Opinion: From Yappy Hour to Permanent Park, Dogs Need a Place To Play
Bethesda needs a pet-friendly public outdoor space
Amanda Farber photos
The chairman of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission recently completed his yearlong quest to visit every park in the Montgomery County park system – all 421 of them.
I opted for a much more modest challenge: visit every single county-operated dog park. All six of them.
Out of the six, Ellsworth Dog Park near downtown Silver Spring is the only one considered “urban.” Opened in 2016, it is the most recent addition to the county’s list. But the bumper sticker “Dog is My Co-Pilot” often rings literally true for the other county dog parks, such as Cabin John and Black Hill, because those locations require almost all visitors to drive to them.
Now Montgomery County, following a national trend, wants to expand its dog park footprint — or rather, pawprint – particularly in higher density, more walkable urban areas such as downtown Bethesda. That approach makes a lot of sense.
In 2017 and 2018, the county Parks Department, along with Bethesda Urban Partnership, held three successful pop-up “Yappy Hours” in Elm Street Park complete with temporary fencing and areas for large and small dogs. And last fall Bethesda Row sponsored a Wags and Whiskers fair that packed the area with people and their pets. These events, however, were just temporary treats and left people and their pups begging for something more permanent.
So the county Parks Department recently started the site-selection process for future urban dog parks and they are currently seeking public input. Two promising options closest to the downtown include Norwood Park and Elm Street Park.
In downtown Bethesda, many older apartment buildings, and many new residential buildings, not only just allow for dogs, but also actively advertise pet-friendly policies. And pet ownership in general is on the rise.
Without an official local dog park, default off-leash dog park locations have cropped up – but not always in the best places or with the best results. These include the green space owned by the National Institutes of Health between Woodmont and Wisconsin avenues, the playing fields at Lynbrook Park and Norwood Park, and the partially fenced playing field at Bethesda Elementary School.
Meanwhile, Alexandria, Virginia, has a fraction of the population of Montgomery County but operates just as many fenced public dog parks.
Washington, with almost one-third fewer residents than the county, operates twice as many dog parks.
In visiting sites in the county and in these other jurisdictions, I found a remarkable variety in the size, shape, design, amenities, materials, vibe, and accessibility of dog parks. It is clear the formula for a successful urban dog park is not the same as for a suburban one.
When people complain that they don’t want their tax dollars going toward dog parks, they are sometimes forgetting that dog parks are also people parks. It isn’t just man’s best friend that looks forward to and benefits from being outside and social.
Wagging tails can also translate to wallets. Some area restaurants with outdoor patios, such as Silver and Alatri Brothers, understand that laying out the welcome mat for dogs is a good way to draw customers. Other small local businesses such as veterinary offices, groomers, pet supply stores and even dog waste pickup services benefit from being located in a dog-friendly area.
And these kinds of amenities matter in the big business world as well. Of the select few images featured on the official Amazon Headquarters 2 website, one was of a dog park. And Bisnow.com recently reported that when dog-loving Amazon officials visited Virginia during the headquarters search, executives went out of their way to feature a place “packed with dogs.”
More well-designed, actively maintained urban dog parks can be a good thing for the whole community. “Wag more, bark less” is a popular saying these days. To that I would add: more parks, stress less.
With a growing population of people and dogs, a permanent dog park is a must in Bethesda’s future.
Amanda Farber has written about the impact of planning, zoning and development issues on the quality of life in Bethesda, where she has lived for almost 20 years with her husband, two sons and several four-legged family members. She serves on the East Bethesda Citizens Association, Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents Board, Conservation Montgomery Board and the Bethesda Implementation Advisory Committee.