Unleashed A blog for animals and the people who love them

The inside scoop on Baltimore dog parks

You say Rover wants to roam, but your postage-stamp backyard isn't cutting it? Clearly, you and your pooch need to take advantage of the nearest friendly neighborhood dog park.

Not that every neighborhood has one, or that they're all created equal. Some technically aren't "dog parks" at all. But people bring their dogs there anyway.

The classic dog park is a fenced-in area where dogs and their people are welcome, but leashes are strictly verboten. Some are urban oases, some are within larger parks, and some are even on the beach, where sticks tossed into the water don't stand a chance.

"You know, a rowhouse with no backyard really doesn't give them much room to run around," says Peter Selde, who was with his year-old yellow Lab, Riley, at the Locust Point Dog Park on a recent hot morning. "We love to get her out with other dogs."

And then there are the de facto dog parks — expanses of trees and grass nominally reserved for people but nonetheless welcoming to the well-behaved (and leashed) dog. There, dogs may not be able to run as freely, but they don't seem to mind.

We sampled six parks in the Baltimore area — four designed for dogs, one shared by dogs and humans alike, one not yet open but already fancied by area canines — and asked the dogs what they thought. In some cases, we asked the owners, too. Happily, there were few complaints.

Canton Dog Park

With its two fenced-in areas, Canton Dog Park celebrates that every dog is different: One is for large dogs, the other for smaller or older dogs. That's the reason Amy Richards brings her 6-year-old Boston terrier, Max, from Federal Hill to Canton.

"Max is shy, especially around bigger dogs, so it's nice that I don't have to worry about that here," Richards says. "He can just run around and do his own thing."

But even for more outgoing dogs, the separated areas offer owners peace of mind. "My wife and I like this park because our dog gets excited easily," says Scott Kelly of Canton, who comes with a 2-year-old chocolate Lab named Jake. "He loves playing with other dogs, but at this park we can make sure it's with pups his own size."

Park amenities include a drop-off area, where patrons can donate plastic bags for owners to clean up after their dogs, and hand-sanitizer stations. Note that the park is made of sand rather than grass, which can get messy if you drive and don't appreciate sand in your car.

3221 Toone St. Open daily from dawn to dusk. Membership is $10-$20 per year. Call 410-342-9000 or go to cantondogpark.org.

Downs Park Dog Beach

As a treat for dog and owner, check out this bayside stop in Pasadena. Secluded from the rest of Downs Park, it's accessible by a staircase leading down to the water. There's little shade but plenty of room for dogs to run in the sand, wade at the water's edge or even swim about.

Getting to the park, at the eastern end of Mountain Road, can be a drive, but regulars say it's worth it.

"There are not many places like this anymore," says Dana Perkins, who brings her two mixed cocker spaniels from Bowie each week. "Smokey and Trei love it here — I always get tired before they do!"

While the beach is relatively quiet during the week, Saturdays and Sundays can get crowded. Mike Smith, whose family owns a 7-month-old Newfoundland-Lab mix named Penny, says that shouldn't discourage newcomers.

"We're usually here every weekend," says the Pasadena resident. "All of the dogs are well-behaved, and everyone gets along."

8311 John Downs Loop. Open 7 a.m. to dusk daily except Tuesdays. Entry is $5-$6 per vehicle, free for the military. Call 410-222-6230 or go to aacounty.org.

Howards Park Dog Park

Baltimore officials expect to open an enclosed off-leash dog park off Centre Street, probably within the next year. The plans calls for enclosing Howards Park with a fence and moving the statue that now stands there, a tribute to Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard, closer to the light-rail stop.

Those plans are fine, but area dog lovers couldn't wait. And so, with the city's blessing, they took things into their own hands last June. They installed a temporary fence and a shed, threw down mulch and added a water bowl.

Thus was born, prematurely but happily, the Howards Park Dog Park.

Citing the old adage that "a tired dog is a good dog," Chelsea Williams says her 6-year-old huskie/German shepherd/basset hound mix, Chance, is a much better dog after a visit to the park.

"I used to take her to Mount Vernon Park, which is a great park, but not built for dogs," says Williams, who heads the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association's dog park committee. "It's a lot easier to get a dog tired when he's running and off a leash."

600 block of N. Howard St. There's no charge to use the park. Go to Facebook.com/midtowndogpark.

Locust Point Dog Park

This enclosed area in Latrobe Park looks like a giant miniature-golf hole: artificial turf, a cement river, a hill, a felled tree acting like a bridge, all ringed with small trees and park benches. There's even a green spigot from which cooling water flows.

The dogs love it.

Take Eddie Murray, a 7-year-old mutt living in Locust Point who brought along his owner, Allison Sapp, for a recent visit. Within seconds of coming through the entrance gate, EM plops down in a water-filled kiddies' pool left behind by a previous visitor and happily chases every other dog within range.

Roland, an 8-month old Rhodesian ridgeback from Federal Hill, generally visits two or three times a week. His owners, Chris Dunlap and his girlfriend, Jessica Galitzin, generally tag along as well — and say they enjoy socializing as much as the dogs do.

"We've made so many friends from this park alone," says Dunlap. "He's definitely our gateway." Adds Galitzin, "I'm outgoing, but Roland's even more outgoing."

Located behind the basketball courts near 1627 E. Fort Ave. There's no charge for using the park, although owners must register their dogs with BARCS and obtain a "fenced-run/off-leash" tag for $20. Go to locustpointdogpark.org.

Paw Point at Robert E. Lee Park

A few years back, visitors to North Baltimore's Lake Roland and Robert E. Lee Park complained that their tranquil getaway was being "hijacked" by dog owners, who insisted on letting their charges run free — a flagrant violation of leash laws.

Amid such hubbub, Paw Point was born — a nearly 2-acre, fenced-in lakeside plot that has quickly becoming the place for fashionable Baltimore canine-istas to hang out.

"This is the most wonderful dog park," says Celine Wulms, who tags along with her 18-month-old Bernese mountain dog, Penny, from their Towson home. There's always socializing going on, plus the chance to dive repeatedly into the water.

"Penny loves to swim, she loves to play with other dogs and she's a wrestler," Wulms says. "We come here almost every day."

Off Lakeside Drive; a boardwalk leads to Paw Point from the Falls Road light rail station. Both Robert E. Lee Park and Paw Point are open daily from sunrise to sunset. $35 membership for Paw Point. Go to pawpoint.org or relpnc.org.

Wyman Park Dell

For dog owners in Baltimore, Wyman Park Dell is the hidden gem of dog parks. Even if it isn't technically a dog park at all.

The dell, next to the Baltimore Museum of Art, encompasses 16 acres of grassy land with large open areas and paved paths. "I like it here because it's not fenced in, but it's secluded from the rest of the city," says Sarah Wendlinger, who owns an 8-month-old pug mix named Polly Pocket. "The dogs have plenty of room to run. Plus, it's extremely shady."

The dell's perimeter is lined with a low, stone wall and benches, most of which are shaded by trees. Plenty of people without dogs pass through the dell, but the area is large enough for everyone to have their own space. Adam Fisher, a Charles Village resident who previously lived in Western Maryland with his golden retriever, Spencer, says that's something he appreciates.

"Space is hard to come by in Baltimore," he says. "I love that at the dell, Spencer and I have enough room to actually play fetch and toss around a Frisbee."

3100 N. Charles St. The park does not close and is lit at night. Free to the public. Go to wymanparkdell.org.


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