MARTINEZ, Calif. – A group of residents and their dogs who arrived Sept. 16 to tell the Martinez City Council about the need for a city dog park weren’t gathering spontaneously.
They’ve been contemplating the need for some time, usually as they sit on benches to watch their pets play at Paso Nogal Dog Park in Pleasant Hill, said Jackie Johnston, a Martinez dog owner.
In fact, the Pleasant Hill park has become a place where Martinez residents, along with their dogs, go to socialize, she said.
While some Pleasant Hill residents said the visitors are welcomed at their park, Johnston said Martinez dog owners began asking why they couldn’t have the same amenities in their own city.
In fact, another local dog park advocate, Melissa Mohoi, a dental assistant, said she and her dogs were at Paso Nogal when she met with one of her clients. She discovered he was an original founder of the Pleasant Hill dog park 40 years before.
“I wish we had a dog park,” she told him. Then her client began to describe the work behind getting Paso Nogal Dog Park established. “He said, ‘You need community help.’”
The Paso Nogal Dog Park, on Paso Nogal Road, is managed by the Pleasant Hill Recreation Department with the support of the Pleasant Hill Dog Owners Group. The park is fenced, with a separate area for small dogs, and drinking water is available for the dogs. It is open most days, but is closed until 3 p.m. Wednesday and all day Sunday. Admission is free.
Local pet owners have another alternative. They may take their dogs to Briones Regional Park, 2537 Reliez Valley Road, for $2 each. The dogs and their owners have miles of unfenced leash trails, and those taking their dogs at least 100 yards away from posted trails, parking lots, swimming beaches and playgrounds may let their pets run free.
“That’s good for active people and dogs,” Johnston said. “You can hike with your dogs and take them off leash.”
But the park isn’t as suitable for what Johnston calls “more urban dogs,” particularly older dogs and owners who are not as mobile. “They won’t do that.” Other pet owners don’t want to take their dogs to places where they could encounter ticks or such predators as coyotes. “It’s better for some segment to be fenced in and safe,” she said.
Johnston and Mohoi said a dog park is an important place for many reasons. Some Martinez residents don’t have yards, and a dog park would provide a place for their dogs to get off-leash exercise.
Mohoi said dog parks are also safe places for individual dogs whose owners have busy lives to meet other people and other dogs. That helps the animals learn to behave better in company.
“I had a Dalmatian that was aggressive because I couldn’t socialize him,” Mohoi said. The dog was fine with her family, but mistrusted strangers. “I attribute it to not having a safe place to socialize.”
Johnston said she’s rarely seen any tiffs at dog parks. She has seen shy dogs exhibit submissive behavior on their first visit. But after several trips, Johnston said, “they strut their stuff!”
While dog parks give pets a chance to learn to play together, they’re also beneficial to the dogs’ owners, too, Johnston said.
“They come there for socialization of their dogs, and end up meeting with their friends,” she said. In addition, pet owners supervise each other and remind each other to clean up after their dogs.
Martinez residents, some of whom might not have met each other except for going to Paso Nogal, also found out more about the effort to get a dog park in the city, Johnston said.
It’s not a new movement. Residents have sought city endorsement of a local fenced dog park at least since 2008, if not before. “It’s been brought up for years,” Johnston said. “But it’s never had an organized effort, and it keeps kind of dying out. Maybe this time we’re organized better.”
Although the matter has received the attention of some Martinez City Council members, including mentions in past election campaigns by council candidates, this latest grass-roots effort started just a few months ago, Johnston said.
Mohoi “and a few others” started the Martinez Dog Park Group Facebook Page, Johnston said. Searching “#martinezdogpark” on Facebook will link readers to other mentions of the effort. Johnston and Mohoi have become two of the leaders of the mission.
In the past, the Parks, Recreation, Marina and Cultural Commission (PRMCC), a city advisory panel, “wasn’t prepared to fund a dog park,” Johnston said. At the Sept. 16 meeting, the council recommended advocates work with the commission on exploring the establishment of such a park.
No specific place has been chosen, Johnston said, nor have any sites been proposed, although advocates are making notes of areas that resemble the Paso Nogal setting.
One spot the dog owners know will be off limits is the horse arena leased from East Bay Regional Parks by the Martinez Horsemen’s Association, an agreement that is decades-old. On the other hand, the pet owners are open to learning whether the city or some other organization could lease space for a dog park, Johnston said.
The two women said they and other advocates are studying the matter before the PRMCC meeting, 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at City Hall, 525 Henrietta St., Martinez, so they don’t bring up old and rejected proposals “and get on anyone’s nerves,” Johnston said.
“We may not get everything we want, but we’re positive and energized,” she said.