It’s not a coincidence that anyone who could write so eloquently about a couple of boys named Tom and Huck — and a big river — would also have to be a “dog person.”
Mark Twain was one of those individuals who enjoyed the companionship of four-legged, furry friends that give so much and ask so little.
“The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s,” Twain once penned.
After all, who on Earth knows more about unconditional love than a dog?
Creating a little slice of heaven on earth for their best friends is the goal of the Friends of the Canine Corral at McHose Park. One look at the dogs and it’s easy to see that it’s a wish come true.
In today’s sedentary society, where even play is “organized,” a visit to the canine corral quickly reminds anyone of what simple, old fashioned fun is really all about. With their tails wagging and grins on their furry faces, the dogs here run and jump and play in freedom.
It’s a leash-free world in the corral, and a place where both man and dog can make a few new friends.
“The fact that we can just let the dogs run and play — and get to meet a whole bunch of other people who love their dogs as much as we do — has been just great,” says Nick Sawyer.
Sawyer, a Boone native, brings his dog Emma to the park whenever he can.
“She enjoys meeting new people,” Sawyer says of Emma.
And the benefits of time to run in freedom continue when Emma and her master return home for the day.
“She gets worn out and will actually sleep instead of bouncing off the walls,” he explains.
Helping to spearhead the Canine Corral are Bill and Donna Greenley, who say they have been “dog people” their entire lives. When they moved to Boone from Ottumwa a year ago, they knew right away that they wanted to help start a dog park.
“We had been on the committee to get the dog park in Ottumwa when we lived there, and we wanted to do that when we moved here. We wanted to show people how much fun it is,” says Donna.
Canine Corral volunteers quickly teamed up with the city of Boone and found a strip of about 2.5 acres in McHose Park to dedicate to the dog park. The first fence went up this spring, and dogs now share a large portion of that area to run and jump and play in freedom.
“The city of Boone and the Parks Department have been absolutely fabulous to work with,” says Donna. “They’re just wonderful… very patient in listening to us and very good about giving their suggestions.”
The Greenleys see benefits citywide in giving dogs a place to burn off excess energy.
“Dogs that live in small spaces need to run and play, and they get to do that here, so they are happier dogs. They just become better neighbors,” Donna explains.
To which Bill adds, “They are better socially with dogs and people.”
And, as for people, spending time with dogs and watching them play and run just may be the cheapest way to have fun and brighten any day.
While the area already looks complete, Friends of the Canine Corral have more plans in store. Currently, all dogs share the one space. The next phase will include another fenced-in area so small dogs will have their own area separate from large breeds.
The first fencing project was budgeted at about $13,000, and another $5,000 is being sought to finish the fencing area for small dogs. Contributions can be made online at the Canine Corral Facebook page or sent in care of the city of Boone Parks Foundation.
Future plans also include purchasing play equipment for dogs, but for now, the dogs are having a grand time with a park of their own. Agility equipment will also include teeter-totters, jumps and hoops — all of which are sure to bring laughter to humans and much-needed exercise for home-bound dogs. Humans also tend to get plenty of exercise keeping up with their canine friends here.
The city’s continued responsibility for the dog park is similar to what it had when it was just another slice of McHose Park, Canine Corral organizers point out. The city continues to mow, as it did before, and provide basic garbage pickup. Recycled grocery bags are used to collect droppings and thereby keep costs down.
While other dog parks charge a fee, admission is free to the public. Membership in Friends of Canine Corral is $25 per year and will be used for ongoing maintenance and improvements.
The city provides insurance coverage, similar to the way it covers other special use areas such as the swimming pool and skateboard park.
Rules for use of the park are mostly common sense. No aggressive dogs are allowed, and dogs in heat should stay away until the coast is clear in that department.
Dog handlers must be at least 16 years of age and bring no more than three dogs per handler.
“People food” — or as dogs call it, “the good stuff” — is not allowed, but dog treats for training purposes are welcome.
Most important, dogs must be up to date on rabies vaccinations, and owners must be able to show proof.
Prior to the park opening in Boone, Laura Mallas says she used to take her dog, Brody, to the dog park in Ames for off-leash adventures. Now they enjoy the same freedom without making that extra trip out of town.
“We come here three or four times a week now,” she says. “He loves to be off-leash and to be able to run and play with other dogs.”
Mallas says it’s a great time for both her and Brody to get a workout.
“I walk around while he runs, and it tires him out,” she says.
Once back home, Brody is a happier, more well-behaved dog for having had the chance to run and roam at will.
As for the Greenleys, they are happy to help give every dog a better quality of life, whether it be by working to bring a dog park to the community or rescuing a dog in need. The couple adopted their current dog after finding her abandoned on a busy stretch of highway.
“We found her running down the center line of a four-lane highway; right behind us a semi blew her off into the ditch,” Bill recalls.
The couple saved the frightened dog from the highway and advertised extensively in an effort to find her owner, but when no one came to claim her they named her Dottie May and happily made her a part of their own family.
“Someone had done some work with her because she was totally house-trained. She’s great for older people because she’s so quiet and so good,” Donna says.
Dottie May is a speckled hound and may have some English Pointer in her, but mostly she’s just adorable.
Perhaps one of the most important features of any dog park is the camaraderie it builds among dogs and people. Dogs — being social animals — love the chance to play with other dogs. And, as for people, they also love the chance to meet and mingle with other folks who “get it,” who understand the love and joy that a dog brings into a home.
Kristen Stevens enjoys coming with her daughters, Ava and Kara. They bring Baxter, the family’s German Shepherd/Boxer mix, to run and play with other dogs.
“I enjoy that Baxter gets to play with other dogs and I get to meet other people — and we have something in common,” says Kristen. “I like to talk dogs with other people.”
While Kristen didn’t grow up with a dog of her own, she’s glad that her own children have that experience.
“I didn’t have a dog until I had kids, but I think dogs make great companions and really give unconditional love. It gives kids a sense of responsibility to take care of something,” she notes.
For their part, Ava, 8, and Kara, 17, can’t imagine life without all three of the family’s dogs and are already making memories bringing them to the dog park.
“I think it’s a fun place to go with my family and my dogs,” says Kara.
“I like how it’s so big, and you can run around, and it’s really fun,” adds Ava. “It makes Baxter happy.”
And good dog owners definitely know when their dogs are happy. You can see it in their tail every time.
Note to Mr. Twain: Perhaps man could visit, just one day in dog heaven, if man would be as kind, and gentle and loyal to each other as dog is to man.