Put six dogs in a conference room and ask them to design an off-leash area of their dreams.
They might well draw up something resembling the dog run at Shawnee Mission Park. Provided they don’t fight instead.
Now oddly, fighting doesn’t happen all that much at this paradise for pooches, this canine caribbean. Or so say park police and frequent visitors.
The dogs are in a festive mood. A skirmish would just rob time from splashing through Shawnee Mission Lake in pursuit of thrown twigs and tennis balls.
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It’s the pebbly lakefront that lifts this off-leash area above all others in the metro area — beside the fact that, at 53 acres, it’s the largest. Bill Maasen, superintendent of Johnson County parks and golf courses, said one in every five people streaming into Shawnee Mission Park are headed for the dog run.
The county expanded the parking lot this spring to hold more.
Many visitors arrive in the manner that Diana Fritz and daughter Montana Fritz recently pulled in. Three burly dogs fidgeting in the back seat of their GMC Denali — including Nala, a 100-pound English mastiff — seemed to know several miles out that this was their destination.
“They act one way going to the vet. And a completely different way on the ride here,” said Diana Fritz, of Leawood. “Oh, they know where they’re going. Nala salivates.”
(Literally. Picture the slobbering French mastiff that partnered with Tom Hanks in “Turner & Hooch.”)
So Nala and two companions, white husky mix Jade and a half-pug named Boo Radley, embarked on a course they had completed many times. It starts at a dog-height water fountain made of stainless steel. A donated bench nearby reads, “In memory of Jack Luschen, who loved dogs.”
From this bench stretches a well-worn path the width and length of a runway for small aircraft. Poking out of the ground in a couple of places are white plastic chimneys for depositing dog waste.
Tuesdays and Thursdays between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., the off-leash area is closed to allow park crews to mow, collect doo bags out of the chimneys and spread wood chips on the runway.
Nala, Jade and Boo Radley trotted without command downhill to the lake, as do all dogs. At the beach, Jade’s fluffy white coat stayed so for not more than 10 seconds; the arthritis in one leg seemed to dissolve in the water.
A Labrador named Paige, owned by Megan and Nathan Johnson of Overland Park, paddled around retrieving a green floating toy shaped like a stick.
“Tennis balls don’t last here,” said Megan Johnson. The dogs may not fight much, but they’ll steal.
Beware of humans in the parking lot doing the same, police said. Park users are prone to keep purses and even cellphones in the car — waiting targets for a smash-and-grab.
Once inside the park, dog owners socialize as much as their animals do. They’ll discuss their pets’ health and then their own.
Jehsen Randolph, 37, walked Pepper and Penny while relaying his own decadelong fight against a rare form of lymphoma.
“I’ve been tumor-free for three months,” he said. In that time, Randolph moved from Mission to Shawnee largely out of a desire be closer to this wonderland for the woof set.
“My dogs have always been there for me, even through those awful years,” he said. “They deserve this.”
Shawnee Mission Park’s off-leash area
Where: South end of park near Ridgeview and Barkley drives
Hours: 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Opens at 9 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays
Directions: From Interstate 435 interchange at 87th Street, head west to park’s south entrance on Ridgeview. Turn into park and then veer at first left.