogs to ensure compliance.

HoCoDOG is seeking volunteer monitors. Information about the group and the dog park is available on its Web site at www.hocodog.org.

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