West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman got really excited about fake turf yesterday before he cut the ceremonial grand opening ribbon in front of the City’s new dog park using an oversized pair of blue scissors.
“What about this grass?” he asked the crowd of about 200 dog lovers. “This grass is amazing. It’s actually not grass!” “It’s especially formulated artificial canine turf. The blades of grass are antimicrobial, designed to stay cool and not burn our little doggie’s paws.”
“Oh…,” a middle-aged lady murmured aloud in appreciation, to no one in particular.
He even thanked the company that makes it, K9Grass.
It was about 10am, sunny and warm, perhaps too warm for some, considering it’s the middle of winter. But the temperature matched the mood of those residents, dog owners, city leaders and nonprofits and private companies in attendance.
After Heilman cut the ribbon the crowd cheered. “Who let the dogs out?” one person sang out in jest as scores of dogs and their owners burst through the gates leading to the small dog park area.
WEHO CITY COUNCIL OUT IN FORCE
All five WeHo City Councilmembers were there. In addition to Heilman, Lauren Meister, Lindsey P. Horvath, John J. Duran, and John D’Amico all stood behind the mayor at the podium, wearing casual clothing and big grins.
“We have two dog park areas,” City Councilmember Lauren Meister told me during an interview near the basketball courts. “One for small dogs and one for large dogs. And we’re very excited.”
LOCALS PLEASED, TOO
“We are so excited that we have a dog park in the West Hollywood Park!” longtime WeHo West homeowner Midge Barnett said. Dakota, her white-and-beige terrier mutt she rescued four months ago scurried around her feet.
I asked her if the new parks are worth the cost to the city? “Absolutely,” Barnett replied. “This is a small city with tons and tons of dogs that need a place to socialize and hang out and be with each other and run around safely.”
Patrick Shandrick, another resident and dog owner within walking distance to the park, accompanying his three-year old mutt Tia, concurred. “It’s great. Definitely good for our dogs, but also a great way to bring community together.”
BETTER THAN WILLIAM S. HART PARK
A couple of dog owners compared the two new parks to one they have both patronized on the other side of WeHo: William S. Hart Park on De Longpre Avenue, just below Sunset Boulevard, adjacent to the Sunset Tower Hotel.
“Hart Park has those woodchips,” said Sam Borelli, a local business and marketing consultant who lives on Holloway Drive in WeHo. He was there with his French Bulldog Sadie (who has her own Facebook page). “It’s kind of dirty. This is new. This is cleaner. It’s more environmentally friendly. Better for the dogs. My dog would chew wood chips and I wouldn’t want her [to].”
Distance and convenience were the issues cited by Robin Freitas, a middle-aged woman with her husband and Staffordshire terrier, Ruby, in tow. She said, “We go to the William Hart dog park often. [But] it’s farther away from us.”
Freitas and her family have lived south of the Pacific Design Center, just a few blocks away, for 28 years. “My kids spent all their time at this park,” she added, “so now that my kids are teenagers, it’s nice to come up here with our newest young member of the family,” referring to Ruby, who was now running around with other large dogs.
DOG GROUPS AND FOR-PROFITS LINED THE WAY
In addition to dog owners and interested passersby, about 20 nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies lined the park’s central concrete walkway with branded booths. All had friendly volunteers or staff offering information such as brochures or pitching dog-related items such as gourmet food or veterinary care.
Joni Gang and Dean Case, volunteers with PAWS LA, a nonprofit that “helps keep people and pets together,” were there to show their support for the City. “PAWS LA has a food bank,” Gang said. “We provide pet transport and pet care to people who are homebound, including the disabled, the elderly and veterans.”
“We’re also here to sign up new volunteers,” Case added, “and to get donations.”
Some of the additional exhibitors included SPCA-LA, Love Pets Photography, Petrosexual, Healthy Spot, Laurel Pet Hospital and Just Food For Dogs.
RESPONDING TO LOCAL DEMAND
Cornering Mayor John Heilman before he approached the podium to speak to the eager crowd, I asked him how the City Council knew that the dog parks were wanted?
“We heard from the community,” he replied. “We know that Weho residents [are] very committed to animal rights and they love their animal companions. So we decided as part of this park plan, that since we’re picking up space in the park, that we had the space to dedicated to dog parks.”
He added, “And this is something that is a trend throughout the country, communities creating special locations within the parks so dogs can be off leash and enjoy it.”
When asked about the financial costs to the City to make way for the dog parks, Heilman said, “I don’t have it right off-hand.” (According to an article on CurbedLA, a figure of $750,000 is cited.)
ALL PART OF THE MASTER PLAN’S SECOND PHASE
Heilman and Meister said the two dog parks are the first projects completed as part of the “second phase” of the City’s master plan. The first phase included the new library and the improvements to the pool entrance.
“New children’s playgrounds, an aquatic center and an AIDS monument,” Heilman said, are additional components of the second and final phase expected to be completed by the end of 2019. “In addition there will be multipurpose sports courts for any kind of indoor sports.”
WELCOME GIFTS AND PROPERTY VALUE
Dog park visitors had an additional reason to be thankful. The City distributed free plastic poop bag containers in the shape of doggies that could be attached to any leash. Some of the luckier recipients also received ones incorporating a mini flashlight.
The feeling throughout the event was that the two dog parks do add value to the city, emotionally, practically and financially.
Again, Heilman, “We already know our parks are a tremendous value to the city. The library, which was the first phase, people promote that when they’re selling their homes, that it’s adjacent to a park. That it’s adjacent to the library. I think the availability of these dog parks will just make property in WeHo even more valuable.”