The West Hartford Dog Park Coalition held a ‘Pooch Plunge’ Monday at Kennedy Park, and funds will be used to promote ‘pop-up’ dog parks beginning next month.
By Ronni Newton
It was dogs-only in Kennedy Park’s pools Monday afternoon as the West Hartford Dog Park Coalition held a “Pooch Plunge” fundraiser.
Approximately 100 pups joined their owners poolside, but only the dogs were allowed in the water.
There was a heavy presence of water-loving labs and Golden Retrievers, but there was also a Boston terrier pup, a pair of whippets, and even a massive Leonberger – as well as a large assortment of mixed breeds.
Suzi Craig, one of a committee of people running the West Hartford Dog Park Coalition, said that the plunge and sale of Dog Park Coalition t-shirts will fund expenses associated with “pop-up” dog parks that will be held in Town parks beginning in September 2016, as well as the non-profit’s other expenses.
Craig said that she has been in touch with Mayor Shari Cantor, who has committed to getting a permanent dog-friendly space in town. In the meantime, from September 2016 through August 2017, pop-up parks will be held in different West Hartford parks on a roving basis for several hours on one day per month. A schedule will be released shortly, Craig said.
Cantor said she considers a dog park a priority, and rather than waiting for a permanent solution to be negotiated, she worked with the West Hartford Dog Park Coalition and Leisure Services on the pop-up parks as a temporary solution. Because the pop-up parks will be town-sponsored events, there’s no need to amend the leash ordinance, Cantor said.
“What we’re doing right now is engaging with dog owners, letting them know there’s still hope [for a permanent location],” said Craig. She’s hopeful that something will work out to create a dog park on the UConn property, which the Town of West Hartford is in the process of purchasing.
West Hartford resident Susan Forrester brought Dexter, her 9-year-old mixed-breed, to the pooch plunge, and hopes that someday soon West Hartford will have a permanent dog park so that she and other dog owners won’t have to travel to Wethersfield or Glastonbury’s facilities.
“It’s absolutely pathetic that we don’t have a dog park in this town,” she said. “Dog parks create community, and foster something that’s not just for dogs but for people who are dog owners,” said Forrester. The dogs don’t escape and are well-behaved off leash, she said.
She said that for a town the size of West Hartford not to have a dog park is crazy, especially since she believes it’s a small minority of people who have vetoed each proposed location. “You have to find ways in the community to make it a smaller place, and this is very democratizing,” Forrester said.
Cantor said that she also favors a dog park as a way to build community, and said the pop-up parks will be a good start. “The by-product will be building community of dog owners all across town, and showing that it’s not a detraction to the neighborhood,” Cantor said. “It’s all about building little communities within the big community.”
One advantage to having pop-ups in a variety of locations, Cantor said, is that it will bring dog owners into other parts of town and make the dog-owner community more cohesive. Director of Human & Leisure Services Helen Rubino-Turco is finalizing the schedule so that it won’t interrupt other activities in the parks, Cantor said.
Leisure Services Manager Marc Blanchard deemed Monday’s pooch plunge was an awesome community event. “I’m so glad we could work it into the schedule. We didn’t do it last year, but I am glad it’s back,” he said.
West Hartford’s outdoor pools closed for the season on Sunday, Aug. 21, but Kennedy was left open for an extra day just for the dogs. The pool will be drained and cleaned after the pooch plunge. Splash pads at Beachland, Fernridge, Kennedy, and Wolcott parks will remain open from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. through Sept. 5.
Leisure Services covered the cost of the lifeguards who were on hand in case anyone fell into the pools, but they are not trained to rescue dogs.
There were a few woofs, but no growls as pups dove after tennis balls, chased each other around the deck, and shook all over the human observers. By the end of the session, a dog-tired, but smiling, group of owners and their pooches headed home.
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