Squeak, squeak, squeak! Aroooh! Aroooh!
Henry the Basset Hound, the “mayor” of Central Bark Park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, lolls in the green grass, chomping his chew toy and proclaiming his dominion over the scenic, mountain-framed setting.
Downtown in front of the Christmas at the Lake store, a dog water bowl sits beneath a sign reading: Only 132 days until Christmas. Inside a dog-themed Christmas tree sports an amazing variety of canine ornaments and the tree topper? A fire hydrant. Too cute.
Nearby Mika and AJ, shop owner Mary Peak’s dogs, lounge on their beds. Few visitors can resist petting the friendly Chocolate and Black Labrador Retrievers.
So went my trip to this year’s winner of DOG FANCY magazine’s DogTown USA 2011. Picking the most dog friendly city in the nation is no easy task but I know we have chosen well when, driving into the city, I spy a Porsche convertible, top down, with a couple in the front and a huge Leonberger perched in the rear, sporting neon yellow goggles and ears flapping in the breeze.
What makes Coeur d’Alene special is the spectacular lakeside setting, an abundance of dogs and most important, committed and caring dog lovers.
The tale of how Central Bark Park came to open in 2010 illustrates a can-do attitude. One day in the dead of winter a few locals assembled at a local donut shop with little more than the determination to create a place where their furry friends could go off leash.
That dream became a reality thanks to creative fund-raising – Give Your Dog a Bone brass plaques decorate the park’s structures, donations often made in the name of a pet that has passed. During my visit members of the Kootenai County Dog Park Association point out one large plaque, which memorializes a young man who had eagerly awaited the opening of the town’s first dog park, but didn’t live to see the opening. I hear about an elderly couple who donated, even though they didn’t have a dog. Why? They wanted a place to come and visit with friendly dogs, which they do regularly.
Woven into the fabric of the community effort is story after story of ingenuity, thrift and cooperation. The parks department working with the school district to secure the land. Parks employees taking leftover bench supports from another project and fashioning them into resting spots. A parks department metalworker coming up with the idea for a vandal-proof dog drinking fountain, and added a whimsical face to the bowl. An Eagle Scout project created a bulletin board for dog park visitors to share information.
Katie Kosanke, who entered the town in the DOG FANCY contest, proudly shares tales of how this was all done without government funding or deep pockets, but with an abundance of creative problem-solving.
Peak and Gay Glasson, events coordinator of the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association, together helped create the town’s signature dog event, Dog D’Alene, an annual spring gathering that hosts a Doxie Dash and celebrates all things dog. “When we first proposed Dog d’Alene we faced a lot of doubts that a dog event would work, and now we have a new green space and we fill it with vendors and dog lovers,” says Glasson.
At the Kootenai Humane Society out by the airport, creativity also describes the staff and volunteers who have pushed adoptions higher by more than 60 percent. “By hosting birthday parties here we not only raise funds, but we also help educate youngsters about responsible dog ownership,” says Rondi Renaldo, executive director.
The society adopts out up to 1,800 pets a year, and to ensure the best match, employs a staff behaviorist to assess dogs and cats to determine which might be best the best fit for a potential adopter.
DogTown USA indeed.
My thanks to all the great dog lovers I met in Coeur d’Alene, who make this town such a
See more photos of DOG FANCY Editor Ernie Slone’s visit to Coeur d’Alene on DOG FANCY’s Facebook page, click here.