Originally created 09/21/03

Pets, owners get place to play



Seamus, a 95-pound Weimaraner with boundless energy and a devoted owner, has a limited understanding of politics.

He doesn't understand that a growing number of governments throughout Georgia are considering constituents like him when they plan new parks.

All he knows is he loves to chase tennis balls.

On one sunny afternoon, Seamus stood frozen with concentration, his giant ears blowing gently in the wind, his eyes focused on the tennis ball his owner held loosely in his hand.

Tom Woddail pretended to not notice Seamus' pleading eyes as he chatted with other dog owners in the fenced-in, shady area at Memorial Park in Athens.

Mr. Woddail and his girlfriend, Kristen Hamilton, are happy that Athens is ahead of the trend when it comes to dog parks.

While a handful of other communities around the state are beginning to develop their first dog parks, Athens already has three, and another is planned.

In addition to the Memorial Park facility, where a crowd of owners can let dogs off their leashes in the enclosed area of a wooded hillside, the county has a dog park at Sandy Creek Park, where owners pay a nominal fee to rent an enclosed area.

The University of Georgia allows dogs and owners to play along the shores and in the water of a small pond at the UGA intramural fields off College Station Road, an area which isn't fenced.

The parks provide a selection that's not available elsewhere in Georgia.

Seamus' home turf isn't fenced, but he's pretty reliable when it comes to staying in the yard, Ms. Hamilton said. The couple brings him to the park to exhaust him and give them time to catch up and meet with other pet owners.

The parks also give owners a place to play.

"It's a people park," said Rex Shooter, a planner with Gwinnett County's parks department. "It's for people whose primary recreation is with their dogs."

Gwinnett is one of several counties developing a dog park in response to residents' requests.

There are only a few in the state, Mr. Shooter said, but they are quickly gaining popularity, especially in growing counties such as Gwinnett, where a committee decided two years ago that dog areas should be a priority in several county parks.