POSTED ON JUNE 3, 2009:
Canines can now count on the Bark Park Task Force for their own green space.
Dog's Best Friend. All the needs of the park such as clean-up and improvements are 100 percent dependent on private donations.
The latest trend in unbridled consumerism has little to do with self-indulgence. Or does it?
Either way, Old Yeller would be rolling around in his grave if he knew that cousin Tinkerbell was toted around in a cozy pink purse dressed in cashmere frippery. However, he might not be opposed to some outdoor playtime with Spot and Buddy...his new best friends.
"Visit the happiest park in Tulsa that is heavily used by people." Hearing these words, a dog park is probably not the first place to come to mind. According to Herb Beattie, the happiest park in Tulsa happens to be heavily used by people, but it was created for their furry friends. Beattie is the chairman of the Bark Park Task Force, the local committee responsible for opening official dog parks in Tulsa.
Last April, two students from Oklahoma State University's Stillwater campus visited Tulsa's first official off-leash dog park at Newblock Park in West Tulsa. The students, Brett Dougherty and his girlfriend Lorie, moved to Stillwater from Edmond. They had enjoyed Edmond's five-acre dog park and were disappointed that Stillwater lacked such a place. The couple came to Tulsa's first dog park to speak with Beattie and get his advice on getting a dog park in Stillwater. Beattie is the man who, in his own words, "got this whole thing going,"--that is, the local dog park craze.
Surely we saw this one coming. After all, dogs get their own hotels these days, right? And in some major cities you can even find "pets-only" airlines.
Fact: some people pamper their pooches and give them the star treatment more often than themselves.
In Tulsa, businesses cater to dog owners across the city with such services as doggie day camps and schools, grooming salons and spa boutiques, meal delivery services, and even limousine services that drive pets to appointments.
Now, our favorite play pals need a place to call their own, a place where all humans must be on leashes (not an official dog park rule). "Human" parks are not suitable for animals because humans don't follow the rule that dogs must be on leashes.
The original purpose of a dog park is to provide a place for people who don't have a lot of personal space to take their dog for exercise. While dog parks are essential in big cities like New York City or Chicago, Tulsa doesn't quite share the same need for green space. Regardless, they are a hot topic in the local pet world.
The second and possibly more common purpose is that it is a place for dogs to socialize with other dogs, as well as owners.
"It is interesting how dogs bring together people who wouldn't normally talk to each other," said Beattie.
Some experts say that dog parks are an important part of properly training a dog to socialize. Two Tulsa veterinarians agree.
Dr. Andrea Harl from Veterinary Associates, 6925 S. 69th E. Ave., believes that Tulsa has a need for dog parks.
"It's a great idea to get [dogs] used to other environments and other dogs' shapes and sizes," said Harl.
"I'm for dog parks," said Dr. Robin Johnson, D.V.M. of Riverbrook Animal Hospital, 3750 S. Peoria. "It is an excellent outlet for people and their dogs for exercise and socialization. Dogs need exercise and this is a secure and safe place for that."
Johnson is also aware of the possible complications of dog parks and encourages owners to vaccinate their dogs so that they do not pick up any parasites.
Since the opening of Tulsa's first bark park last summer, Johnson said there hasn't been an increase in business. The clinic had only one owner bring his dog in from the dog park with a small bite wound.
"The one thing that got dog parks started [in Tulsa] to begin with was the illegal use of dogs off-leash," said Beattie at a public meeting on May 6 regarding establishing a dog park at Zink Park, 3216 S. Trenton, a place where visitors often nix the leash.
But not everyone at the meeting agreed there was a need to establish the park as an "official" dog park. Concerns included the smell, noise, the occasional irresponsible owner and aggressive dogs.
City Councilor G.T. Bynum, Park and Recreation Department Director Nancy Atwater, Park Board Chairwoman Dale McNamara and Tulsa's Bark Park Task Force members Herb Beattie and Greg Bledsoe were at the meeting to answer questions and quell the concerns of anxious neighbors.
Others didn't put forward questions but rather, donations.
One family who doesn't even own a dog offered the Task Force $5,000 for the potential Zink dog park because, according to one family member, they don't like taking the children to the park and stepping in poop.
Another private donor was willing to give $15,000; and Beattie said that the Tulsa Beautification Foundation offered to match dollar for dollar any contribution to any of the dog parks with a maximum of $15,000.
Despite private funding, though, plans were shot down at the meeting because the majority of neighbors were worried about traffic and parking problems, which were already issues at Zink.
Neighbors suggested they use the money for more human-related activities.
"We don't build dog parks for dogs, we build dog parks for people," responded Atwater.
In the end, Beattie concluded that Tulsa needs more regional dog parks that are not in anyone's neighborhood or close to anyone's home.
Bynum was in agreement stating, "I think we've got a consensus. We don't want to try to fit a square peg in a round hole."
