17 October 2007

The Quest for Dog Parks

We have a thriving dog population in the neighborhood. Just around our block, I see about a dozen every day, being walked in the after-work hours. Dupont, Mt.Pleasant, and Capitol Hill all seem to have happy, thriving canine citizens. Clearly, a demand exists in DC for a few dog parks, yeh?

The fenced dog-run in Maryland's Wheaton Regional Park is old news already. It's a magnificent place; We've been taking Gomez there for about a month and he's even made some friends who aren't afraid to wrestle with Full-On Boxer Enthusiasm (e.g., Bella, the pit/boxer mix in the pix above). But even with a Saturday morning's relaxed traffic, it can take 30-45 minutes to crawl up Georgia Avenue from our place. I've been thinking about all the pups in our 'hood who could use a caged, leash-free environment to kick out the jams like champions...

TO THE INTERNET I went. I found a short list of things called "dog parks" and we set out with that list, notebook, and camera. FINALLY, a bit of "service journalism" for this wretched blog.

Clearly, there was a confusion of terms. Wheaton's facility is a "dog park," whereas the places listed in DC were actually "dog-friendly" parks which have no fencing and simply allow dogs, on-leash, to exist there. As long as they scoop up after their humans.

So as we traveled from one "dog park" to the next, a pattern emerged which left us looking at the drive to Wheaton as our only hope. So here follows a very incomplete rundown of the dog-park scene in DC, as gleaned on a recent Saturday morning drive:

Glover Park:

Located at 39th and W Streets NW at Rock Creek Park, this turned out to be a large, open meadow with a picnic table and water-fountain. It was a great space actually, but we were ignorantly still looking for the dog park. After crossing it and delving into the hiking paths, we figured the meadow must've been it. We spotted a man at the picnic table, brushing out his golden retriever and asked him, nicely:

"We've heard there's a dog park nearby; would this be it, or are we hopelessly lost?"

He returned none of our pleasantness, evidently sensing that we were from the nastier side of town. This is the park, he spat. We carried on like happy humans, saying that we were looking for a caged, leash-free dog park for our bouncy lovely happy boxer, oh what a delight, whee, etc...

The man informed us, with elevated and flaring nostrils, that we aught to consider "training" so as to have a civilized animal and make use of such a facility as they have there... And with that, he gathered his exquisite retriever and his delicate sensibilities and swam away in a cloud of his own angelic semen...

Holy Shit, has it come to this? I hate it when stereotypes come true, and here we had a west-park type talking to us as though his family owned ours as slaves for thousands of years.

To hell with that neighborhood anyway. It's too far. It may as well be Ohio.

Next, we hit Lincoln Park (11th and North Carolina Ave., at Mass), which proved to be yet another "dog friendly" but definitely leash-needed spot.

Then Marion Park, further down Mass Ave (6th and E Streets SE), which was the same as Lincoln. No use in even photographing these two; we kept driving southeast on Mass, towards Congressional Cemetery:

Right around the SE terminus of Massachusetts Avenue at the Anacostia River is one of the most beautiful cemeteries I'd ever seen. I'm almost sure I'd been there as a kid. John Phillip Sousa is buried there...hell, J. Edgar Hoover is buried there, along with 60,000 of his closest dead friends. AND it was on our list of dog-friendly facilities, so we went...

It was huge and protected by a massive black iron gate, filled with headstones of every age and description; everything from humble Army-issue headstones to mausoleums, obelisks, and massive memorial statues. And a few dogs freakin' out, in the middle of it all.

Congressional Cemetery isn't, strictly speaking, either a "dog park" or a "dog-friendly" park, but it has been made available to dog-owning patrons who pay a membership fee. And of course the place is off-limits to dogs when a funeral is in progress.

Now, even with the membership dues and the gorgeous facility grounds with it's incredible gate, it still wasn't a good fit for Gomez. The cemetery is absolutely HUGE. I suspect we'd spend all day just trying to FIND him, once we let him go.

