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(Sigh) What’s a poor dog to do?

NORTH LIBERTY — What’s a dog to do?
Kitty (officially Kitty Butters Fine-Timmel) wants to run, jump and play outside without the encumbrance and restriction of a leash. But the City of North Liberty doesn’t have a place for Kitty and his dog friends to do so.
“At large means a dog which is physically off the premises of the owner, handler, or custodian of the dog, and which is not secured by a leash which is under the control of the owner, handler, or custodian not exceeding ten feet in length,” says the city code.
The city ordinance does allow for a dog to run free in a designated “off-leash area.” However, none of the city’s parks offer the designation.
Kitty’s owner, Lydia Fine, takes her dog to a neighbor’s fenced-in yard for play dates with the neighbor’s dog and for long walks along the sidewalks of their subdivision. Kitty’s backyard has just been fenced-in, giving him his own place to run, but it is a typical mid-sized suburban plot, leaving little room to run. Sometimes, Fine will load him up and take him to the Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park in Iowa City.
To alleviate the inconvenience, and Kitty’s pent-up energy, Fine is working on getting a designated dog park closer to home, specifically within North Liberty. She describes a dog park as a “large, safe, flat fenced-in area to run off-leash and interact with other dogs.” Fine said it is important for dogs to be socialized if they are to be good furry citizens in public.
In 2009, Fine started a Facebook page and online petition to gauge the interest of North Liberty dog owners.
The result was initially underwhelming, with only 89 signatures on the petition for two years. Then Sarah Woods joined Fine’s effort. Woods knew Fine from their MBA classes and joined the cause as a self-described “worker bee.”
Woods said the 2010 census showed North Liberty to be the second-fastest growing city in Iowa, meaning most inhabitants came from else-
where. She sees a dog park as an opportunity for the community to develop.
“Dog parks can lead to a greater sense of community” Woods said. With more familiarity and community comes less crime, she feels, as neighbors are more likely to be looking out for each other, and it can all start as Tramp meets Lady at the dog park.
Woods joined the crusade in November of 2011, a time when things really got started, according to Fine. The Facebook petition jumped from 87 to over 400 in just four weeks. Woods posted signs at the North Liberty Community Recreation Center, the Fareway Food Store, veterinarian centers and the Iowa City dog parks. She also actively sought ideas from others who have started dog parks about available resources for potential funding and organization.
One group was the Johnson County DogPAC (Park Action Committee), the group behind the Thornberry
park. “They were extremely helpful” Woods said.
Woods and Fine looked at a map of North Liberty, seeking potential sites for a stand-alone dog park, and made initial contact with a few parties. On March 3, they met with the North Liberty Parks and Recreation Commission, a group the ladies described as “very receptive.” The pair came up with a list of 16 possibilities and narrowed it down to seven. North Liberty Recreation Director Shelly Simpson will present the list to City Administrator, Ryan Heiar, who will review the sites to see if they are city or privately owned, buildable (for housing or commercial use), and if the city has any development designs for the area. Interestingly, the most ideal sites for dog parks are ones nobody else would want: those adjacent to industrial sites, located inside 100 or 200-year flood plains, and ideal for storm water retention basins. Other factors the pair must consider include size (to avoid irritating neighbors), a central location for convenience and minimal travel time, ample parking (or space available for parking), existing shade trees, a fairly level terrain, no major waterways, and a minimal amount of intervention needed to put it in service.
For example, a plot of land already owned by the city might only need fencing to start being used. Woods, Fine, and others in for the cause would only have to raise funds to provide the fencing.
Currently, the twosome is the whole organization, despite fetching over 400 “likes” on the dog park Facebook page. Fine said, “Until we identify our main goal, we’re not sure how to mobilize. There are just lots of variables at this point.”
With the hunt ongoing, Kitty and his friend Lexi Luther Diabolical Dog Genius– Woods’ dog– will have to be content to run back and forth in the back yard. “If we get a dog park within the next two years, we’ll be lucky” Fine said as she scratched Kitty behind the ears. Their hope is to get it started and then hand the park over to the city for ownership and maintenance.
“There are a lot of models out there for how to run a dog park” Woods said, promising they would work extensively with the city to find the best model. She also said they plan to learn from the mistakes of others while seeking the path of least resistance and providing flexibility for the city. At that time, Woods and Lexi will go back to chasing balls in the park.
Although it is still a dog’s daydream, Fine said “the end is now finally a possibility.”
Kitty’s own end will be
wagging about that.
To visit North Liberty Residents for a Dog Park on Facebook, go to https://www.facebook.com/northlibertydogpark.