Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Unique 'Pooch Park' at Mission Creek

Saturday saw the Grand Opening of the visionary Mission Creek Sports Park beneath the freeway at Mission Bay...see previous blog...

The sports park is not just for two-legged members of the community!

Aware of the popularity of dogs in San Fran society, designers have included a unique dog park.

And to mark the Grand Opening, beloved pooches had their own sports and social programme!

Situated at the end of the new sports facilities, the small park is completely closed in with secure fencing and gates. It is covered in tiny stones rather than grass, with a path and benches along one side and newly planted trees in the middle of the lower end.

While those of the two-legged species played ball games and paddled kayaks on the creek, high-spirited, agile members of the four-legged community practiced their sporting abilities too.

They leapt over bars, padded through a tube and dunked in paddling pools for balls, all the while keeping up with their busy social lives.

Sitting on a bench were proud parents Katie and Josh, watching Riley.

Katie was full of praise for the park. 'They made it especially for dogs. I think that's pretty cool,' she said.

What particularly attracts her to this 'pooch park' is the fact that it is a secure enclosure. 'This is the only one with a fence around it. You can sit here and read and play music while they play,' she said.

Riley, an appealingly cuddly miniature golden doodle - a cross between a poodle and retriever - was attempting a run through the tube.

At first cautious, he made a few footfalls into the tube and retreated each time, even nipping round the side in between attempts to keep up with Miss Maddie and his other pals.

However, with gentle coaxing from Christine of the San Francisco SPCA, who were supervising activities, he soon made his - maiden?! - master run.

And with his new skill tucked firmly under his fur, he was off, tail high and nose down moseying along the path to find his next adventure.

'He's too bright for his own good!' said Katie.

Not only bright, but as a dog that resembles a giant teddy bear, he is a showstopper wherever he goes. Car drivers when they spot him, Katie said, seem compelled to call out of their window at him, 'Teddy Bear!'

Skipping around Riley was Miss Maddie, a pretty, white Havanese, and Bogie, an alert, nimble-footed chihuahua, who also navigated their way through the tube.

A few moments later, showing great gamesmanship, they raced away to join an excited cluster of bigger dogs that had bounded over to scale the agility bars and chase each other.

Miss Maddie's mum, Anita, liked the park. 'I think it's great,' she said, but also commented, 'I would like more grass but I think the maintenance is expensive.'

'The most positive thing is that you get to meet more people,' she added.

Anita and Miss Maddie are already familiar with the sports park, which has been open informally for a few weeks. In the summer Anita held Miss Maddie's first-birthday party there at the picnic tables on the grass beneath the freeway.

'I set up a nice little spread, a lot of the dogs were there,' she said.

Bogie was one of the guests and mum, Davi, was complimentary of the park.

'I think it's great for the community and what they did today is excellent,' she said. 'The park's been open for a while but not many people know about it. It needs a grand opening.'

Another party guest enjoying himself was Ace, a cute mini schnauzer whose dad, Jack, agreed with Anita about the surface of the dog park.

'I think grass would be preferable,' he said. 'A lot of us were over at the park on the other side of Mission Creek. One, it's ten times the size of the ground and it's easier for dogs to play in.

'Unless they're chasing a ball, the dogs tend to stay on the path. And it's dusty. The big dogs kick up the dust.'

Lending a helping paw in public relations that day was Capone, sportily dressed in a sloganned tee-shirt. He was supporting dad, Rob, a lawyer and co-owner of Who Let the Dogs Out!, in their canvas booth on the other side of the fence.

Rob was impressed with the overall development of both the sports park and area. 'This is starting to become a robust neighbourhood,' he said.

'This was a blighted, run-down area of San Francisco. They've done a great job in rennovating it. It's also good because it's got lots of affordable housing.'

Of the dog park, though, he was more reserved in his comments.

It needs more shade and a natural surface,' he said, also mentioning dust levels. But he conceded that the difficulty for the city of grassing the area lay in maintenance.

He pointed to a clump of trees in the distance on Potrero Hill and said that was the park he used.

His company are familiar in nearby streets with their smart red vans and large white lettering, and offer dog walking and jogging, vet and groomer taxi services and boarding.

By the entrance to the dog park was the SPCA stall with Tracy standing there. 'Agility classes,' she said of the activities in the park that day, 'are a great way to exercise high energy dogs and to work on their training. And,' she added, 'it's a sport.'

She said the organization provides an education for training, agility or obedience, and in San Francisco works exclusively with dogs and cats. All SPCA units are autonomous so some work with a wider range of animals, she explained.

With so many young people not getting married or having children until later in life, she said, the dogs are their children, so an important part of the SPCA's work is to foster good relationships between tenants with dogs, and landlords who are reluctant to give them a home.

Not only do the SPCA work with owners to train their dogs but they provide a canine resume proving all-important 'good tenant' qualifications.

Overall, Americans spend $39 billion on their dogs each year and, Tracy said, 'There are more dogs in San Francisco than children - and that's licensed dogs!'

She was philosophical about the park's stony surface.

'I think maybe the dogs would prefer grass or sand because the stones can get stuck in their paws. But these dogs are having a good time!' she said.

Christine, who had strolled over, agreed. 'I think they're so happy to be off leash,' she said.

And of the lack of shade, she said, 'These trees are going to grow. Eventually they are going to give shade. This is a new park.'

pics show: dogs enjoying the agility bars and tube; the lower end of the park; Jack & Ace, Davi & Bogie, Anita & Miss Maddie

Happy belated birthday wishes, Miss Maddie!

Click here for more pics.

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