For the dogs: Hard work, smiles, a new park for them

Originally published in The Vacaville Reporter on July 18, 2015 By Richard Bammer.
For the dogs Hard work, smiles, a new park for them
Humorist and author Dave Barry once said, “You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘Wow, you’re right! I never would have thought of that!’”
Be that as it may, are the dogs of the world, especially those in Vacaville, ready to hear from their owners, “Let’s go to the new dog park in Centennial Park, OK?”
Hold the leashes, for now.
By all accounts sure to be a hit with dogs and their owners, a dog park, nevertheless, like Rome, is not built in a day. It won’t be ready, at least in some basic form, until late October, depending on funding, said Jennifer Goode of Vacaville, a commissioner with the city’s Community Services Commission.
Still, a dog park preparation event got underway Saturday at the proposed site, a 1.5-acre expanse with the park that formerly served as a youth soccer field and recently home to a Vacaville Police Department K-9 training area.
At 10 a.m., about midway through the four-hour event, some 20 volunteers raked leaves and debris, dismantled metal barriers, pulled up aging, faded artificial turf, spaded dirt, and pushed wheelbarrows.
The call for volunteers was, in part, to stir local interest in a national contest, Bark For Your Park, sponsored by PetSafe, in hopes the city could win $25,000 or $100,000 to defray building costs, which Goode estimated to be $95,000.
But to win requires votes — lots of them — cast at a website, One community will win the big money; four others will win $25,000, she noted.
The city is competing in the “large community” category, and, as of Monday, had nearly 9,000 votes in its favor. The last day to vote is Wednesday.
It is probably unlikely that Vacaville will exceed Watkinsville, Ga., already with 24,000 votes, or Moore, Okla., with nearly 18,000.
But Vacaville could surpass La Grange, Ga., which so far has tallied more than 11,000, and land in third place, ahead of Oswego, Ill., with some 5,000 votes.
Winners will be announced by month’s end, noted Hew Hesterman, a park planner for the Community Services Department.
“If we don’t get it (the contest cash), we’re still going forward” with the park’s construction, he added, after spending some morning hours on a blue tractor/loader, moving boulders here and there at the site.
But he appeared to hold out some hope that the city could win $25,000 in the PetSafe contest’s so-called “heart” category, too.
An owner of Labrador retrievers, Hesterman said the City Council has set aside some $50,000 in a capital improvement fund, to pay for environmental clearances, necessary architectural and landscaping designs, actual construction, and staff costs, among other things. But more money would be helpful, he added.
Plans call for the park to have two sections, one for big dogs, the other for small dogs, said Goode, also a dog owner and by day a business developer for an IT consulting firm in Sacramento.
She noted that the park, only a small footprint in the 265-acre Centennial Park, was the result of a needs assessment survey, with input from the community, about what local residents wanted in their parks.
Goode said use of the dog park, off Browns Valley Parkway, will be free, have ample parking, wood chips to soften the dirt padding, and eventually boast a nearby trail, too.
Meanwhile, Holly Kirk of Vacaville, raked weeds in the space destined to be the dog park’s parking lot.
A surgical technician at the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento, she is the proud owner of Jaxon, a Dogue de Bordeaux, what some people commonly call “a French mastiff.”
Kirk explained that Jaxon, red with a white “blaze” on this chest and fleshy chops, is “the director of barketing for Visit Vacaville,” the city’s tourism and marketing agency.
“He loves people,” she said. “He loves being out and about. He loves being in a nice dog park.”
She and Jaxon sometimes visit Pena Adobe for walks, but Kirk is excited to know that she can bring her 120-pound canine to Centennial Park instead. There also is a dog park in Lagoon Valley Park, adjacent to Pena Adobe, but Kirk would prefer to visit one closer to home. Likewise, Mary Jean Gula of Vacaville, another volunteer on Saturday, eagerly awaits the opening of the new dog park.
“I walk my dogs all the time,” said the respiratory therapist. “I’ve been waiting 23 years for a dog park.”
While the volunteers worked, Goode noted that parks in general “improve (a city’s) home values.”
“They’re places to go, for people to congregate,” she added.
She praised the volunteers — besides Kirk and Gula, Dale Bates, Airman 1st Class Calvin Fancher, John and Karen Olp, and Ross Shapiro — as people who “are directly impacting the growth and development of the city.”
“They worked their butts off today,” Goode added.
Volunteers and city staff plan to meet again in early August, in a “town hall-style meeting,” to discuss next steps, she noted.