Russell, long-time volunteer at the Anniston Animal Shelter and at the League of Animal Welfare, takes Max to a canine daycare center in Anniston for socializing time each week, but she can imagine a dog park filled with pooches and their owners as they all socialize and get some exercise.
“I got to checking and they’re super hot items in cities right now,” Russell said.
Before taking the idea to Oxford Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard, Russell called other cities with dog parks to better understand what goes into building and operating them.
She called officials in Alabaster, Hoover and Birmingham, and found all three have had similar experiences with their dog parks.
What she discovered, Russell said, is that dog parks are self-sufficient to operate, draw visitors from inside and outside cities and have very low upkeep costs once built.
All that’s needed, she said, is an area big enough — about three acres of fenced land — a parking lot, a water fountain for the dogs and cleaning supplies for owners to pick up after their pets.
Hubbard said the council is behind Russell’s idea “because they see it’s just another service to our citizens that’s very popular.”
Now is a good time to plan the park, Hubbard added, because architects are still working on plans for the city’s new sports complex and renovations at Oxford Lake are still under way.
Both areas might be possible locations for the park, Hubbard said, but the council has yet to discuss the details.
“We’ve got possibilities in several places so we’ll sit down and look at it and find the very best place. But I think we’re committed to this project,” Hubbard said.
The city of Jacksonville is also considering building such a park.
Jacksonville parks and recreation director Janice Burns said she recently visited a dog park in Florida.
“I brought back pictures and said, ‘this is my next project, mayor,’” Burns said. “It’s the new up-and-coming thing.”
Burns said she and Mayor Johnny Smith have been scouting locations in Jacksonville for a park, but the project is just beginning.
“We found a lot of places that would be great. The problem is we just don’t own it,” Burns said.
Liability isn’t a problem, Burns said, because dog parks fall under the same policies as athletic fields and playgrounds.
“It’s just like any other city park. You’d enter and use it at your own risk,” Burns said.
Dog fights aren’t common occurrences at parks, explained Russell.
Russell said each of the officials she talked to had no complaints about dog fights or biting incidents in their parks.
The cost of dog parks can vary from the bare minimum of a plot of fenced land to the all-out artificial-turf-covered deluxe park like the one in Alabaster, Russell explained. Alabaster’s park was paid for by a resident who won $500,000 in a contest sponsored by a dog food company.
In an effort to help raise money for Oxford’s possible park, Russell hopes residents will vote for the city in a similar contest.
Pet product manufacturer Petsafe will give away $100,000 to the city with the most votes for construction of a dog park, and winners in each of the four categories — based on city populations — will receive $25,000.
The first round of voting starts today and runs until June 5, when the 15 finalist cities are selected. Voting then begins again to select the overall winners, to be announced July 31. To place a vote for Oxford, visit http://petsafe.net.
Russell said a dog park in Oxford would be hugely popular and she’ll continue to work on the project until it’s a reality.
“If they put it anywhere off of I-20, could you image what a draw it would be?” Russell asked.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.