NASA's shuttle Endeavor didn't land in Costa Mesa, but one local dog owner has other plans to bring space travel to humans and non-humans alike.
Briana Smith, 22, of Newport Beach, took a small step for dogs and their owners when she entered the Nestle-Purina Beneful Dream Dog Park Contest 2012 with visions of transforming the Costa Mesa Bark Park into something otherworldly.
Her plans of a solar system-themed dog park would include a canine version of a space shuttle, black hole tunnels, flying star jumps, water planet slash pads and for human "astronauts," a solar room for comfortable observation.
"Where we live is a really great place for humans, really," Smith said. "But I figured if I won and the dog park was renovated, it would give them the same opportunity we have to enjoy living here."
Her inspiration for the plans came from her four-legged best friend, Star, a 1-year-old border collie.
"Star — she makes me really happy," Smith said. "I think that's true of all dog owners and their dogs."
A state-of-the-art dog park would not only give Smith the opportunity to make Star happy in return, but also give the same relationship-building opportunity to other dog owners.
"When humans interact with their dogs, it's creating a relationship that is important to both their lives," she said.
She chose to feature the Costa Mesa Bark Park, which lacks grassy areas and shade, in her entry because it's where she takes Star most often. However, under the contest rules, Beneful chooses the area park most feasible for the renovation project.
This is the third year of the contest, which awards a $500,000 donation to renovate the dog park, plus $10,000 and a lifetime supply of Beneful dog food to the winning contestant.
More than 800 participants nationwide entered the 2012 contest, which is in part decided by public voting at BenefulDreamDogPark.com.
"We have great finalists this year," said Julie Kahn, Beneful spokeswoman. "Clearly everyone who entered is a very passionate dog lover."
All 12 finalists' entry essay and video submissions are available for viewing and voting though Nov. 7.
Last year's winning entry resulted in renovating an Alabaster, Ala., dog park. The dog park, which added touch-button splash pads and shaded seating areas, brought together more than just dog lovers, Kahn said.
"It's incredibly meaningful what [an impact] these renovated dog parks have had on communities," said Kahn, who witnessed the prior years' transformations from start to finish.
In Alabama, the reopening of the park was met with such local support that the City Council later voted to bring in additional parking to the area, Kahn said.
Local businesses also do much of the work.
The 2010 winner was a park in Johns Creek, Ga.
"We are hearing from both communities that it is a wonderful way to bring the community together and that even if you're not a dog owner, it is still something that you must go see," Kahn said.
But the biggest benefits go to the dogs and their owners.
"Most dog parks are just fenced in areas for dogs to run, but it would be wonderful if we could make the dog park interactive," veterinarian student Ambre Smith, Briana Smith's sister, wrote via email from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.
Both sisters train border collies, Star included, in agility and other skills competitions.
"Dogs play such a vital role in human happiness, hence, 'man's best friend'," Ambre Smith continued. "Why not make an interactive park where humans can play and be active as much as their dogs? This would be a great way to get people excited about exercising and training their dogs."
If Briana Smith's dream dog park wins the Beneful contest, the park could be open in as little as six or seven months, giving dogs and their owners and better place to play and train.
And, more importantly, a place to connect.
"Dogs are happy when you're happy," Briana Smith said. "They know your emotions and feel what you're feeling."
How to Vote
What: Beneful Dream Dog Park Contest for $500,000 renovation to an area dog park
When: Contest closes Nov. 7
How: Vote at http://www.benefuldreamdogpark.com