Citizens aim for dog park

FAIRMONT – A dog park was not on the docket for 2014 in Fairmont, but a group of local dog lovers is working to change that.

Beth Haskins, Margo Harris and Joe Potter are among the citizens behind the grassroots effort to raise $15,000 for what they’re calling Phase 1 of Fairmont Area Dog Park. The dollar amount was formulated through their research into what other cities – St. Peter, Mankato and New Ulm – are offering for dog lovers and their canine companions. The cost includes labor and materials, which is primarily just fencing, a few benches, concrete, and some trash containers to dispose of garbage and puppy poo.

To give the project a boost and encourage fellow dog lovers to step forward and do likewise, Harris is matching the first $1,000 donated for the project.

The fundraising starts Nov. 23-24, with Holiday Pictures with Pets. From 1-4 p.m. on that Saturday and Sunday, photographer Chip Pearson is volunteering his skills to take portraits of people with their pets, outside Marina Lodge, overlooking Lake Sisseton. Also present on Nov. 23 to pose for photos with the pets will be Santa Claus. Event organizers are asking for a minimum donation of $10 per family. The images will be distributed by email.

Anyone who cannot attend can drop off donations for the dog park at Fairmont City Hall, or make out checks to:

City of Fairmont, Dog Park

100 Downtown Plaza

Fairmont, MN 56031

“We were told if we can raise a good portion of the money, we can get started in 2014,” Haskins said. “That’s our goal.”

Two acres of fenced-in land for dogs to run free is what organizers envision, with separate areas for large and small breeds.

“The little ones can get trampled,” said Haskins, who has a pithuahua – a pitbull-chihuahua mix – named Kazi. Kazi falls into the little dog category, especially in comparison to Bella, which is Harris’ energetic black goldendoodle.

Walking their dogs at Lincoln Park this week, the two women laughed good-naturedly when their leashes got tangled up, but in all seriousness, they are ready for a dog park.

“One reason it’s overdue is that people have forgotten that dogs must be on a leash at all times in the city of Fairmont. That’s the law,” said Haskins, who acknowledged that she too is guilty of caving in and letting her dog run free on occasion. “Without a dog park, it’s an accident waiting to happen, and either a good person is going to be in trouble, or a good dog is going to have to be put down.”

Socialization is another important factor to consider for dogs, Potter said.

“Dogs need socialization as much as people do,” he said, “but they need neutral territory.”

These sites are also good ways for pet owners to connect to each other, and for people to connect to the community, he pointed out.

Harris, for example, is like many dog owners who bring their pets with them when they travel. When she is on the road with Bella and choosing a town for an overnight stay, a dog park is one of the amenities she looks for, because after traveling all day, her puppy needs to stretch its legs.

A couple locations in Fairmont are being considered for the project, both of which are already owned by the city. The first is near Fairmont’s aquatic park, and the other is by the animal shelter off Margaret Street.

“We’re open to other ideas,” said Harris, noting there are a lot of factors to consider when selecting a site, such as parking, accessibility, terrain, and the conduciveness of the neighborhood. Both sites have adequate distance from residential neighbors so that barking should not be a nuisance.

If you have suggestions or are interested in being part of the grassroots effort to launch a dog park, email, or call Potter at (507) 236-9976 or Haskins at (605) 310-2390.