By Katie Moritz
In her collection of poetry, Dog Songs, Mary Oliver writes: “You may not agree, you may not care, but/if you are holding this book you should know that of all the sights I love in this world — and there are plenty — very near the top of the list is this one: dogs without leashes.”
A dog without a leash, whether intentional or not, is usually a happy dog. How many times has your pup broken free, to run with lolling tongue, across the field, into the woods, or down the road?
Such freedom allows dogs to simply exercise their bodies as well as their noses.Alexandra Horowitz, a psychologist who studies dog cognition, writes in her article “Learn To Sniff Like A Dog And Experience The World In A New Way,” “We admire the dog’s olfactory acuity, and we should: dogs have hundreds of millions more olfactory receptors, the cells at the back of the nose that grab odors out of the air, than we do.”
At first thought, it might seem that here in central Vermont, there’s plenty of space for one’s canine friends to run free. Some dogs may be able to balance their need to run and sniff with obeying their owner’s wishes. But many dogs may run off, or find themselves out on the interstate. Plus, what may seem fun for one dog, such as chasing sheep or deer, may prove more than annoying.
Luckily there is a new dog park planned to open right here in Barre. David Rouleau, who is part of the Town of Barre Community Dog Park group, wants to offer dogs and their owners the option to exercise and socialize off-leash. He first came up with the idea when he and his friends were playing disc golf. The game, which is like golf, but with a Frisbee-like disc, serves as an athletic outlet not only for Rouleau’s friends, but for their dogs as well. As they trekked over fields and hills, their dogs ran alongside. Rouleau explains that “we often had a third dog that belonged to my friend’s elderly parents. They have a companion dog and they are unable to take it out to exercise her.”
And this is common for less mobile folks. Although they may want to exercise their pups, there is a serious risk of fall and/or injury. Rouleau continues, “Having a community dog park, with drive to access, is a great way to allow folks in this situation to adequately allow their pet to obtain the necessary exercise they need.” And they are able to do it safely.
When Rouleau’s sister got a puppy and was looking for a place for socialization, he realized how much of a demand there really was. “In knowing I served on the Town Recreation Board, she mentioned to me that I should research creating one. From there, informal discovery research showed that there certainly was interest, and we quickly found dog owners that stepped up to help.”
According to Rouleau, there are several ways both dog owners and non-dog owners would benefit from having a dog park in Barre. One is that owners may enjoy the fact that when their dog is all tuckered out from exercising, they are calmer and more well-behaved. Neighbors might enjoy the reduction in barking. Some breeds, like Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, and many others need an enormous amount of exercise every day. Without this outlet, there may be behavior problems. A fenced in area, such as a fenced in dog park, allows them to run enough to get that energy out.
Another benefit of a dog park is that they offer a space where both dogs and people can came come together and socialize. Rouleau explains that “New puppies & rescue dogs can benefit from this environment allowing them to adjust to their new surroundings, owners, and/or overcome new situations.”
Having a fenced in, leash-free space can also allow a dog owner a more comfortable place to train their dog without the fear of their pet running away. And dogs and owners will, within that space, have options to further their socializing. Rouleau explains that “The park will be divided into two areas: a smaller shy/non-confident dog area and a larger big/confident dog area. Access will be via an airlock system, whereas the owner and dog will enter one gated area, take the dog off leash, possibly let all the other dogs do their meet in greet behind fence, then the owner can open the second gate into the area they choose. This double gate feature secures that other dogs don’t escape and allows owner to see how their dog will interact with other dogs in the park before committing to unleashing and letting them in.”
Goals moving forward include adding other animal features and a pergola/gazebo type place for the humans to utilize while they oversee their dog. They also plan to add benches.
The Town of Barre Community Dog Park folks have completed Phase I, which was to raise enough money to purchase and install a fence around the perimeter of the space, to install gates, and to airlock the area. Phase II involved setting up features for dogs and their owners, composting stations, mowing/trimming equipment and a small building to house them in.
Rouleau states that the “goal is to have this park be built and maintained by the folks using it, thus not requiring tax payer money.”
At this point, they have the bulk of the fence installed thanks to the money raised and their hardworking volunteers.
In addition to straight monetary donations, they are accepting silent auction items to be used in a mid-January fundraising social that is being planned. If interested in getting involved, there will be a meeting on January 4th at 7PM at Moruzzis to coordinate fundraising, phase III (design, layout, features inside the park) and the Grand Opening, which is planned for early June.
Although there is a solid core group of volunteers, the Town of Barre Community Dog Park folks are looking for more volunteers to help with planning, soliciting funds, and keeping up with ongoing maintenance.
Want to get involved? Find them on Facebook by searching for Town of Barre Community Dog Park and send them a message.
In a way, dogs without leashes represent a freedom we humans long for, a freedom we are also lucky enough to give.