Not wagging tail yet over dog park talk

Last week, news broke about a potential dog park being planned in Shawano near the Shawano County Humane Society. As a dog owner, I should have found that to be wonderful news. I didn’t, because I’ve seen other efforts to establish a dog park in the area fizzle out for one reason or another.

When I first moved to Wisconsin and started working for the Leader eight years ago, there was talk about the city potentially offering some land that it owned near County Road B for a potential park. That didn’t materialize.

Then a dog park group formed, and Shawano County was approached for potential space for a park. Several ideas were tossed up, including the old county farm property, the old Franklin School site and later a clay borrows site in the town of Belle Plaine. Then a circus ensued.

First, there was a question over which county committee should be working with the local group — public property, which oversees all county-owned property; highway and parks, which manages the county parks; or agriculture and extension, which had oversight of the county farm land.

After the management issue was settled, the county farm property idea was tossed out because it’s in a timberline management area.

The Franklin School idea was nixed because of back taxes being owed at the time. It’s ironic that the spot did eventually turn into a park, just not one where dogs are welcome.

During consideration of the clay borrows site, another dog group, the Muddy Waters Retriever Club, wanted to use the site, as it would have been a little closer to home than Mosinee, where the club was training the dogs at the time.

Top that off with neighbors around the site speaking out about not wanting to deal with the sound of barking dogs, owners calling about commands and whistling, and what would have been a simple issue in other communities turned into a flaming, political mess, with both groups getting a big no from the County Board. That is why there is no dog park in Shawano County today.

Until last year, dogs were not allowed in any of the city parks. That changed when the Shawano Common Council voted to allow dogs in certain parks. Was it because the council had a change of heart and felt that letting the dogs walk in the same park as humans was no longer a hassle? Nope. The only reason the dogs got to enter the parks was because they were seen as a humane deterrent to wild geese dropping their smelly feces, and the city was trying to avoid the wrath of residents who saw their geese Plan A — eradication — as ludicrous.

Fast forward to February, and the Leader has a story on the city eyeing a vacant lot in the industrial park near the humane society that could be used. It sounds good on the surface, as it’s not near any homes, and the lot’s next-door neighbor doesn’t have an issue with barking dogs.

So why am I not out buying some fresh tennis balls for my terrier mix, Toby, and eagerly awaiting the ribbon cutting at some point in the future? It’s because this song-and-dance has already played out.

“It’s going to require community buy-in and community input,” said City Administrator Eddie Sheppard last week. Well, there was a group interested in doing the work before to raise funds and create a park ideal for man’s best friend. They got bopped on the head with a newspaper, figuratively speaking, and told “No! No! Bad puppies!” I think the city’s going to find dog owners to be a little more timid about working with the government this time around.

The fact that the city and county see this as a big production requiring plans and hearings is almost laughable. In 2010, I was living in Arizona near Lake Powell and wrote a story about a Girl Scout who built a dog park next to one of the city parks. It didn’t require committees determining where the park should go and who should oversee it. It didn’t involve meetings where neighbors were saying not in my backyard.

The dog park that was created wasn’t a huge facility, but it was enough for a few owners to take their furry friends off the leash and run around. I had just adopted Toby, and the dog park was ideal for training him. I was only able to use it for a couple of months before relocating to Wisconsin.

Ironically, dogs have become the guns of the four-legged world. Much in the same way many folks believe that a shooting incident means we should restrict all gun owners, communities act like the minute chance you’ll come across a vicious dog means we should keep all dogs away from public facilities where people might tread.

Seeing that Shawano has more than two dozen parks to boast about, it’s crazy that we don’t have a dog park already, but people preferred to listen to the high-pitched whistle of paranoia and punish all dog owners for the bad acts of a few.

I’m hoping I’m wrong, but this area isn’t famous for embracing change. A dog park would be a wonderful thing for Shawano and all the dog owners that live here, and if it comes to pass, Toby and I will definitely make use of it. However, I won’t be surprised if the status quo prevails again, and canine advocates are told to roll over and play dead.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.