Barking up a new tree, Iowa City gets second dog park


Eight dogs romped at Thornberry Off-Leash Dog Park, on Canton Street near Foster Road, on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. But on any given Sunday, as many as 50 dogs crowd the area, said Iowa City dog owner Andy Marks while watching his Australian shepherd, Dewey, play.

That’s why the four-legged buddies will soon have another place to scratch and sniff.

On July 25, Rita’s Ranch — bordered by Scott Boulevard, Court Street, and Muscatine Avenue — will become Iowa City’s second pooch playground.

A group of dog owners and friends formed the Johnson County Dog Park Action Committee in November 2002 to promote areas in which dogs can play without disturbing the community.

And in 2006, they succeeded when the 11-acre Thornberry park opened — a “real draw for the city,” said Diana Harris, the president of the Johnson Country Dog Park Action Committee.

Thornberry attracts mostly Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty residents, Harris said. She estimates between 1,800 and 2,200 permit tags are sold or renewed each year.

Marks finds times to bring Dewey to the park daily, even in the snow, while UI students Emi McClaflin and Andy Jorgensen bring Jack and Scout to Thornberry several times a week.

“It’s like a sixth sense,” Jorgensen said about his 2-year-old border collie’s excitement when he hears the words “dog” and “park” in the same sentence.

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Rita’s Ranch will be a more condensed — only three acres — but it will share the same purpose: a place for dogs and owners to exercise and socialize.

“People meet each other,” Harris said. “Anything that creates connections in our environment, I think, is a good thing.”

Pat Wood, who recently received an M.A. from the UI, said he would definitely bring his two dogs — whose photos he posted on Facebook — to Rita’s Ranch. At present, Wood takes his 6-month-old Staffordshire bull terrier, Kaya, and 1-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel, Wrigley, to Thornberry park at least twice a week.

“It’s a nice way for them to burn off energy, and the dogs really enjoy it,” Wood said. “It keeps them socialized as well.”

Wood began taking Kaya, the brindled black and brown terrier, to the park when she was still a puppy. He said he believes the dog park is important during the training process, keeping the dogs socialized and less likely to attack people.

But Kathy Evans, owner of K9s with Class obedience training, has mixed feelings about the dog-park phenomenon. She said she is wary of the distinction between human and dog-designated recreational areas.

“What I’m concerned about with dog parks is labeling things, [implying] dogs can’t go to regular parks,” Evans said, and the trend could be indicative of pet owners losing places where dogs are permitted.

City officials also mulled issues that came with Scott Park’s transformation into a dog-park.

Maintenance and upkeep are shared by Iowa City and Johnson County Dog Park Action Committee.

The Iowa City City Council voted Tuesday evening to keep the split in maintenance costs and revenue constant.

In the end, many are just rolling over for the dog park’s opening at the end of the month.

“Well-exercised dogs are happier,” Harris said. “And [in turn] owners are happier.”

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