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For Canines (and People, Too)

Grown-ups, kids and their four-legged companions gather at Rose Park in Georgetown, an unofficial dog park that has become a social lifeline to legions of pet owners.
Grown-ups, kids and their four-legged companions gather at Rose Park in Georgetown, an unofficial dog park that has become a social lifeline to legions of pet owners. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

"These parks seem to be a trend all over the country," said Anita Pesses of the Prince George's Department of Parks and Recreation, especially in more urban, rapidly developing areas, where housing is close together and many people living in condominiums and apartments have no place for their dogs to play outdoors.

Cathy Salgado, director of parks and recreation for the town of Vienna, attributes the rise in popularity of dog parks in part to heightened awareness about pet care.

"People are expected to do all kinds of things for their dogs these days," she said. "It's blossomed into a whole industry now, with pet spas, grooming places, doggie day care, specialty care places. When I was growing up, my mother would kick the dog out the back door and say, 'Go do your business.' "

Salgado said Vienna has one of the best dog parks around -- set in the woods, with shaded areas and benches for the pet owners and water spouts and a wading pool for the dogs.

The one urban jurisdiction conspicuously behind is the District, but that's about to change, according to Clark Ray, the city's parks director. Ray said the District is in the process of opening some dog parks, an action approved by the D.C. Council in 2005.

He said authorities realize there are already de facto dog parks in the city. "We're going to try to make the de facto parks official," Ray said. "We've set up a task force to see where we can open these parks. We're not going to be at the end of the line for very much longer."

Most dog parks in the region are established, funded and cared for by dog owners, who form groups such as RestonDogs, for example, which sponsored the dog park at Baron Cameron Park in Fairfax.

Judy Pedersen of the Fairfax County Park Authority said the sponsoring groups raise funds to build the parks, write matching grants if needed and then make sure rules are enforced, including that owners pick up their dogs' poop.

"We've got a system that manages itself and works very well," Pedersen said. "There is such a passion for these parks that these groups really take care of them. We don't get a lot of complaints about the dog parks."

The dog owners seem to do a pretty good job of taking care of one another, too.

Sherrard Foster's dog park friends recently helped her arrange her dad's funeral reception. And because her MS means she has difficulty walking, someone always helps her get Abby into the car before she goes home.

When she feels low about the demise of her long marriage, she also turns to the friends she has made at Fort Ethan Allen park.

"Someone's always there with a sympathetic ear," she said. "They know what I've been through. These are all my best friends."


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