Enjoying dog days of summer in Wheaton

Hound hangout a popular place for pooches, people

Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Sitting with her father, George Mesevnisky (right), on a bench in the dog exercise park inside Wheaton Regional Park, Bethesda resident Xenia Woyevodsky (left) pats her dog, Duschka, and smiles as a furry dog named Scottie leaps to greet her.

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Melanie Hennigan of Takoma Park hoses down Haley, her 1-year-old Newfoundland.

Bruce Seidel knows the routine. Like other dog owners in Montgomery County, he wakes up early Sunday mornings to accompany his canine companion to Wheaton Regional Park’s dog exercise area, one of the few places in the county where dogs can socialize off-leash.

But it isn’t just the dog’s social life that has been thriving since Seidel became a regular at the park nine months ago. Though he visits Wheaton Regional for his dog, Seidel stays for the conversation.

‘‘You see a lot of the same people. I certainly know more people from the dog park than in my own neighborhood,” said Seidel, a Silver Spring resident. ‘‘It’s amazing how the vast majority of the people here are responsible for their dogs, and you have an immediate commonality with them.”

The exercise area has become one of Wheaton Regional’s most frequently visited sections.

‘‘There aren’t many dog parks in the area, and I like being able to let my dog run without a leash. I have a back yard but here, there is more room for the dogs to run and socialize,” said Nat Dickinson, a Takoma Park resident. ‘‘You get used to seeing your dog with other dogs, and that’s an important part of understanding your own dog.”

Wheaton’s exercise area is about half an acre, and is surrounded by a 6-foot chain-link fence with a double-gated entrance. Running water and tennis balls enhance the experience for the canines, while humans enjoy the area’s abundance of benches and shade.

Some owners spend their time socializing.

‘‘I can be here two and a half hours and not even realize it if there are people here that I know and I’m chatting,” said Shannon Mandel, a Silver Spring resident who has made several friends and acquaintances at the park.

The Wheaton Regional exercise area, which opened January 2003, was the first of three the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission built that year. The other two are located at Ridge Road Recreational Park in Germantown and Black Hill Regional Park in the Germantown⁄Clarksburg area.

The Montgomery County Dog Owner Group, known as MC-Dog, was at the forefront of the movement that convinced the commission that exercise areas would be vital resources.

‘‘About five years ago [dog exercise areas] were becoming popular around the country. MC-Dog brought it to the commission’s attention that these would be valuable to have,” said Ginny Moxley, park manager of the Wheaton Maintenance Facility of Montgomery County Park and Planning.

Prior to 2003, county leash laws left many dog owners with limited options to walk their dog.

‘‘Most people here are supportive of leash laws, but when you have leash laws, a dog park is a huge commodity in a community. Owners wants to be responsible, and the park is a great solution,” said Alison Garrity, a Kensington resident.

Initially, some were opposed to the dog parks due to concerns about their proximity to private property, their sanitation and potentially violent behavior by aggressive dogs, Moxley said. Thus far the concerns have not been an issue due to responsible owners.

‘‘I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. ... We haven’t had any complaints,” said Moxley, who receives calls from other counties interested in constructing dog parks. ‘‘The dog walkers keep it clean and are responsible for themselves.”

After years of general satisfaction with their social oasis in Wheaton Regional Park, county dog owners would like to see a few minor improvements.

‘‘I’m here early in the morning, and it would be nice to have someone with a cart selling Starbucks or something to drink,” said Beth Staley, a Silver Spring resident. ‘‘More grass would be nice.”