Madison’s numerous dog parks have tails wagging


dog-838281_1920By Amanda Proscia

Madison, Wisconsin, is third in the country for the number of dog parks per capita,
according to the Trust for Public Land.

That makes Madison top dog among Great Lakes cities with a rate of 4.1 dog parks per 100,000 people.

And the city is extending its dog-friendly reputation past just dog parks.  City officials recently initiated a pilot program to allow leashed dog-walking in public parks, something that was previously prohibited.

The aim is for “a more inclusive dog-positive parks system,” said Eric Knepp, the Madison parks superintendent.

Making a city more pup-friendly can be a bit dog-eat-dog. Dog park proposals are often controversial. Supporters say that they allow owners to see their tax dollars at work.

“Dog parks provide taxpaying owners of dogs the same recreational opportunities that their golfing, baseball playing, boating, swimming and other sport loving neighbors get facilities built for them to enjoy,” said Susyn Stecchi, founder of DogParks USA, an organization that develops dog parks in communities.

But critics are unconvinced.

“A municipality may oppose it because of misconceptions about liability or lack of funds to build it,” said Stecchi. “Local residents, generally those near the proposed site of the dog park, object because of fears of increased traffic, dog poop on their own lawns, dog poop odors and loud barking disturbing them.”

As the popular saying goes: every dog has its day and according to a recent study, the benefits of dog parks outweigh the negatives. A University of Waterloo study found that dog parks often increase the sense of community among the humans who use them.

The study found that owners experience the park very similarly to how their dog experiences it — their pooch acts as a sort of avatar helping them navigate through the shared space.

Perhaps the sense of community from dog parks could be a contributing factor to Madison’s number one ranking on Liveability’s best place to live 2015 list and its place on National Geographic’s happiest cities in the world list.

Dog parks can be “sources of support, information sharing, collective action and conformity,” according to the study.

Dog lovers are not surprised from the study results.

“I turn into a five-year-old again when I’m greeted by a dog with a frantically wagging tail and I am compelled to get down on the ground and play with them,” said Phill Alberts, vice president of USA Therapy Dogs.

The connection between dog ownership and socialization extends outside of the dog parks.

“I used to think my response to dogs was abnormal,” said Alberts. “But now I know that there are a lot of us abnormal people out there.”

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