Animal lovers to solidify push for fenced dog park; Group to meet tonight; wants leash rule lifted in planned exercise area


Area dogs may get a park of their own if a group of citizens, with help from the Department of Recreation and Parks, accomplishes its goal of establishing Howard County's first dog park.

John Priest, a dog owner and former member of the Kings Contrivance Village Board, invited a core group of interested dog owners in May to discuss a dog park. They want a fenced area where dogs could exercise off the leash, roam freely and socialize with other canines.

Today, the group will meet again to organize support and to gather ideas about what the park should include. The meeting will be at 7: 30 p.m. at Recreation and Parks headquarters, 7120 Oakland Mills Road, Columbia.

Ann Selnick has never been to a dog park, but as the owner of three of them and treasurer of Animal Advocates of Howard County, an animal protection group, she plans to attend the meeting to learn more.

"I understand they are successful elsewhere," Selnick said, adding that a dog park would give people with busy schedules a place to give their pets exercise after work.

She enjoys being with people at Centennial Park, especially children, while she walks one of her dogs.

At a County Council public hearing scheduled Oct. 18, the group will propose amending the county leash law for dog parks so that leashes would not be required at them, Priest said. At some point, the Recreation and Parks Department will make recommendations.

"We're interested in helping them do this," said John Byrd, chief of the Bureau of Parks and Program Services. "We plan to start with one and see how that goes."

"I think it would be very, very beneficial," said Martha Gagnon, president and founder of Animal Advocates. "It would be good to let [the dogs] run free, get them socialized with other dogs and practice their training without a leash."

As a member of the Animal Matters Hearing Board, Gagnon has seen conflicts arise when people let their dogs run free in public parks.

Priest noted similar benefits of having a dog park and sees it as an opportunity to educate dog owners, who would be able to gather in one place.

The park likely would be on county property, said Byrd, and would require a fence and probably a garbage can, a water source and picnic benches.

Byrd estimated start-up costs of $5,000 to $10,000, but a source of funding is unclear. The group expects at least part of the money to come from the county's general fund, although specific funding discussions have remained within Recreation and Parks. Animal Advocates may seek financial assistance from residents and businesses, particularly veterinarians, pet stores and other pet-oriented companies.

Users would be expected to police themselves and contribute to the maintenance of the park, Byrd said. Each owner would be required to clean up after their pets.

Byrd added that the department plans to talk with whatever community in which the dog park is proposed and would proceed "only if there is general acceptance."

Gagnon thinks a dog park would get a lot of use.

"There are lots of dog lovers in this county," she said. "We just love our pets."

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