Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Greenbelt dog park attracts area canines and their owners

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Bryan Haynes⁄The Gazette
Craig Hawkins of Lanham plays tug with a Presa canario named Anikan at the Greenbelt Dog Park.
Gator, a 7-week-old Rottweiler and German shepherd mix, learned quickly the meaning of hanging with the big boys during his first encounter with Bronco, a 9-month-old Cane corso, Monday evening at the Greenbelt Dog Park.

Bronco, who outweighs Gator by more than 50 pounds, knocked the small puppy down while they were running together.

‘‘Gator’s a little hurt right now. Bronco knocked him over,” said Larry Witcher, Gator’s owner.

But for the dogs and their owners, there were no hard feelings—it was just another day of playing in the dog park, which has been open since 1996. The gated 20,000 square foot area, located on Hanover Drive, features dog tunnels and open space for dogs to run and play with each other.

‘‘It’s like a little community,” Greenbelt resident Sharon Anderson said. ‘‘Dogs are so much the [focus of the] attention there. It’s funny, but everybody knows the name of the dog before they know who is the owner.”

Anderson, who is the owner of Huckleberry, a Bluetick coonhound, said the park is ideal for her dog because he expends a lot of energy there.

She said before Huckleberry introduces himself to dogs, he sniffs the perimeter of the park and starts running around.

Along with offering dogs a place to exercise with their owners, Linda Guttman of Greenbelt said improving her dog’s social skills attracts her and Bella, a Vizsla, to the park.

‘‘The park gives people a place to take their dog for social interaction and build camaraderie between neighbors,” said Guttman, 63.

‘‘The dog park brings people together. [People start talking] about their dog doing something for the first time, pretty soon everyone is sharing one of their dog’s tales,” said Anderson, 54. ‘‘Even people that don’t have a dog but see the dogs running around will come by and start a conversation [with owners].”

However, Guttman said 6-year-old Bella’s interaction with dogs has changed from excitement with the arrival of new dogs to a princess-like aloofness, because she is getting older and has less energy.

Celia Craze, Greenbelt’s director of Planning and Community Development, said residents asked for the park. The original cost of the dog park was $7,000. In 2007, $15,000 was used to expand the park.

‘‘Dog parks were becoming more popular and successful in other communities, so we looked for a piece of property that it could be constructed on,” Craze said.

Craze said Greenbelt officials examined government agencies in Northern Virginia that had dog parks to see how they were managed.

Greenbelt resident Amethyst Dwyer said observing and talking with other dog owners has improved her relationship with Tevya, an Australian shepherd and Kali, a collie.

‘‘Tevya has learned proper dog etiquette. Also, I have learned proper canine behavior, like if the hairs on a dog’s back are bristled and straight, the dog is scared or in an aggressive state and if dogs stare each other down, that means trouble,” said Dwyer, 38.

Dwyer said the park’s community-friendly atmosphere gives residents a great deal of pride.

‘‘I am very satisfied with the park in that dogs get a lot of exercise but far more importantly it’s a place where dog’s socialization skills are developed,” Dwyer said. ‘‘It’s an experience to see 10 to 15 dogs jumping and running all around, where they get their ya-yas out.”

E-mail Marcus Ngbea at mngbea@gazette.net