It’s a Saturday afternoon and, like most weekends, I find myself at Carnegie Dog Park with my goldendoodle, Crosby.
Carnegie Dog Park, which opened in March 2013 in Carnegie Park on Forsythe Road, is a well-tended facility composed of two enclosures, one for large dogs, the other for small dogs. Admission is free, and the park is a short 10-minute drive from my home. For Crosby and me, it’s ideal.
We’re not alone in assessing the park as ideal. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the ideal dog park should feature:
- Enough space for normal interaction. The area should be big enough for dogs to run around and space themselves out. Check.
- Secure fencing and gates, and an interior “holding pen” at the entrance, so people and their dogs can enter and exit without accidentally letting other dogs slip out of the park. Check.
- Clean-up stations A dog park should have trash cans and bags available for people to clean up after their dogs. Check.
- A separate area for small dogs Check.
Drinking water and shelter (shade) Admittedly, this is one minor complaint about Carnegie Dog Park. Trees have been planted, but it will be some time before they will afford sufficient shade in the large enclosure. Half-check.
The very nearly ideal Carnegie Dog Park is one of Crosby’s favorite destinations, and mine, too, because as most dog owners agree, a tired dog is a good dog.
During this past year, I’ve met several dog owners at the park. Among the regulars are a number of Mt. Lebanon residents.
That’s fine with Carnegie, for as Carnegie Borough Manager Steve Beuter explains, a 2009 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources made possible the rehabilitation of Carnegie Park, including the dog park, a key component of the park’s master plan. The grant required that the community designate the facility as a public space, open to the public at large, not just Carnegie residents.
Mt. Lebanon residents use Carnegie Dog Park because Mt. Lebanon doesn’t have a dog park, at least not yet. For years, dog owners here have been begging for a park, and the municipality has taken their request seriously. A plan for parks and recreation created more than a decade ago looked at several areas as possibilities for dog parks and identified one area as particularly feasible. Back then (and since) there was little opposition to the general concept of a dog park; but opponents were concerned about a park in close proximity to their homes that might create noise, traffic or safety issues. And in a built-out town, with close-together houses and little open space, that concern is real. As a result, the plan did not move forward.
Various commissions, including the current one, have talked about where a dog park should be located, how to fund it, how to run it and all the other associated issues, but no firm plan has emerged to date. One thing residents have made clear is that they do not want an off-leash dog park—or even dogs on leashes—anywhere near children’s playgrounds. So the dog owners wait and wonder.
“I grew up in Mt. Lebanon,” says Stacy Vestel. “After college I moved away, but made the decision to move back here with my husband last September. We were so surprised that Mt. Lebanon, of all places, did not have a place to let our dogs run!”
“The Commission and staff respect dog owners wish for an off-leash dog park, ” says Mt. Lebanon Municipal Manager Steve Feller, “and we will continue to try to find an option that pleases dogs and their owners while also addressing other residents’ concerns. It is definitely a challenge to find that balance.”
For now, residents can walk their dogs on leash in Bird, Robb Hollow and Twin Hills parks.
Lifelong resident Maggie McDermott, too, is disappointed that Mt. Lebanon doesn’t offer a facility where she can exercise her dogs. “There is an area in Bird Park that seems perfectly suited,” Maggie suggests. “The hillside has not been in use for as long as I can remember. I wonder why that area has not been considered as a potential site.”
Like many Mt. Lebanon residents, Katy Zorich doesn’t have a fenced-in backyard. Because her greyhounds are “sighthounds,” which hunt by sight and speed as opposed to smell, Katy’s dogs are prone to chasing cats, squirrels and rabbits. To exercise her dogs safely, she enjoys the enclosed off-leash areas that a dog park provides.
Kelley Burns has often traveled to South Park to exercise her dog, Lucky. “I have run into fellow Lebanonites at South Park,” says Kelley, ”and we all agree that Mt. Lebanon needs its own.”
Unlike some regional dog parks, Carnegie Dog Park is a manageable size. Owners can easily keep an eye on their dogs and on one another. Because of its proximity to Mt. Lebanon and its smaller size, many dog owners, like Kelley, prefer it to the larger South Park facility.
“My wife and I are dying for a dog park in Lebo,” says Ben Joos. “We currently drive about 30 minutes to Hartwood Acres every weekend to exercise our border collie, Poppy. If we had a neighborhood dog park, we could go after work.”
Although a dog park is not for every dog—or owner—there are several benefits of a well-designed, well-maintained dog park. An off-leash, enclosed area affords the opportunity for dogs to run freely and to get a lot of exercise. My Crosby, who weighs in at a trim 75 pounds, gets more exercise in 30 minutes of active play at the park, than he does from an hour-long, hilly neighborhood walk. And when he is stretching his long legs, running at full gallop with his dog friends, there is an unmistakable expression of sheer joy on his face.
Another important aspect of the dog park experience is the opportunity to socialize your pet. Many dogs that have not had the opportunity to interact with strangers—people or other dogs—may perceive them as threats. Unfamiliar surroundings, shapes, sizes and voices may trigger skittish behavior.
“A well socialized and well-exercised dog is a calmer, more relaxed dog, less likely to get nervous and react aggressively with strangers,” says Olive Grenter. “A dog park would be a wonderful opportunity to facilitate interaction among community members.”
“I’d love to see an area of one of Mt. Lebanon’s many parks set aside for off-leash dog play,” says Melanie Austin. “Having a place where I can let my dog off leash is so important for healthy doggy interactions. I wish we had something that fits the bill in Mt. Lebanon.”
According to the ASPCA, “At the dog park, your dog gets practice reading a variety of other dogs’ body language and using her own communication skills, and she gets used to meeting unfamiliar dogs on a frequent basis. These valuable experiences can help guard against the development of fear and aggression problems around other dogs.”
When a dog behaves at the dog park, his reward is more frequent trips to the park; and so the more social the dog becomes, the more often he enjoys his reward. In some places, dog parks promote community economic growth. Entrepreneurs are quick to establish outdoor dog-friendly areas at restaurants and cafes, and dog owners take notice. If you’ve visited the Double-Wide Grill in South Side, or Del’s Bar and Ristorante in Bloomfield on a summer evening, you’ve experienced two dog lovers’ meccas. Some of the most popular events at PNC Park are the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Pup Nights. Locally, Rollier’s Hardware and Walnut Grill are dog-friendly establishments, and many small businesses have water bowls out for dogs.
Marie Hartman relocated to Mt. Lebanon from the South Side. Though she adores her new neighborhood, she admits, “It can be challenging walking my dog, Marino, on Washington Road crowded with other people and dogs. In the South Side, we had a really nice dog park and walking trail that we loved. Those are amenities we really miss.”
Carnegie Mayor Jack Kobistek says that while Carnegie public works crews were constructing the dog park, the borough’s office phones were ringing off the hook with calls from residents who were excited about the new facility and eager for the grand opening. Since the gates were opened to the public, the park has drawn a steady stream of visitors from Carnegie and surrounding communities.
On typical weekdays, visitors are scarce in the mornings and afternoons, but in the evenings, the “after work crowd” convenes. After 6 p.m., you can expect to find at least six to eight dogs, and frequently, as many as 15 to 20 energetic canines chasing tennis balls and one another.
This past winter, on several occasions when the thermometer scarcely registered 20 degrees, I was pleased to discover fellow bundled-up “die-hards” at the park watching their dogs romping about on packed snow. It may seem a bit insane to brave the snow and ice for the sake of a dog play date, but for those of us who have projects waiting for us at home, a tired dog is a good dog.