This left Adams Morgan's Walter Pierce Dog Run.

Located just north of the eastern end of the Duke Ellington bridge. We knew about this one, but hadn't tried it before. It seemed a bit small and dingy, with a fence that could use some repair, and the odd bit of broken glass on the ground, etc. But clearly, it's a labor of love for the group that maintains it. Without local government support, it's really up to concerned citizens to do their bit. And so the place isn't as spotless as Wheaton, but it's local, it means well, and dammit, it's all we've got.

Thus, it deserves respect, and a visit from Gomez the Boxer God himself. And he loved it. As long as he has a running and wrestling partner in the park, Gomez couldn't care less if the fence needs repair.

So we'll likely divide our visits between Adams Morgan and Wheaton. But DC could certainly do more to support the need. It can be argued (and I do) that a dog park shares equal importance with kids' playgrounds. Children are something of a luxury item, if you consider their cost and "elective" status, same as dogs (though dogs are far cheaper in the long run, I'll give you that). We choose to have these companions, and once we have them, we want to provide them with the best lives possible. Children, dogs, iguanas, whatever.

As it happens, DCist scooped me on this whole subject with a report (via the Examiner) that certain regulatory restrictions on "dog parks" in DC may be lifting. This would ease the introduction of new caged, leash-free dog-parks in the city.

And THAT, my friends, is a fine and beautiful thing. I mean, think of the children...


divine ms k said...

Well heck, if you're going to haul your pooch all the way to wheaton, you might as well check out the seven dog parks -- err, "community canine areas" -- in Arlington, a bare stone's throw across the river. http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/ParksRecreation/scripts/dogs/ParksRecreationScriptsDogsDogRuns.aspx

IntangibleArts said...

DMK: Perfectly amazing; thanks much! We've already heard (from several folks) about the one in Shirlington, so we'll certainly be down there soon. Looks like we've got more homework to do now, on THAT side of the river.

chris said...

nice post! I've been looking at the parks in Alexandria, gonna swing by Simpson Park today and see if our Aussie/Border Collie mix likes it. We've been going to Congressional for a bit, but they seem to be changing the rules and there's a HUGE waiting list to become a member, which doesn't make much sense. They say its for crowd control, but, we got there on Sundays and are the only dog and people there. Anywho, let us know about the Arlington parks.

Reya Mellicker said...

Your blog is NOT wretched.

It's funny about the non-fenced parks. like Lincoln Park (half a block from where I live) because the dogs really get it that they can't run out in the street. I've lived here for 6+ years and can't remember a single time when a dog left the the park except on a leash with its owner. I've heard stories of dogs that were hit by cars, but these are few and far between.

The cemetary is huge, yes, but it's completely enclosed. Gomez can not possibly escape.....there, too, the dogs really get it that they can't run too far. Would Gomez really take off, never to return?

Would love to know you were visiting my 'hood sometimes. And of course you know what's best for your cute doggie. Good luck with Arlington locations!

Gina said...

Hi! Yeah- there aren't any "dog parks" (as I define them, meaning areas that 1) are fenced and 2)allow dog to be off leash LEGALLY ) in DC except that small one in Adams Morgan. It sure beats a stick in the eye, but the one I typically go to when there's time on the weekend is in Arlington at: Towers Park
801 South Scott Street
Arlington, VA 22204

I always do feel like a bit of an impostor, but until DC catches up to every other civilized city in the country, it's the best I can do.

Sorry about the experience with the horrible man in Rock Creek. What a jerk.

sixfive said...

Good post, I live at 16th & U and didn't know about the spot in AM. I just got a chihuahua so I guess I'll be heading there rather than "illegally" letting him run at one of the kickball parks over there..

Anonymous said...

I used to pass through the Glover Park meadow frequently and there would often be packs of happy dogs running and wrestling or playing catch with their owners. It may not be a dog park per se, but the trees provide a natural fence and in the early evening hours it's pretty popular.