Stamford park celebrates five years of barking and wagging
STAMFORD -- Pot-bellied, floppy-eared Rosie didn't look very mobile out there at the dog park Saturday, but she made some noise, standing resolutely just inside the shade of a giant tree, tail wagging furiously, sounding her beagle bark at the little terriers, Chihuahuas, pugs and poodles flashing by her as they engaged in their own high-speed game of doggie tag.
Saturday was a celebration of the five-year anniversary of Stamford's first dog park, a 1.2-acre section of Hunt Park off Courtland Avenue, where dogs of all ages and breeds can play. The dog park is fenced off into two sections, one for big dogs and one for smaller dogs. And Saturday, amid the brief speeches, the free pizza and other celebratory stuff, the dogs played. Socialization and play are not just for the dogs here, as the humans have also been known to get some exercise chasing their pets and also get in some socialization of their own talking to other owners.
Rosie's owner, Karen Varga, said the dog park was a selling point for her when she moved to Stamford after accepting a job here. In addition to Rosie, she brought Rocco, a peppy Yorkie, with her. The trio enjoy the park as much as the weather permits, Varga said.
Juan Arenas, a Stamford resident for 18 years, has had his dog Bambino for six. He brought the retriever to the park to play and get a microchip implanted from Outreach to Pets in Need, which was providing them free.
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This park is special. It took three years just to get it built, maneuvering through the various city boards and addressing concerns about mess and liability. Unlike other parks, this one is not about people, though certainly the people enjoy it. It is really about the dogs, and a way for the owners to reward another species on the planet that has for some reason adopted us as family. Talk to most dog owners and they'll tell you their dogs give everything and ask for nothing back, but a pat on the head or a rub of the tummy. Sometimes they are even life savers.
"I have never loved anyone like him," Arenas said of Bambino. "I was alone before I got him."
Arenas said he suffers from depression, and on the advice of his psychologist, he got Bambino. The dog changed his life.
Now he's got a best friend, and the park is a wonderful place to take him, especially this month.
"I live by the water and we walk on the beach. He likes to swim, but because of the contamination, he can't," Arenas said, referring to last week's huge sewage spill into the sound from Stamford.
Ali Girardi, president of OPIN, has five dogs. It's sort of a requirement when you run a rescue organization, she said, standing near the microchipping station, where a line had formed. In it, a little dog strained at its leash, moving side to side like a kite in a strong wind, as it tried to play with a big Lab standing near him.
Girardi said providing chips is important. Too often, a dog gets out and can get a long way from home and winds up in a shelter that has no way of knowing who the owner is. The chip, which is smaller than a grain of rice and is inserted under the skin of an animal's neck, ties the dog and owner together forever.
Mayor David Martin spoke briefly at the event, and admitted that he wasn't an immediate supporter of creating the dog park. He was president of the Board of Representatives when it was proposed, and was skeptical about whether it would be popular with people, or even whether it was feasible. The leaders of the effort to create the park, Art Layton and Eileen Heaphy, both BOR members at the time, pushed for the park and prevailed, though.
"Thank you so much, Eileen. Thank you so much, Art," Martin said. "This dog park would not have existed without Eileen and Art."
Heaphy and Layton both enjoyed the day talking to dog owners, giving out prizes and making announcements. Layton said it was Heaphy's idea and he jumped aboard. As he talked, he greeted a shaggy black dog named Shea, patting the gregarious dog up and down. "Hi Shea, Shea," he said to the dog.
The struggle to open the park is something developers and other property owners hoping to build or create something in the city have faced.
The group had to find the land, create a plan for it and then get it through all the proper boards and commissions, also while raising money.
As the recession began to develop, the newly formed nonprofit Dog Friends of Stamford formed to raise money to fund its construction.
"We raised $27,000 during the recession," Layton said. "Most of the donations were $20 to $25."
That success has been echoed in the popularity of the park. Layton said the park gets a steady stream of visitors daily from sunup to sundown.