All Dogs Go to Heaven
The first plot of dog-only park space was the Joe Station Bark Park.
A two-acre stretch of land off Charles Page Blvd., Joe Station opened last August thanks to a partnership between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa citizens. The park was named for one of the trolley stops previously located nearby along the historic Interurban line that once connected Tulsa to Sand Springs.
In recent years, the site was home to an old baseball field; and according to Beattie, it's a prime location for the park.
"This was sitting here unused for five years. They were mowing it and it was just sitting here unused. So, poof!--it's a dog park," he said.
The location already provided many of the necessities for what is considered an "official" dog park.
"It had the parking. It had the double gates. It had the perimeter gates. It had water; on top of that it had restrooms which the city still maintains," he said.
A sizable parking lot is illuminated at night using the original ballpark lights. It is open 365 days a year, but hours vary by season. During spring and summer months, hours are 5am-11pm, except for Wednesdays until noon for routine park maintenance.
The park's two acres split into two sections, one for larger dogs and one for smaller dogs. Both areas have waste disposal bags, small swimming pools, water pails for the dogs and several benches and sitting areas, which are amenities that are apparently hard to come by.
"There are no public monies available to develop and operate dog parks in the city of Tulsa," said Beattie.
All the needs of the park such as clean-up and improvements are 100 percent dependent on private donations. Beattie and volunteers routinely patrol the park while visitors are required by ordinance to clean up after their animals.
"If we all cooperate, then it's clear," said Beattie, pointing out that that on a regular basis there is more dog poop in most of the other city parks than at Joe Station.
Beautification projects, such as planting trees and grass, are also necessary for the park. Beattie was alarmed after one of the shade trees at Joe Station Bark Park was reduced to a stump. After he wrote the City, crews partnered with Up With Trees and other volunteers planted 15 saplings along the street.
Plans to replenish grass in the park at Joe Station began May 11. Despite the fact that it has been open for less than a year, the park's turf has been reduced to bare dirt.
"This place is so heavily used by people and their dogs; people come out here and they enjoy meeting other people and they walk around and they beat up the grass something terrible," said Beattie. Short of asking visitors to remove their shoes, regular re-sodding is about the only solution.
The Task Force has received $5,000 in park visitor contributions and then three major contributions from the Chapman Foundation, the Helmerich Family, and Anne & Henry Zarrow Foundation. The funding will go toward an irrigation system for the park. The Task Force hopes to have this project completed this summer.
Not surprisingly, Joe Station has been a big hit with Tulsa's dog lovers since its opening. Beattie said that attendance on a Saturday is about 100 people, with probably a few more dogs. He said that it is impossible to count the number of dogs running around. Pet owners have complained in the past about the abundance of animals, but Beattie takes "the more the merrier" stance. There is no maximum capacity for how many dogs or people who can be in the park.
A lover of four-legged friends, Beattie has two dogs of his own. The 15-year-old beagle terrier mix Katie enjoys the park, but due to her age doesn't ever get too rowdy. She will, however, mingle with some dogs and greet a human or two (if they're lucky). However, Josey, the Rottweiler that Beattie adopted from the street, loves to play with the other dogs.
"She's a sweetheart," said Beattie. "A Rottweiler ban would be awful. Good dogs are in every breed; it's the people who are bad."
Although there are a few visitors who come to the park that have mentioned banning Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, the Task Force has never considered a breed restriction.
"We deal with vicious dogs fast; I've been called all kind of bad things, a 'Nazi' by this one lady because I told her she needed to get that dog out of here because it was vicious," said Beattie.
You will find Beattie and/or other volunteers at the park during the busy hours, grappling with aggressive dogs and their owners, cleaning poop or collecting donations from the dog bone-shaped donation boxes located along the fence line that separates the large and small dog units.
Beattie has also contributed quite a bit of his personal time and money to these projects. He admitted that the total amounts to $27,000 all of which comes out of his retirement savings. "Of course, I don't even count things like driving out here and what-have-you, 'cause I'm having fun," he said.
Hug a Pug
Beattie also enjoys the many dogs that come to visit.
"There is a Jack Russell here named Bo Diddly. Bo Diddly comes in... he weighs about 15 lbs. 'Guys chase me if you can!' He leads a pack of dogs this size," said Beattie, pointing excitedly to the larger dogs.
"That's why children under 12 are not permitted; for their safety. This is a dangerous place. Adults get knocked down regularly." The rule officially states that those under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult--or someone at least 18 years old.
Beattie said that people still ignore this rule and bring in their children into the large dog area. He has had to approach a few parents and remind them that they are breaking the rules. He said he has personally had to call the police three times for various reasons.
"The police will respond to situations where people's health and safety is threatened," said Beattie, "You are responsible for your dog's behavior, period."
