Two years ago, Mike Garvey was not a dog person. When he got his first one, a terrier-poodle mix named Marco, from the Kansas Humane Society, he set strict limits.
“Absolutely not on the furniture or on the bed. This is going to be an outside dog,” Garvey recalled. “Now he sleeps on our bed. He eats our food. He’s our little kid.”
Garvey’s quick conversion inspired him to want to improve the city’s dog parks. He and his wife, Lanny, are organizers of Saturday’s Fido 5K and Puppy Parade at Cessna Park. Proceeds from the event will be used to enhance the parks.
“Once I got a dog and started going to the parks, I recognized that they needed some help,” said Garvey, who is president of Builders Inc. and whose family is practically synonymous with civic projects in Wichita. “We’re trying to raise money to buy equipment and help the parks department maintain them.”
The Fido 5K will pair dogs and their owners during a 5-kilometer walk or run. There’s also a timed half-mile run/walk.
“The real fun event,” as Garvey said, will probably be the puppy parade in which trophies are handed out to the tallest, smallest and best-dressed dogs, the dog that most resembles its owner and the crowd favorite (the latter to be voted on via Facebook). Games such as doggie musical chairs and bobbing for prizes, doggie treats and T-shirts for human participants will round out the event.
“It’s really puppy centric, I think,” Garvey said, mentioning that Cessna Park as a venue was chosen because has fewer stickers than some of the city’s other parks.
The city opened dog parks at Chapin Park in south Wichita, the Murfin Animal Care Campus, where the Kansas Humane Society is located, in northeast Wichita, and Meridian Park in west Wichita within the past few years, in response to community surveys showing that dog parks were a top priority of residents. All three have separate areas for big and small dogs, with the Arson Canine Ashley Memorial Dog Park at Chapin totaling about 9.5 acres, Murfin 10 acres and Meridian 8 acres. The city estimates that 500 to 600 people and their pets visit each park each week.
After visiting dog parks in other cities, Garvey said he realized that the Wichita parks lacked features and amenities.
“The coolest one I’ve seen is in Des Moines,” he said. “It had a whole walking trail through big trees. It butted up to a creek where all the dogs used to play.”
Another park, in the Denver area, allowed dogs to romp around the contours of the Red Rock country.
Garvey thinks the Wichita parks could use balancing beams and other agility equipment, drinking fountains and swimming pools for the dogs, as well as trees, landscaping and benches that could be enjoyed by their owners.
The parks also could make a good impression on out-of-town visitors. Garvey said he’s run into several people traveling with dogs who’ve stopped to give them a break in the Wichita dog parks.
Proceeds from the event will go to the Wichita Park & Recreation Community Fund, a charitable organization established in 2011 to help fund city parks, but will be restricted to use in the dog parks.
“Due to the economy, we are investing what we can, but want to improve upon that with community support, volunteers and fundraising efforts,” said Doug Kupper, director of Wichita’s Park and Recreation Department.
Garvey hopes Saturday’s event becomes an annual one, tweaked as necessary to become a steady source of income for the parks and a fun outing for all involved.
“I always see people running with their dogs,” said Garvey, who enjoys jogging with Marco. “We kind of want to see what happens when you get hundreds of dogs running.”