Happy dogs cannot hide their joy: toothy grins, wagging tails, butt wiggles, roll-arounds and the zoomies. The joy is contagious, they want to share it with more dogs, and more people.
I live in Cheltenham Township, where big backyards are rare, and dogs outnumber kids. There are sidewalks, but a doggie sidewalk stroll allows for only limited expression of canine joy. There are hazards on the sidewalks as well, from the distraction of our phones, to EMTs barreling by with sirens screaming, taunting cats, bolting kids, loud cars, dictatorial no-pooping, no-peeing little lawn signs, and fellow dog walkers, such as Tiny Woman with Huge Puppy, Scary Guy with Scarier Dog, and Elderly Couple with All Those Yappers.
A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine found that, “Between 2001 and 2020, an estimated 422,659 adults presented to U.S. emergency departments with injuries related to leash-dependent dog walking.” From tripping injuries such as broken bones to being struck by vehicles, dog walkers navigate perils on our sidewalks. Meanwhile, the canines are equally in peril, and way too often there is no interaction with other dogs or other people.
We pride ourselves on being a social species. Canines may have us beat on that score. They want the interaction—no, they need the interaction. Just like us, they do not do well in solitary confinement. The answer is to supplement sidewalks with safe dog parks, where canines can….well, be canines! They can run around. They can meet each other. If both are willing, they can play the only game worth playing: I chase you. You chase me. We wrestle. We do it again.
There is already a dog park in Cheltenham Township, in Curtis Park, but it is plagued by hazards: flooding, constant mud. poor maintenance, unsanitary conditions, inattentive humans, aggressive dogs and a frightening history of injured, and even fatally injured, dogs.
It is shunned, with good reason. Most of us have heard horror stories about the Curtis Dog Park. Some of us are the ones who experienced those horrors and tell those stories.
A few years ago, during the height of the pandemic, strangers who met while walking their dogs in another township park developed an informal, daily, off-leash romping area. It lasted for years, but has been destroyed by dog phobics and absurdly strict imposition of the leash ordinance. No human or canine was ever injured, but the township decided their death trap Curtis Dog Park was the only place where dogs could express joy. Sadly, because it was such a blessing for all involved during a difficult time, the little dog park that sprang up in High School Park is no longer welcome there.
Recently, four-decade-long Cheltenham resident Gail Greenberg put together a proposal for a new dog park that would bring new life to an abandoned, derelict township park which used to host Little League Baseball. Her proposal was based on her own experiences at a wonderful facility in her winter home, New Orleans, the City Bark. The new Cheltenham dog park would offer grass, a walking path for humans to stroll while the dogs play, restrooms and a dog washing station. There would be lots of seating, water sources with kiddie pools, lighting, emergency phones, and security cameras.
The new Cheltenham dog park would require a membership fee of $60 per year, all members would submit proof of up-to-date canine vaccinations, and that each dog is spayed or neutered. Members would get an electronic key card to open the gate and access the park. And, yes, there would be a system in place to report aggressive dogs or irresponsible owners (Dogs poop. They have people to clean that up.)
It’s a really terrific idea. The proposal has been sent to the Facilities Committee, but so far there has been no response. Gail is planning to contact all the township commissioners, but expresses doubt that they will be responsive. And yet Cheltenham prides itself on being an inclusive, welcoming community. Their website makes it sound like Woke City, for Heaven’s sake! A safe, clean dog park is as much of a benefit for humans, as it is for canines.
We are both social species, after all. We all want and need connection, community, and joy.
The informal dog park at High School Park included some dog-free members. Some came to “borrow” a dog for the evening, some for the exercise, all for the connection, the sense of community.
The humans walked around in a big circle a few times. The canines bounded and ran and wrestled and loved every moment. The joy was shared. A new dog park would be a great way for Cheltenham Township to spread that joy.