Dog park a reality

Yvonne Coates

Sparky has a new place to run around, and roll in the grass, thanks to several Peoria residents who imagined that one day Peoria would have its own dog park.

Judge Mary McDade, Janet Middleton, Cheryl Budzinski, Beth Gehrt, Mike Doyle, and McDade’s son Matt, worked for several years with the Peoria Park District to make the Peoria Dog Park at Bradley Park a reality.

The park celebrated its grand opening Saturday.

Middleton and McDade said they felt it was important to have a dog park in Peoria since most cities have dog parks.

“We thought we were behind,” Middleton said. “When people out of town asked where the dog park around here is, we used to say we didn’t have one, and we had to remedy that,” she said.

Middleton and McDade said that having a dog park in Peoria is important to those living in apartments and to those who don’t have a fenced play area for their dogs.

A few years ago, McDade visited a dog park while in Michigan, and thought it would be an excellent idea for Peoria. McDade said she was so excited about the concept that she and her son drafted a proposal to fund the fencing of the potential dog park.

“I approached the park district and they had zero interest, saying that it costs too much to fence a park,” McDade said.

Not defeated, the McDades were soon joined by Budzinski, Gehrt and Middleton  — each of whom had contacted the park district separately about the need for a dog park. Park District personnel referred them to Mary McDade.

After several planning meetings, the committee proposed a plan to the Peoria Park District Board of Trustees. It stipulated the committee would raise $30,000 to fence the dog park, which would then be matched by the park district — a grand total of $60,000.

The park district agreed to donate five acres of land in Bradley Park for the project.

Though it was a daunting task, McDade said she was ready to get going. 

Shortly thereafter, Gehrt approached former police detective and CrimeStoppers spokesman Mike Doyle to help the group with the project, since he had extensive media contacts. Together, they formed the public relations sub-committee.

They appeared on morning television and before local organizations. Both the The Peoria Times-Observer and Peoria Journal Star covered the group’s efforts.

Along with the public awareness campaign, the committee held numerous fundraisers at Petco, where Middleton works.

They took and sold photos of dogs and their owners. They printed and sold buttons and T-shirts with the dog park logo. And, they sold more than 325 commemorative bricks for $50 each. The bricks honor current and deceased pets and form a patio garden just outside the dog park.

Last year, when PAWS and the Peoria Humane Society hosted Bark in the Park, the committee saw an opportunity to gain widespread attention.

“We sent out hundreds of brick applications and got only one back,” Middleton said about the event.

However, people were learning about the dog park.

“There was not much interest in the city, but now people are beginning to take more notice,” Middleton said. 

The committee also hosted two events at the dog park: “Strut Your Mutt,” and “Sit-n-Play.”

Through the Sit-n-Play event, Chris Pula, a Dunlap  High School graduate who lives in Alaska, and his girlfriend, Kim Sanders, heard about the fundraising effort.

And when their Bernese Mountain dog, Brewster, captured the $10,000 prize in the Bissell vacuum cleaner “Most Valuable Pet Photo Contest” from among 62,000 entries, they donated the money to the dog park.

It took less than a year to raise enough money for the park, McDade said. In fact, in July 2008, the committee exceeded its fundraising goal, surpassing $48,000.

The group also tackled the task of generating park rules.

Pets entering the park must have rabies vaccinations and must receive additional shots to avoid kennel cough.

The committee also established a controversial rule regarding age limit for the park. Nobody under 12 years old is allowed to enter the park and an adult must be present with youth ages 13 to 17.

The rule was developed to avoid injuries and keep bad publicity from the park, McDade said. Sometimes, even a friendly dog can overpower a young child, she noted.

The park is divided into two parts, with the top part of the park measuring two acres and the bottom park measuring three acres. It boasts an area specifically for small breeds less than 30 pounds and a water station complete with a shower head.

It is open to the public from sunrise to sunset all year round and it is double-gated.

The committee also has plans to build a path linking the top and bottom levels of the park, a water station for the upper level and, perhaps, an agility course.

For more information or to make a donation or purchase a brick, go to www.peoriaparks.org.