Dog Park Tails

The Finger Lakes Region’s abundant parks, waterways and trails provide a myriad of outdoor activities. Biking, hiking and boating aside, an increasingly commonplace leisure sighting abounds: people walking with their dogs.

In 2011, USA Today reported, “there are more households with dogs (43 million) than with kids (38 million).” To support this expanding canine population, the article further noted that dog parks “are the fastest-growing segment of city parks, according to a study by The Trust for Public Land.”

Today, dog parks remain a national trend and a treasured neighborhood amenity. Western New York has several parks (Rochester, Buffalo, Liverpool, Ithaca, Binghamton, Corning, Elmira and Amherst) and many being planned. “We are finding more and more communities interested in providing safe, sustainable and attractive off-leash areas for dogs and owners,” says Tom Robinson of edr Companies, a consulting firm that designed the Willow Grove Dog Zone at Ellison Park in Rochester.

These parks provide a designated public area where dogs can safely play and exercise off their leashes. Canines get to socialize, yet dog parks encourage human relationships, too, establishing camaraderie among pet lovers of all ages. A pleasurable outing to a dog park strengthens bonds between owners and their pets as well.

“The Dog Park at Treman is an amazing place,” says Brian Zapf, a dog owner and park volunteer in Ithaca. “Dogs and people come together in a totally random way that facilitates and even necessitates live interactions that seem to me to be increasingly rare in modern life.”

Play precepts for pups

Dog parks are many sizes – some under an acre, others encompassing several, like the 6-acre Ithaca Dog Park at the Allan H. Treman State Marine Park. Features differ, but, at minimum, there is fencing, waste mitt stations, shaded areas and usually access to running water. Some parks have separate play yards for large and small dogs, agility play equipment, benches and/or splash ponds. Ground cover varies: grass, stone dust, pea gravel.

The Wegmans Good Dog Park at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool is about an acre, and The Dog Park at Happy Tails Daycare and Pet Resort in Corning is about half an acre larger. While the two share relatively compact sizes, they couldn’t be more different. Good Dog packs in tunnels, jumps, bridges and offers a separate small dog area, while Happy Tails goes the no frills route: wide open, fenced-in fun.

Safety rules are essential requiring, at minimum, that dogs are up-to-date on shots, licensed and not aggressive. Enforcement varies. Membership parks require advance registration, which reinforces safety policies and regulates usage. For example, Happy Tails even pre-screens new canine customers to assess their social skills. Other parks are free and open to the public with the expectation that visitors will follow posted rules.

Management practices are also diverse. Fenced off-leash areas in city, county or state parks might be solely supervised by the municipality or through a partnership with a non-profit dog owners group. Parks can also be privately owned or operated entirely by a non-profit organization.

A reasonable timeline to build a dog park is about two years, though that timeframe fluctuates considerably. While the end product remains the same – a safe, off-leash area serving the desires of community dog owners – how to get there requires collaboration, persistence and patience, one paw at a time.

In the works

There are several dog park “tails” unfolding in the Finger Lakes region.

In Canandaigua, dog owners rallied in support of a dog park after a public meeting was held in April 2013 to gauge community interest. The city council stepped forward in June to offer up city land at Baker Park to build a dog park. Volunteers and city staff are currently collaborating on Canandaigua Canine Campus. No open date is scheduled yet.

Geneva resident Irene Canario submitted a dog park idea via the city’s “Civic Innovation Hub” website ( in 2012. She was “surprised and excited” when Geneva recreation staff contacted her. Staff members, Canario and other volunteers began meeting monthly. The group identified a suitable acre of unused city park space and, in February 2013, the city council approved using the land to build the membership to Geneva Bark Park. Canario says there will be separate small and large dog play yards, and the overall design will be “simple, fun and safe.” Slated to open by summer 2014, fundraising is now in progress.

In Auburn, Cayuga County voted “yes” in 2012 to authorize the parks department to collect money to build a 6-1/2-acre dog park in Emerson Park. The monkey wrench? The county isn’t financing the project. CNY Dog Owners Group organizer Marla Connelly says the park will cost about $88,000 (a parking lot and fencing are the big ticket items), and the volunteer effort to raise the necessary monies has been “slow going.” The group entered PetSafe’s 2013 “Bark for Your Park” contest in hopes to win a significant cash prize to build the park.

In 2012, 16-year-old Chelsie Yourch of Farmington approached Highway & Parks Superintendent Ed McLaughlin about building a dog park to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award. It was a project the town was already considering, but McLaughlin says that Yourch “got things in motion.” Yourch helped identify the park location and, now 17, is fundraising for amenities. The parks department will manage the 3-1/2-acre Farmington Town Dog Park, slated to open in spring 2014. It might “take a village to raise a child,” but in this case, it took a child to build a dog park.


Top Dog

When PetSafe, a pet training product manufacturer, built a dog park near its Knoxville headquarters, employees were astonished by its positive community impact. This inspired the company to establish the annual “Bark for Your Park” national dog park giveaway contest in 2011.

This year, both Geneva and Auburn registered for the competition, along with 1,128 other cities. The city with the most votes registered on the PetSafe website ( and Facebook page was awarded a $100,000 grand prize to build a dog park. Four runner-up communities received $25,000 each toward the same goal. Auburn made it all the way to the Top 15 finalists and placed fifth overall. So very close!

by Nancy E. McCarthy

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