Dogs of all sizes gather daily around Eric Barlipp, sniffing and watching him as he screws on a drain lid or makes sure a water fountain is running properly.

Baltimore's first dog park coordinator, Barlipp spends his days making sure the city's canines have places to run and play, unhampered by leashes.

The job began three years ago, when the city assigned him to help develop a dog park in Patterson Park to join two others, one created by residents in Canton and another in Locust Point. Now he's working to create more, including one for Mount Vernon.

"Dog parks are very important," Barlipp said. Dogs are "social creatures, pack animals that have to be socialized. They need interaction with their owner and with their own species."

Dog parks are important for dog owners as well as dogs, said Barlipp, who points out they can help build a sense of community, attract people to the area and help owners make friends while their dogs do the same.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake supports the parks as part of making the city a better place for residents.

"I am committed to ensuring that Baltimore maintains its reputation for being a great city for pet owners, where pets are considered cherished members of our families," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "Dog parks provide safe and friendly places for our four-legged family members to play in peace."

To Barlipp, a 31-year old Baltimore native, this is a dog-loving city. He saw the need for dog parks after adopting a dog himself.

"There [was] no place to take them off the leash," he said.

Kim Smeltzer, 26, walks over to the Patterson Dog Park in Southeast Baltimore almost every day with her black Lab, Riley.

"She likes to go say hi to other dogs," Smeltzer said. "People are always complaining about dogs being off-leash, but she's a big dog; she needs to run around."

Dog parks are in demand outside the city as well, with each of the surrounding counties having at least one and some planning to build more. Baltimore County has four, Howard has two and Carroll has one. Anne Arundel has two areas in parks that allow dogs off-leash. Harford County has a dog park in Bel Air and is building another in Abingdon; and the city of Aberdeen was offered land last month to build another.

In Baltimore, many residents use parts of local parks as de facto dog parks, Barlipp said, but dogs running free can intimidate other visitors.

Some city employees even hesitate to enter the dog parks, so Barlipp tries to put them at ease by playing with the dogs and acting "goofy," so the dogs can see he and the workers aren't a threat.

"Sometimes I have to get on my knees and break the ice," Barlipp said. "It's important to let them come up and sniff you so they don't feel threatened."

Barlipp splits his time about 50-50 between dog parks and his other responsibilities as the city's utilities coordinator, working with the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to manage accounts.

He recently got a 67 percent pay increase when starting his third year as dog park coordinator, and receives $50,000 a year for his two jobs. Besides maintaining the city's existing dog parks, Barlipp scouts locations for new ones and helps with designs.

He oversaw Patterson Dog Park, the city's busiest, from its inception, when it was a tennis court. Now Barlipp is working on a new one in Howards Park in Mount Vernon, off North Howard Street and Druid Hill Avenue.

Patterson Dog Park, which cost the city about $200,000 to build, offers plastic kiddie pools so dogs can splash around or roll in the water, built-in hills and rocks, dog-sized fountains and shady areas for hot days.

On a recent morning, dogs ran around in packs, taking turns chasing one another as their owners looked on.