With the record-breaking harsh winter finally gone, Toledoans are flocking to area parks to walk, run, bike, and just be outside in the long-awaited spring sunshine.
Perhaps even more eager are the four-legged companions they bring with them. Dogs of all sizes and colors leap out of cars and hurry to the trails with their tails wagging excitedly. Aside from their gleeful attitudes, the canines have one thing in common — leashes.
“You see a lot of dogs everywhere, but there’s nowhere to just let them run and play together,” said city resident and dog owner Mindy Gray. She was walking her 8-month-old boxer Cooper on April 21 in Wildwood Preserve Metropark, a favorite place for many to walk their pets because of the park’s extensive trails.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for photos from the dog park in Bowling Green
Resident Marsha Maria was walking her 4-year-old West Highland terrier, Sophia, at Wildwood. She said walks with people are good, but are not a substitute for off-leash play with other dogs.
“It’s just not the same,” she said. “Dogs are pack animals and they need that socialization with other dogs. Humans aren’t like other dogs.”
Despite more than 55,000 dogs being licensed in Lucas County so far in 2014, a years-long effort to get an off-leash dog park in Toledo’s park system has had limited success. In December, Toledo Unleashed, a local nonprofit group dedicated to the cause since 2009, signed a five-year lease with the city for 4.29 acres at Woodsdale Park off the Anthony Wayne Trail. The property is the site of the former South Toledo YMCA.
“The only thing we need now is funding, and we are desperate for funding,” the group’s president, Tina Yoppolo, said.
Of the $75,000 goal, the group has raised a little more than $3,000. Ms. Yoppolo said that while there is plenty of public support for the park, raising funds to build it has been difficult.
“I get emails nearly every day about [the dog park],” Ms. Yoppolo said. People are donating to the cause, “But we get small amounts of funding at a time. They send us $25 or $10. We need people to come through with a few thousand dollars.”
About $40,000 will get the dog park open with just the most basic, necessary amenities like fencing and dog-waste disposal stations, Ms. Yoppolo said. The added cost comes in with other conveniences.
“We want to put in the nicest park possible with water, electricity, drinking fountains, benches, the whole nine yards,” she said.
Toledo Pet Farm, a specialized pet business off Airport Highway, opened a quarter-acre dog park in March, 2013, with agility equipment that dog owners can pay an hourly fee to use. But the facility is not a part of the Toledo-area parks system.
“It’s an important part of any city, especially a park system, to have a dog park,” Dennis Garvin, commissioner of Toledo’s Division of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, said. “It’s a quality of life issue. This is important to people and families, and it’s one more thing a family can do with their four-legged family members.”
Toledo is the largest city in Ohio without an off-leash dog park, which many dog owners find perplexing given the economic boom pets bring to most economies. Last year Americans spent $55.7 billion on pet care, according to a March, 2014 report by the American Pet Products Association. Included in that critter census were 83.3 million dogs.
Dog owners say Toledo is behind the times in getting a dog park.
“We need one badly,” Ms. Maria said. “We have all these beautiful parks and I really don’t understand why Toledo doesn’t have at least one. For a city this size, there should be several.”
Mr. Garvin said the delay in getting a dog park in the city was the result of a struggle to find property. The city did not want to take property from already dedicated park facilities to convert to a new use.
“Finding the right place was critical,” he said. “Once the YMCA moved on, now we have green space that won’t take away from existing amenities.”
Metroparks of the Toledo Area is also seeking to build a dog park as part of the new 28-acre Middlegrounds Metropark planned for a stretch of land about a half-mile south from the Anthony Wayne Bridge to a Norfolk Southern rail yard.
“Pet owners in general are one of the most frequent user groups in our park system,” Metroparks Deputy Director Dave Zenk said. “An off-leash pet area is something that has cropped up over the last few years in surveys we’ve done of what improvements and amenities people would like to see in our parks.”
While the dog park will require the approval of a separate special-use permit from the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission, Mr. Zenk said he is hopeful the dog park can be built along with the rest of Middlegrounds Metropark in time for the planned 2015 opening.
Ms. Yoppolo said dog parks help create safer communities by allowing dogs to socialize with other dogs and people, making them less likely to cause trouble in public areas. The parks also encourage compliance with leash laws by providing a legal alternative for canines to romp freely.
In Toledo, individuals caught with their pets not on a leash can face fines of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $250 and possible jail time for subsequent offenses.
Smaller communities have already built dog parks. For example, Ottawa County’s Danbury Township has the Bark Until Dark dog park near Marblehead and Port Clinton, and Wood County has an off-leash park next to its county dog shelter in Bowling Green.
“It’s a nice thing to have,” Andrew Snyder, chief dog warden in Wood County, said. “It’s a nice alternative for them to be able to run loose and burn some energy safely. Walks are great, but sometimes you want something different.”
Cincinnati, a city of only about 10,000 more people than Toledo, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has three dog parks in its system and is looking to build two more. The first was built in 1997 with grant funding and was so successful, the city expanded it and then built others.
“They get used year-round, every day of the week, more than a lot of other areas of the parks,” said Steven Schuckman, the superintendent of planning, design, and facilities for Cincinnati Parks. “It’s a tremendous way for dogs and people to socialize and they love it.”
Mr. Schuckman said the city now considers dog parks as a necessity for the community, whether they are operated by the local government or by outside groups through property leases.
“It’s a need, and it’s something the communities want, that people look for,” he said. “We have gone from trying it out to assuming it is a basic need of parks just as playgrounds and walkways are.”
Some parks, like Cincinnati’s, are accessible to everyone at no charge with park rules posted. The proposed Middlegrounds dog park would be the same.
Other parks, like Wood County’s, are locked. Gaining access requires annual registration and membership fees as a method of ensuring dogs in the park are vaccinated and licensed, and to generate some income for park maintenance. Toledo Unleashed plans to do the same with the Woodsdale Park property, though the fee has not been set.
“Our goal is to keep the membership under $50 a year,” Ms. Yoppolo said.
Toledo Unleashed has formed a new committee to work on fund-raising ideas such as an event where local celebrities wait tables at a local restaurant and donate their tips to the cause.
“If we had the money by June 1, I would be tickled to death,” Ms Yoppolo said. “That’s not a lot of time, but all it takes are a few good backers to really get it started.”