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Posted March 23, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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New park is pooch-perfect
By Sally Voth
WINCHESTER -- A small section of Jim Barnett Park on Saturday was dedicated to the dogged pursuit of fun.
That pursuit was embarked upon by scores of canines and their human companions.
Saturday marked the official opening of the Winchester Dog Park. Rather than a ribbon cutting, dogs were encouraged to paw their way through a hand-drawn banner.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes -- golden retrievers, Yorkshire terriers, greyhounds, pugs, a whippet, a doberman pinscher, miniature daschunds, sharpeis, pit bulls, mutts -- joyfully ran off-leash, sniffed each other, chased tennis balls and each other and generally had a good time.
There were a few snarls, but mostly the pups seemed to enjoy running aimlessly, enjoying their newfound freedom. A couple of humans showed how much fun running up a pile of mulch could be, and were quickly joined by several dogs.
There were a couple of picnic tables where two-legged creatures could relax, although they made for good hiding places as well as a climbing apparatus for some pooches.
The park actually opened in January, said dog park co-chairman Rebecca Miller, but she and fellow co-chairman Becki Oliver were waiting for warmer weather to kick off the venture.
"It all started when Becki went to New Jersey, and she saw a dog park," Miller said.
She brought the idea back to Winchester's parks and recreation board and started a committee.
The result is a fenced-in acre of land for dogs and their people to frolic.
"Once the fence was up, we were pretty much good to go," Miller said. "We have the little poop stations."
As of Saturday morning, the dog park had 90 registered members, she said.
"It's really great for socialization," Miller said. "It's nice for the dog owner, especially if you live in an apartment or some place that doesn't have a big yard."
Gerald Ducatte has been bringing his soft-coated wheaten terrier to the park since it opened.
"She loves it," said Ducatte, who was videoing the action. "[She likes to] just run with the other dogs. It's a good outing for the dog. I walk the dog, but this is nothing like walking. She really opens up."
Golden retriever Annie and her owner, Robin Rodgers, are "charter members," Rodgers said.
"We really like it," she said. "It's great because of the other dogs, where they can get out and socialize. I think it makes a much better dog, too. She loves coming here. All I have to say is, 'Dog park.'"
Requiring member dogs to be licensed and show proof of vaccinations was reassuring, too, Rodgers said.
Outside of the fenced-in dog park, vendors had set up shop, selling dog treats and accessories and advertising grooming services. Various shelters also had booths, as did Boy Scouts selling food and Girl Scouts selling cookies.
The Blue Ridge Dog Training Club ran several dogs through an agility course.
Tara Teets and Ashleigh Hardy, both 11 years old and from Strasburg, handed out information and collected donations on behalf of the Winchester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"I just go [to the shelter], and help out, walk dogs and stuff," Teets said.
"We love dogs," Hardy added.
She tries to help homeless dogs "because I think it's nice to because they don't get a lot of attention."
"It's sad that they don't have a home," Teets added.
The two friends, who often finished each others' sentences, were impressed with the dog park.
"It's really, really good that everybody's down here and the dogs have a place to go out and run and play," Teets said. "We're glad that we can be here and help the animals."
Her grandmother, Dale Campbell, brought an adoptable dog from the shelter with her to the grand opening.
"We go and walk the dogs on weekends," she said, "[At] Tara's birthday party this year, in lieu of presents, she asked for food and kitty litter and stuff like that for the SPCA.
"I think [the dog park] is great. Is it not wonderful or what? Look at those dogs there just having a blast. You hear no fighting."
Several professional dogs demonstrated their skills for the other canines and their owners.
Labrador retriever Exodus, who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, demonstrated how he can detect large amounts of currency. Branch Chief Morris Berkowitz lined up 10 volunteers, giving one a suitcase containing $200,000 in shredded cash. Exodus sat in front of the person holding the bag.
The Winchester Police Department put a couple of its dogs through their paces, detecting drugs and finding objects touched by humans.
Dog park memberships can be bought at the War Memorial Building. Yearly memberships are $18 for the first dog for city residents, and $24 for everyone else, with reduced rates for each additional dog. For more information, visit www.wincdogpark.com.
The dog park committee is also seeking sponsors to buy signs on the park fence. For more information, call 662-4946.
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