Barks & Recreation: How To Open a Dog Park in Your City

Several city parks are going to the dogs and pet parents couldn’t be happier.

But what do you do if your city doesn’t have a space yet for you and your pooch?

Friends of El Dorado Dog Park, a non-profit organization based in Long Beach, Calif., has been working for a year and a half to open a dog park in the city.

“It is a long process and sometimes you are brainstorming your next move. Sometimes you hit road blocks, but you learn to go around them. It has also been a learning process of how the system works, so this is a good thing,” Mary Matthiensen, president of the Friends of El Dorado Dog Park, said.

“It has also been frustrating, mind boggling, amusing, fun, encouraging and exhausting. I would not change it at all with the new people I have met and dog owners that are wanting a dog park – it has made it all worth every acre we get for the dog park.”

The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA (PHS) in San Mateo, Calif., suggests that interested parties gather statistics on the dogs and their owners in your community.  They recommend asking questions such as:


  • “How many dogs would use a dog park?”
  • “What are the demographics of the people in your city?”
  • “Who currently uses city parks – and who doesn’t?”


The PHS also suggests that you “downplay the ‘dog factor’ and emphasize people issues. Dogs don’t pay taxes or vote.”

One of the biggest challenges that Matthiensen has faced is the issue that the proposed dog park is in a regional park, and many other activities are already in place.

“Our vision has to be in phases because everything has to go to through the park commissioners. Even if your council from your district is for it, you may want to venture outside your district for additional support,” Matthiensen said. “The most challenging thing for me to remember is that when you are going through this process, be sure to keep all of the various city and parks departments straight, as well as who is responsible for the different job titles.”

The Friends of El Dorado Dog Park currently have 400 signatures on their dog park petition. If it is successful, they plan to add activity equipment for dogs and their pet parents to play together, a pond for dogs to play in on hot summer days and a dog-wash system to help generate funds.

“Think outside the box when starting your dog park; make it about more that just the dog park. Think about how people can be educated on the humane treatment of animals. Start fundraisers and support other groups by making it a priority to network with fellow animal lovers,” Matthiensen suggested. “If you have what it takes to take on a long project, it will be well worth it in the end. Dog parks are an asset to cities – they just need to have a lot of support from people outside your association as well.”

Here are some tips for building a dog park in your community from the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA:


  • Start with a core group of committed dog-park activists.
  • Hold a public meeting.
  • Educate your fellow dog owners.
  • Write a clear mission statement.
  • Demonstrate need and support.
  • Create a budget.
  • Solicit the input and seek the approval of significant organizations in your community.
  • Be prepared to address a range of concerns.
  • A letter of support from your local humane society can help your efforts.
  • Get to know local officials.
  • Request a hearing with city government.
  • Be patient.