If your household is anything like mine, then your precious pooch is, without question, a part of the family. Naturally, my mom treats the four of us human kids like gold — but our half cocker, half poodle Riley still outranks us: Not only is he fed first, but we’ve watched my mom wrap him up in blankets when he is “under the weather.”
We’re certainly not the only ones to cater to our canine, so it’s no wonder that dog parks — fenced-in public spaces specifically built for dogs to frolic leash-free — are the fastest growing type of public park in the country. A 2010 study found that there were 569 dog parks in 100 U.S. cities, a 34 percent increase in just five years. And, just like in the rest of the country, puppy playgrounds are now popping up all over the Valley, too.
These areas offer a safe place for dogs to run unencumbered by a leash, something they usually can’t do in a public park. With their owners away at work or school, many dogs who are left alone all day “become bored, lonely, and overweight,” notes the ASPCA on their Web site. Romping in a dog park enables them to burn off some pent-up energy; many parks have agility courses with hoops to leap through and tunnels to crawl into.
These areas also foster a social atmosphere for both the pups and their owners; it’s common to hear tales of pooch play dates and even the formation of doggie BFFs. (Who can forget that scene in the movie 101 Dalmatians when the dogs and their humans meet in a park and fall in love?) Cathi Tice, who conceptualized and maintains the Park for Paws in Catskill, says it really brings the community together. “Every year the Catskill Garden Club and the local Brownie troop come and plant flowers. It’s really cute: The garden club is 80-year-olds and the Girls Scouts are five- and six-year-olds, and they’re all planting together.”
But park maintenance isn’t all fun and games. Sometimes dog fights erupt. And parks can get pretty stinky when owners don’t clean up after their pets. In order to avoid these problems, many sites have a rather long list of rules. Nearly all require dog owners to pick up waste; some charge membership fees or are open only to town residents to avoid overcrowding. A few prohibit children, as well as dogs that have not been spayed or neutered (they tend to be more aggressive). David Rocco, chair of the Yorktown Community Dog Park, says the only surefire way to avoid tiffs, accidents, or messes is for the owners to pay close attention to their pets. “It’s all on you. If your dog’s in heat and you bring it down there, then you’re an idiot,” he jokes.
Most parks — like the Roeliff Jansen Park Dog Run in Hillsdale — have designated areas for smaller dogs (usually 30 pounds or lighter). Rocco says Yorktown’s park doesn’t enforce this rule too strictly, and the little ones tend to horse around with bigger fellas. “The small dogs go in with the big ones, but they’re tough little guys. They’re the ones that make most of the noise.” Speaking of noise, some people complain that the parks cause a huge racket — so some, like Sycamore Bark Park in Mahopac, require excessive barkers to leave.
Getting a dog park up and running can turn out to be more challenging than you might think. Plans for the Yorktown park were set in motion in 2004, but the grand opening didn’t take place until this past April. “How could this be such a difficult thing?” says Rocco. “A dog park. If we could get the Walkway open, we should be able to get a dog park open, no problem.” But opposition can come on many fronts. Taxpayers don’t want their money funding it. Environmentalists worry about the effect on local ecosystems. (“In Yorktown, they said something about disturbing the box turtles, salamanders, and all this stuff in a nearby pond,” Rocco recalls.) Local meetings turn into battlefields with proponents and naysayers vehemently debating. The town supervisor doesn’t like dogs and halts the project.
But once it does get off the ground, a dog park can be a boon to pups and people alike. “I received a letter from a paralyzed woman in a wheelchair,” says Rocco. “Since our area is flat, she was able to bring her dog to the park by herself and let it run free.”
Looking to take Fido out? Here’s a list of some Valley dog parks:
Park for Paws Catskill
This park includes a small picnic area for owners. A Catskill village ordinance requires that all dogs be leashed, even in the park.
Bunker Hill Dog Park Athens
The 1.5-acre space has several benches and picnic tables for humans to relax while pups play. The mock fire hydrant is a popular attraction.
Catamount Dog Park Mount Tremper
Located at the Emerson Resort and Spa, this park is for guests only and even includes doggy showers.
Dog Run at Roeliff Jansen Park Hillsdale
An agility program is occasionally offered at this puppy playground.
Beacon Dog Park Beacon
For members only (yearly fees range from $45-$60), this one-acre site in Memorial Park has separate areas for big and small pooches. Special events include a holiday toy trade, pet CPR clinics, and the April Beacon Barks Parade.
Friendly Paws Dog Park at Doug Phillips Park Fishkill
Residents pay a yearly $25 fee ($50 for nonresidents) for use. Doggy drinking water and benches are provided.
Doherty Park Dog Park Hopewell Junction
No puppies under six months are permitted; the park has separate areas for large and small dogs.
See Spot Run Dog Park Poughkeepsie
Part of Overlook Park, this dog run charges $25 and $50, to residents and nonresidents respectively, for use. Pit bulls and kids under six are not allowed.
Sycamore Bark Park Mahopac
This half-acre site, which has water fountains for dogs and humans and a nonworking fire hydrant, transitioned to members-only in 2010. The Woofstock festival is held each June, and new this year is the Top Dog of Carmel crowning.
Cornwall Bark Park Cornwall
This play area took seven years to complete. A shaded pavilion nearby provides an escape from the sun.
Kennedy Dells County Park Dog Run New City
This 80-square-foot space doesn’t segregate — little guys and big dogs all play together.
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