A city for the dogs

* previous banner image post: The Commons

This is Lima. The elder beagle of the house. She’s kind of famous. For example, I once walked into my bank with her and after a brief glance down the teller asked, “is that Lima?” She knew her name, but not mine. That was shortly after her 15-minutes of fame (what is that in dog years?) in the Northern Express. banner-8Having her image grace this website is in part vanity–I like to show the beagles off–and it also represents many great things about Traverse City. It captures our commitment to an active lifestyle, a connection to nature, the value of recreational opportunities nearby, and being known as a dog friendly community.

This is important because in the last 20-years pets have steadily become members of families, no pet more so than our canine friends. According to a 2011 Humane Society survey, 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog and 75% of dog owners consider their pets to be a significant part of the family. This is up sharply from the 1980’s.

Pet owners are now pet parents.

Increasingly, this means people are spending money on their pets. It also means they are bringing them when they run errands, go out for entertainment, and travel. A majority of dog owners report desiring to take their dog on vacations.

DogBowl

Haystacks downtown goes all out for passing canines.

As a result, communities are responding with dog friendly hotels, specialized dog stores (like Traverse City’s D.O.G. Bakery), and small amenities like water dishes and treats set outside of entrances–Can you name all the locations doing so in downtown TC?

As well, a dog friendly community worth its chops must have a dog park. As chair of the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission, I worked with volunteers and the City to establish the region’s first public off-leash dog park in 2011. It’s a small, socializing dog park on the west side of town. It’s an example of what can be accomplished with an inclusive and collaborative process focused on a clear vision.

dog

An early plan of the TC Dog Park

In the near future, I look forward to working with supporters to spruce up the current park with improved grounds and permanent water bowls connected to the water system. I’d also like to work on establishing a socializing dog park on the east side of town–perhaps working with the County on a location in the Civic Center.

In the end, a small, socializing dog park isn’t about the dogs as much it is about people. I often call our park the off-leash people park because more often than not it is two strangers who strike up a conversation while the dogs sniff or lay around in the grass. It’s an example of how a public space can be designed to build and strengthen the social capital of a strong Traverse City.

Considering the shifting attitudes, a city that is committed to being a dog friendly city is an important aspect to making a great place better. Doing so will attract visitors. It will also attract and retain residents looking for a city that has…gone to the dogs.

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