A common understanding among bark park patrons is that if an incident occurs that involves a dog biting another dog (or a human being) it must be resolved between the two humans; the park is not liable.
Rules and regulations were adopted by the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board for the safety and convenience of the public using an off-leash park area. In addition to the age restrictions, others from the 28-rule list include:
-Any dog within an off-leash park area shall not be under four months of age, and shall be currently vaccinated against rabies and have a current City of Tulsa license affixed or attached to the dog's collar or harness.
-No dog more than six months old which has not been spayed or neutered shall be permitted except if the dog is owned and used by the TPD as a police dog or the owner has secured a hobbyist exemption permit issued by the City of Tulsa.
-No female dog "in heat" shall be permitted within an off-leash park area.
-Any excreta deposited in an off-leash park area shall be promptly removed and appropriately disposed by the dog's owner.
-Upon approval of these rules and regulations by the City Council and subsequent filing with the Office of the City Clerk and public posting at an off-leash park area, any person found guilty of violating these rules and regulations shall be subject to the penalties, up to $1,000, set forth by ordinance.
For a complete list, visit the official Bark Park Web site at Tulsabarkpark.com.
The latest vision for the Bark Park Task Force is Biscuit Acres Bark Park, which is scheduled to open Sat., June 6 at Hunter Park, 5804 E. 91st St.
One of the park's organizers is the Southside Rotary Club, which provides humanitarian services, encourages high ethical standards, helps build good will and peace in the world and, of course, make life a little more bearable for man's best friend.
"We've adopted community projects from time to time," said John Benjamin, one of the clubs 65 members and the Biscuit Acres project chairman. "[The Rotary] was looking for a project to help out the parks.
"There are many dog owners in south Tulsa," he continued. "The dog parks offer many benefits to the community." So, after putting two and two together, Biscuit Acres was born, and not a moment too soon."
The Southside Rotary Club will host a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday at 11am. There will be a "Founders Banquet" the night before at Ti Amo Italian Ristorante, 6024 S. Sheridan Road, to honor all contributors of $500 or more.
Like Joe Station, Biscuit Acres includes two separate sections, one for the larger dogs and a smaller section for the teacup variety. Each section will be surrounded by a 6-foot chain link fence for which the City of Tulsa Park Department and Bob Hinton, Civil Engineer and member of Southside Rotary, donated $35,000.
The park has five benches, two picnic tables, trash bag dispensers and waste buckets. The disc golf's 18th hole was even moved to create one of the two double entry/exit gates. The existing parking lot is being extended to make 52 additional spaces located across the street from the dog park.
The Southside Rotary Club teamed up with the Tulsa Beautification Foundation, an organization whose sole purpose is to support beautification and civic enhancement projects in the Tulsa region, to commit at least $50,000 to this project so that South Tulsa residents could have a closer place to take their dogs.
"We've been in a fundraising mode and we're very close," said Benjamin.
Fundraising efforts included sending proposals to individuals, corporations and foundations. Also, if park visitors want to help with fundraising, they can donate or buy a plaque, bench or table to be placed in the park in memory of their dog. The biscuit-shaped aluminum plaques cost $125 and will feature a picture of the dog and a personal message. They will be placed along the inside fence. "Kind of like an art gallery," said Benjamin.
Lassie would be proud.
The Southside Rotary Club has also placed fundraising cash deposit boxes at 40 locations including Southern Agriculture and Pet Co. locations. Volunteers of the club collect this money on a weekly basis. Uncle Sam is even getting in on the dog park action. "All contributions are tax deductable," said Benjamin.
Throw Us a Bone
The 13th Street Bark Park is another planned site for a dog park in the Midtown area. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation owns a four-acre strip of land bordered by 13th St., the Broken Arrow expressway, the Detroit exit and the Cincinnati overpass. The process of negotiating a long-term lease that permits Tulsa to use that ODOT property as a public park has already begun.
"It was moving along with no hitches... then the stimulus package hit," said Beattie.
A portion of the stimulus package will be used to improve Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop, of which the area in question is a part. Beattie said that the Task Force was delayed until the plans on how ODOT and the federal highway intend to use that money.
Although the Zink Park proposal fell through, media coverage of that May 6 meeting triggered interest from at least three potential donors for the 13th Street site. For this reason, Beattie considers that meeting a major success.
He said there will be a meeting in Oklahoma City with ODOT officials, two donors and Task Force representatives to discuss the location.
Another potential dog park site is Hicks Park at 38th and Mingo. The Task Force favors the site due to its proximity of a playground that well accommodates families. Beattie said that other than his efforts to find donors who want to make a contribution, there is no other forward progress with putting in a park at Hicks.
Also on the books, a future dog park site is proposed for Broken Arrow, and the Bark Park Task force is ready to assist the process.
For more information on Tulsa dog parks or to make a donation to the parks, visit the official Web site at Tulsabarkpark.com.
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