Now sit, and let’s get the rules straight right from the start. Big dogs, you stay in your area. Little dogs, you stay in yours — with one exception.
“If your small dog thinks he’s a big dog, he can go in the big-dog area,” Mark McHenry, Kansas City's director of parks and recreation, told pet owners at Saturday’s ribbon cutting for the Swope Park Off-Leash Dog Park.
As for big dogs that have their own, shall we say, size issues?
“If your big dog thinks he’s a small dog,” McHenry said, nodding toward the fenced area reserved for the petite set, “they cannot go in there.”
No, it doesn’t work both ways, which was reassuring to some.
Standing barely a foot high on their spindly legs, Sarah Payton’s two Italian greyhounds, Mia and Eloise, had no illusions about their place on the size continuum. Tomcats weigh more than members of their breed, so they panted outside the big-dog fence. They were on leashes but happy to be at the dog park.
“We live in Waldo and we could really use one of these,” Payton said.
Kansas City opened its first off-leash dog area in Penn Valley a couple of years ago. Now there are two, with plans for more.
“The more dog parks there are, the better off we’ll be,” said Stacy Smith, who was with her husband, Dale Smith, and their four border collie mixes — Keegan, Seamus, Drover and Sawyer.
The couple publish a magazine called Paw Prints and know a thing or two about dog parks, they say.
“Portland is about the same size as Kansas City, and they have more than 30 dog parks,” Stacy said.
Metro Kansas City is not there yet, but we’re slowly heading in that direction. Johnson County has set aside areas in four parks where dogs can run free, the 53-acre off-leash area in Shawnee Mission Park being the largest.
Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Independence all have one or more dog parks.
Until Saturday, all Kansas City had for the tail-wagging masses was the 2.7-acre “bark park” in Penn Valley Park. It opened in 2004, prompting requests for similar amenities in other parts of the city.
Controversy emerged six years ago when a group called WOOF (Well-Organized Off-Leash Friends) asked the parks board to set aside a few acres for dogs in Sunnyside Park at 83rd and Summit streets. Neighbors protested, saying the park was too small for that, and worried about the traffic.
That led to years of study and deliberations before guidelines were adopted in 2010 that designated which parks were appropriate for off-leash areas and which ones weren’t.
That report listed six potential sites — one in each council district — with Swope being one of them.
The area is near Lakeside Nature Center, on the north side of Gregory Boulevard, just east of the Blue River. Four acres are fenced off for large dogs, 30 to 40 pounds and up, while small dogs have one acre to themselves.
The next dog park will probably be in Case Park downtown, McHenry said.
The one at Swope cost $205,000 and is on the site of the former parks department nursery.
“It’s very nice so far. I’m liking it,” Shelley Lemstra said as she and her Doberman mix, Abby, hiked from the pasture to the tall trees and back again along with Link, a foster dog Lemstra is taking care of.
She, too, would like to have more dog parks in Kansas City, but she thinks the one at Swope is a vast improvement.
“You just appreciate the city doing this for us,” she said.