OLYMPIA — Aside from being a little rainier than most, Thurston County is a lot like every other county in the United States: We’re crazy about our pets. Depending on which survey you’re reading, it seems like there’s a cat and a dog in just about every household.
Until recently, it’s been a little tough to find room for Rex to ramble despite the amount of wide open space here in the county. Ordinances insist that dogs remain leashed and pet owners who let their best friends run free had been risking a fine. But the landscape has changed, and now area dog owners have their pick of spots to exercise their animals.
There are two official “Dog Parks” — known more generally as “off-leash dog areas” — in Thurston County. The City of Olympia built a one-acre enclosure at Sunrise Park on the city’s west side. Further east is a five-acre spread known as the Thurston County Off-Leash Dog Area at Hawk’s Prairie.
Both come as welcome relief to people who previously had to travel to Fort. Steilacoom Park in Lakewood to find an officially sanctioned off-leash area — a 22 acre spread known by some people in the dog world as “dog mecca”.
“Before these opened up, the closest one was in Lakewood,” Lynn Scroggins, president of the advocacy group Sound Hounds said. “For years, we’d drive up there on weekends to run the dogs. You were always running into Olympia people up there.”
“You have to follow the rules,” Scroggins said. “Every off-leash dog area has a set of rules, and they’re common rules — pick up after your dog, be in control of your dog — things like that.”
The rules are clearly posted at the double-gated entrance to the facilities. At the Sunrise Park area for example, owners are reminded to clean up dog waste, make sure their pets are healthy and to bring just two dogs per adult to the park. Food treats and toys are also prohibited to cut down on the potential for fights and tussles.
The region has been somewhat slow to adopt off-leash areas despite their acceptance nationwide. Because they are new here, agencies and municipalities have had to start from scratch as far as creating legal frameworks necessary to get these projects going. Sound Hounds is a non-profit group that advocates in favor of off-leash dog areas and is dedicated to working with government entities to get those frameworks in place.
“They didn’t want to open designated areas until they had policies and procedures in place,” she said.
Scroggins and Sound Hounds continue to work to get more dog park features installed throughout the region. And though funds are always a challenge to procure, Sound Hounds is willing to work to dig them up if they find a willing partner with a potential site.
“We’re looking to expand,” she said. “That’s one of our focuses this year. We’d like to see other jurisdictions come up with parks. We’d like to see Tumwater designate a site. If they designate a site, we can help raise funds. People are more than willing to help out.”
And with two successful parks built so far, a model is in place for more in the future, with benefits that go beyond some fresh air and exercise for canines and their human companions.
“My very favorite thing is that it creates community,” Scroggins said. “Think about all the people who have dogs and the kind of people they are: from all walks of life, from all races, from all political beliefs. I’ve never seen more diversity than at a dog park. They build community.”
Public off-leash dog areas in and around Thurston County:
Sunrise Park, 505 Bing St. NW, Olympia, WA 98502
Thurston County Off-Leash Dog Area at Hawk’s Prairie, 2418 Hogum Bay Rd NE, Lacey WA 98516
Fort Steilacoom Park Off-Leash Area, 8714 87th Ave. SW, Lakewood, WA 98498
Borst Park Dog Park, 902 Johnson Rd., Centralia, WA 98531
Grandview Off-Leash Dog Park, 3600 S 228th St. SeaTac, WA 98032
Photo courtesy of Sound Hounds. Thanks for your assistance.
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