pet projects : A Ruff Life

Consider the plight of the urban dog: cooped up in a house or a dinky yard, pacing, panting, snoozing the day away, awaiting the return of its family. Then, schedules permitting, a few moments of play and a quick, leashed-but-stress-relieving walk. Then night, and another day. No sprinting, no chasing, nowhere near enough bottoms to sniff. It shouldn’t happen to a cat.

But dogs yearning to run free are getting that chance in several Southern California cities, thanks to the creation of “bark parks"--fenced-off areas where they can roam unconstrained, frolicking with other dogs, safely enclosed by chain-link fences and double-exit doors.

“We’re too successful,” says Dave Alkema, park superintendent for Costa Mesa. “Our turf is worn down already.” Since opening in October in a section of TeWinkle Park, the city’s canine playground has entertained an average of 50 dogs daily. Alkema counted 155 on a recent Sunday.

Long Beach and Laguna Beach have had bark parks for about two years. Los Angeles has them in Studio City and Silver Lake and plans to open at least two more.


To be sure, the parks, particularly in Silver Lake, have stirred up some controversy. Some opponents say it makes little sense to turn park space over to dogs when so little is available to humans. Others cite hygiene fears. But park officials report few problems. So popular are the parks, in fact, that at least five other Orange County cities are considering opening their own.

Alkema even says they inspire a sort of doggie detente. “When I was at the park one day I saw a Russian wolfhound and a pug playing together,” he says. “I was expecting a nasty fight, but they were having a ball. It was incredible.”