South County Beat: Park gives dogs room to play

On a recent afternoon at the Five Cities Dog Park at the Elm Street Park in Arroyo Grande, pooches were scampering happily about with each other and thoroughly enjoying their chance to be off-leash.

An occasional “woof” or light “yelp” could be heard while they sniffed and frolicked on the green-grass side of the fence in the small dog section. The large dog section, fenced separately, was covered in wood chips, as larger dogs tend to play too energetically to keep the grass in shape.

The Dog Park Etiquette listing gives the rules for the park. They include immunization, no aggressive behavior, no puppies younger than 4 months, no continuous barking, and picking up after one’s own dog.

Sharon Lowell of Arroyo Grande brings her little dog Minnie to the dog park.

Minnie was trained to be a service dog for people with seizures, but her first owner turned out to be allergic, so Lowell took her a year ago.

Minnie “loves to run with the other dogs, and she’s a greeter” — greets people and their dogs when they come in the gate.

“It’s a wonderful place for dogs to socialize and for dogs that don’t have big yards to run in,” Lowell added.

Maureen Sharon of Arroyo Grande, owner of Mr. Big, is president of the Five Cities Dog Park board of directors and one of its founders.

They formed the Five Cities Dog Park Association seven years ago. Five years later, after raising $50,000, they opened the dog park.

“Responsible pet ownership is our primary goal,” she said.

Board member Jerry Bunin of Oceano, owner of Dakota, is one of the original founders and current chair of the upcoming fundraiser Puttin’ on the Dog, set for Aug. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the dog park.

There will be a Pooch Parade, contests (best-dressed dog, cutest small dog, cutest large beauty), adoptions, identification microchipping, a raffle, barbecue and more.

“The event is partially a celebration of how much we care about our dogs,” Bunin said. “It’s the only dog event in South County.”

Many of the dogs at the park are rescue dogs from a shelter or elsewhere, including Dakota, a coonhound.

The dog chose his own name from a map of American Indian tribes, by nosing up to the name Dakota.

Sharon was wearing her Bark Ranger name tag. Volunteers sign up for monitoring the dog park and are responsible for emptying trash, replenishing the mutt mitt containers, mowing and other duties. The Arroyo Grande Parks Department allows use of a storage building on site for storing dog park items.

“Mayor (Tony) Ferrara (and the City Council) have been unbelievably supportive,” Sharon exclaimed.

Ferrara arranged donation of big cement planters, which were then planted by a Girl Scout troop and Arroyo Grande In Bloom. Two Eagle Scouts each built a kiosk for posting information. Arroyo Grande Beautiful contributed several trees.

The dog park always needs donations. Just the (biodegradable) mutt mitts alone cost $400 per month; 200 are used per day.

For more information on the dog park or Puttin’ on the Dog, or to make donations, contact Bunin at 550-5334 or jbunin@charter.net or go to www.fivecitiesdogpark.org.

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.