By Ron Leir
For the past eight years or so, canine enthusiasts talked up the idea of a “dog park” but it never seemed to take hold.
Now a small cadre is mounting a campaign to doggedly pursue the notion that the four-legged creatures should have their day.
To that end, advocates for the cause – Councilwomen Carol Jean Doyle and Laura Pettigrew and resident Karen Del – are unleashing a weapon of persuasion in a petition proposing “dog park construction for Riverbank Park.
”The petition says:
“We the undersigned wish to express our support of the Town of Kearny’s funding application for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres program. We strongly feel that the Town of Kearny’s dog park construction project will provide our children, adults and canine caregivers with a facility that is necessary, critical and essential to our community.
“Your funding support will help achieve our community’s recreational goals while improving viable open space for its residents….”
Doyle said that a petition signed by many Kearny residents will show the state that there is resolve behind the town’s application. As of last week, Doyle said that some 75 signatures – including one from Mayor Alberto Santos – had been collected.
“The mayor gave me the green light,” Doyle told The Observer.
Although the Town Council has yet to give its endorsement of the project, or to authorize the suggested application, Doyle said she doesn’t foresee any opposition among her colleagues.
Doyle concedes that creating a dog park is no easy feat, particularly when the cost can approximate as much as $300,000.
“It can’t be a matter of a square with fencing around it and it’s not just a matter of throwing down some mulch,” Doyle said. “You need running water, a drainage system that includes a porous base to collect water – like a mud bath for dogs – for the runoff to go to. You also need fencing, benches and a design for insurance to cover.”
That’s why, Doyle said, the petition is being directed to a state agency for financing the project “so it won’t cost the taxpayers anything.”
But since the application process is competitive and since there’s only so much money in the Green Acres pot, there’s no guarantee that Kearny will get the money needed to develop the proposed dog park, Doyle acknowledged.
Still, the group is choosing to be optimistic, insisting that public awareness of the need for the facility must be heightened to push its goal forward.
Pressed for more details around the project’s price tag, Santos characterized $300,000 as “at the high end’’ – based on the premise of having two sites: one for larger dogs and a second for smaller sizes. “But if get only enough funding for one facility, the cost would probably be closer to half that amount,” he said.
“There’s definitely a need for it,” the mayor said. “There are limited facilities in the area and sometimes owners walk their dogs in parks and playgrounds, which is not permitted in Kearny. In playgrounds, where you have younger children, it’s primarily for safety reasons; in parks, both for safety and for potential health hazards (from dog droppings).”
If the facility is designed for “proper drainage and appropriate watering and hosing down the area,” the hope is that it could be maintained “in-house” by town workers at minimal cost to taxpayers, Santos said.
Initially, the dog park idea was pitched by then-Councilman Jose Torres; unfortunately, proponents found themselves barking up the wrong tree, due to “financial considerations and other priorities, such as the revitalization of Passaic Ave. according to Doyle.
“It’s time,” said Del, a local realtor and owner of a 2-yearold mini-Pincher acquired through an animal rescue agency. “Residents who are tenants with no access to a back yard,” said Del, “have nowhere to exercise or socialize their dogs” – something that only a dog park can satisfy.
“I contacted the Board of Health and they informed me that they license between 1,100 and 1,200 dogs annually in Kearny,” Del said.
Right now the closest available dog park is located in the Lyndhurst section of Riverside Park off Passaic Ave. and while the group hedged on identifying the exact location it’s pitching for the Kearny dog park, Doyle said: “We’re looking at three spots – all town-owned and all along the river. For many Kearny residents, it would still be a drive to get (to the site) but it would less of a drive (than going to Lyndhurst).”
Distancing the facility from neighboring residents is key, Doyle said, “because we’re cognizant of the noise issue.”
Still, Del said, a dog park “isn’t just for dogs – it’s a people park, too. It offers a chance to meet your neighbors, to talk about social issues. And for seniors whose pets have passed on or who can’t afford one, it’s a chance to get their ‘fix’ by coming down and watching the dogs.” “That’s right,” said Pettigrew, the owner of a 2-yearold Maltese. “People make connections there.” And, Doyle added, “it’s a safe place for dogs.”
Deputy Town Clerk Lyla DeCastro, who chairs the town’s Recreation Committee, has signed the petition. “It’s a great idea,” she said. “It offers the opportunity for a safe off-leash place for dogs, it gets dogs off the street and it puts them in a centralized area where dogs can run around. It gives dogs the opportunity to socialize with other dogs, plus it gets people out in the community.”
Doyle, who has had two dogs – one for eight years and another for 18 – is ready to move forward. If everything works out this time, “we’d like to be operating by spring 2013,” she said.
Santos said he’d like to see the proposal brought before the governing body for consideration “by either August or September,” when council members would be asked to formally endorse it and authorize making application for Green Acres funding.
Petitions are available for residents to sign at these locations: The Town Clerk’s office on the first floor of the Municipal Building, the Board of Health, the Public Library’s main branch, Arlington Dog & Cat Hospital and Bone Appetit Barkery & Spa.