Jun 152010

One of the two most common questions that people bring up is – “Why is the Grant Bark Park surfaced with asphalt?“.*

A reasonable question.  The last thing I think any of us would propose de novo is to build an off-leash dog park that looks like the parking lot at your local mall:

The Chicago Park District requires that DFA be hard-surfaced, and states that hard surfaces prevent transmission of bacteria and viruses. But this is not some bureaucrat’s whim, and there’s a history behind the decision.

The proponents of the first dog park in Chicago, Wiggly Field, spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best surface for an off leash area in the City.  They noticed that grass quickly became mud, and they carried out tests for the parasites left behind in various surfaces, with the help of veterinary consultants.  They approached the issue of determining the appropriate surface for dog ‘friendly’ areas thoughtfully.  And it was their input that guided the policy decision made in 2000.  Their work is written up in the attached document, which we’re posting with permission of Stacey Hawk of DAWG:

Click to download a PDF version of the document

For those of us concerned about the off-leash dog ares in Chicago, this is an important read.   The priority issue is clearly stated: Infectious Disease Control.  On page 2 of the document, the issues and concerns with various surfaces are explored, and the argument is made for requiring a hard-surface at ‘DFA’s, and for allowing a pea-gravel relief area (with some constraints).

There are also some revealing compromises stated up front –  particularly, that “dog guardians should ideally cross-train and exercise their dogs in various environments“.

This is a document that impacts all of us as dog people in the City.  The evidence and arguments supporting the ‘hard surface’ decision were provided by dog advocates, not by bureaucrats.  Those of us who believe that ‘dog park as parking lot’ is a reductio ad absurdum will have to acknowledge and address the issues raised in this report if we are to propose a different direction.

* The other being – Where is that dog park, anyway?

  3 Responses to “Why are Chicago DFA’s ‘hard surfaced’?”

  1. Chicago Park District policy is to create very small dog areas (about one tenth of an acre) that have to be hard-surfaced so that they can accommodate the large number of dogs in their service areas without turning to muck.

    Seems logical enough. Is it the right policy?

    We don’t have concrete data, yet, but casual observation suggests that far more owners and their dogs are driven away from DFA’s because of this policy than are drawn to using the parks for recreation with their pets. And, when we’ve brought up potential infectious disease risks (e.g. filthy standing water) due to construction defects at the DFAs… we’ve been blown off.

    So, there are contradictions.

  2. I completely agree: this research needs to be questioned. There should be a group of professionals who look into this and determine whether this “research” is even valid.

    One of many examples of different cities who build dog parks with grass (REAL grass): New Orleans finished a beautiful, nearly all-grass dog park last year: http://www.nolacitybark.org/

    There are too many dog parks out there that are all grass, so I can’t imagine that everyone else is doing this wrong and only Chicago is correct.

    I’m upset because I just want my dog to exercise on a grassy area where his paws won’t be torn up. Montrose dog beach is incredibly crowded and dirty (from the people).

    I literally cannot find a single dog-safe area within a few miles of Chicago that contains grass for my dog to play on. Is it really too much to ask for? Am I and the previous poster asking for the moon here?

  3. I recently moved to Chicago and this research should be questioned. I came from MN and there is a large dog park with grass and my sister is a vet who help design the dog park. I’ll like to see the data behind this. It seems that these answers were back-ended and not based on science. If this study is to believed, wouldn’t all dog owners be required to have hard surface back yards? I’ve lived in several cities and usually travel with my dog and the vast majority of dog parks surfaces in the US are grass. Dog parks that have been around a lot longer than Chicago ones! The problem is that Chicago dog parks are way too small which is why the grass can’t survive.

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