A dog's life may get better for Sparta pups

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:56

SPARTA - A dog’s life may get a little better if the township approves a proposal that will provide a place for local pets to play, run and sniff without the constraints of a leash. The plan, brought before the parks and recreation committee, is asking the township to consider setting aside a fenced-in, double-gated area where pet owners can socialize, exercise and train their dogs. Wendy Tillmann, who has spent the past three years researching a plan, said socialized dogs will not bark as much and are less aggressive than those kept confined. In addition, she said, dog parks help pets lead a healthier, longer life and offer a setting for owners to share information and common interests. Sparta law requires all dogs to be on a leash when off the property of their owners. “A lot of people are exercising their dogs at existing parks where they are not allowed to,” said Tillmann, a native of Sparta who has lived in other towns where she has witnessed successful dog parks at work. “A dog park would allow them to do this legally, but leash-free.” Tillmann, who owns two poodles, said a dog park would suspend the leash law and those who enter the fenced-in area would assume the risks, freeing the township of liability. Once inside the fenced-in area, pet owners would be accountable for their dogs. “People will enter at their own risk,” she said. “I can’t promise that no one will get bit, but I can promise that people will be responsible for their own risk.” Virginia Moher, director of parks and recreation, said Sparta Glen is the only public park in town that permits dogs, but they must be on a leash. “Right now, we’re just talking about it,” she said. “Before we move ahead, we want to know if there’s a specific demand and then look into liability, cost and location.” Tillmann said she’s gathered more than 200 signatures from residents supporting a dog park, which would be expected to require about 2 acres of land; a double-gate, 4-6-foot-high fencing; routine mowing; signage; and waste management. She said visitors would be responsible for cleaning up after their pets. “The people visiting the park will have to enforce this,” said Tillmann. “They won’t want to go to the park and step in things, either.” Tillmann, who estimates the cost to construct at $24,000, would prefer to see a dog park established at either Station Park or White Lake. She said public support, safety, parking, noise, and accesses to town are all considerations. “We don’t know where the park would be,” said Tillmann. “This is where the controversy comes up and where we need people to weigh in.” According to Tillmann, the site might serve as a clearinghouse for training tips and events, services for licensing, vaccination and spay and neuter, and philanthropic initiatives. “Graded land works pretty well,” she said. “We don’t have to take up a flat piece of land that kids use. A dog park can be in a location where anything goes.” Tillmann said the founding four-member committee is open to suggestions and actively seeking new members.