Pet owners welcome city's first dog park

For the past two or three years, Amy Harmon of Wichita has organized monthly "pug meet-ups," when she and other pug owners get together to watch their pugs play, share stories about pugs and help homeless pugs find new families.

Until last month, the meet-ups have been held at someone's house.

"I've had up to 30 pugs in my home," Harmon said. "Sometimes it gets a little crazy."

That's why Harmon is happy to see the opening of Wichita's first free public off-leash dog park, where 11 pugs and their owners met on a recent Sunday.

"We usually meet once a month," Harmon said, "but maybe we'll get together more often now that we've got a dog park."

The dog park at Chapin Park, off MacArthur Road between K-15 and Hydraulic, has been open since Christmas Eve but will be officially dedicated at 1:30 p.m. April 17, said Doug Kupper, director of the city's park and recreation department.

"We were kind of waiting for green grass to start growing before we had the dedication," Kupper said.

The grand opening will include all of Chapin Park, 190 acres that include walking trails, mountain bike trails and an area for people to fly radio-controlled aircraft.

Details of the dedication are still being worked out, but activities will include exhibition flying from the airplane group and comments from Vice Mayor Jim Skelton, Kupper said.

"We hope to have a fun afternoon out there," he said.

Kupper said the city has no numbers of how many people and dogs are using the park, but he thought it had been pretty popular.

"It's getting a lot of dog use," he said. "Staff said the other day 10 dogs were out there playing in the middle of the week."

To visit the dog park, dogs must be at least 5 months old and must be with a handler who is at least 14 years old. Visitors are limited to three dogs each. Dogs must be licensed and current on rabies vaccinations and must be leashed when outside the fenced areas.

A warm Easter Sunday brought a variety of canines and their owners to the dog park, which is divided into a three-acre space for small dogs, under 25 pounds, and seven acres for larger dogs.

A double gate system and secure fencing keep dogs from escaping, and plastic bags are provided so owners can pick up after their dogs.

Pat Harder has been bringing Shadow, her pug-Chihuahua mix, to the park for a couple of months so she can learn to socialize better with other dogs.

"She needs to interact. She's kind of scared of dogs and people," Harder said. "My vet said to bring her here."

John and Julia Moland brought their dachshund mix, Mollie, who played and ran with a couple of other dachshunds, two Boston terriers, an American Eskimo and a Pomeranian named Spartacus.

"We like it," Julia said. "The dogs are able to run freely with other dogs. I think that's the best thing about it. It's like a social scene for dogs."

Spartacus' owners, Anthony and Marcia Enriquez, were visiting the dog park for the first time. They had been to a dog park in Topeka with a friend's pets but weren't sure Spartacus would enjoy playing with the other dogs.

"He's starting to mingle with the other dogs," Anthony said. "He looks like he's actually having fun, not being scared and hiding."

Over on the big dog side of the park, Ted Dvorak visited with the owners of German shepherds, huskies, a golden retriever, a rottweiler and an Old English Sheepdog while his two Labradors ran and chased tennis balls.

"I think it's a great facility," said Dvorak, a first-time visitor. "It could use some trees. That would be great. But it's terrific to have a place like this."

The city can't plant any trees because the park was built over a landfill that closed in 1972, Kupper said. Shade structures have been built so dogs can get out of the sun, and water fountains have been installed so dogs can get a cool drink.

The city is planning two more dog parks, Kupper said: one at the Murfin Animal Care Campus that the city's animal shelter shares with the Kansas Humane Society at Hillside and K-96; and another at Meridian Park, at 21st and Meridian. Work could start on those parks as early as this summer, he said.

Cam Chase said he comes to the dog park "every Sunday, rain or shine," with Newman, his Alaskan malamute.

"It's really great they built this," said Chase, who has been to dog parks in Florida. "I haven't talked to anybody that doesn't really appreciate it."

Chase said the dog park is a great place for dog owners to visit and share training tips, and for dogs to play, exercise and work on social skills.

"We're trying to work on obedience training," he said of 1-year-old Newman, who had covered almost every inch of the big dog side's seven acres since he arrived.

"I think with the nicer weather, if you can burn off some of that energy that the dog has, it makes life a little easier."

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