Unleashes rise as owners seek to socialize their pets in dog parks

Dog owners cheered at the opening of K9 Acres Off-Leash Dog Area in Marion on Saturday

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MARION — Luke, a 1- year-old golden retriever, trotted along the dog park walking trail on a sunny Saturday morning, stopped occasionally for a greeting sniff from a Labrador or corgi that gallop up to him. His owners, Leslie and Mike Buscher, were a few paces behind with their grandchildren and golden retrievers, 5-month-old Daisy and 3-year-old Bo.

“This is our relaxation time … going to the park,” said Leslie Buscher, who visits the dog park twice a week.

Dog owners are flocking to local dog parks, a friendly place where dogs and their owners can socialize, which has unleashed a rise in popularity for these off-leash areas.

Sven Leff, Cedar Rapids director of Parks and Recreation, said the growing number of people living in homes with small yards needing safe, spacious areas for their dogs to socialize has feed the increasing demand for dog parks in the past decade.

“They need something larger than a backyard,” said Leff, who takes his chow-huskie, Zoe, to the dog park.

Cheyenne Park, which opened in 2001, was the area’s only dog park but was flooded with the summer’s recent rains. On Saturday, dog owners cheered at the opening of a second park, K9 Acres Off-Leash Dog Area in Squaw Creek Park in Marion. Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park and Rita’s Ranch are dog parks in Iowa City.

“All you have to mention is the word ‘park’ at our house and they both are at the door,” said Kelly Ennis of her two golden retrievers, Toby and Tabby. “That’s their favorite place to go.”

Ennis and her husband, Ken Ennis, are board members of the local dog-owners group K9COLA — Citizens for Off Leash Areas — who worked with the city for the past five years to create the second park.

The new park is a sprawling 11 acres with an eight-acre main area and walking trail, a training yard and a small dog yard.

Purchasing permits or tags are required for owners to take advantage of the parks, $27 in Cedar Rapids and $30 in Iowa City. The groups offer $5 discounts for those who spay or neuter their animals.

Ken Ennis, 58, said before the 2008 floods, there were more than 1,100 permit holders, which fell to 500 when the park closed for several months after flooding. He said the new park will likely bolster permit numbers.

Elliot Silver, president of a company operating the online database DogParks.com, said his website has more than 1,000 park listings and is adding new locations daily. The New Yorker said he thinks the rise of social media has made it easier for pet owners to connect with others and form events in their community.

“People like having a place where they can take their dogs knowing it’s safe for them to run, get rid of the energy, know that everybody there has rabies shots, and … that your dog is safe,” said 53-year-old Kelly Ennis.

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