SHERIDAN — A decade ago dog parks were nonexistent in Sheridan. Now, dogs and owners enjoy three designated areas year-round.
“I think we’re sort of the dog park capital of Wyoming,” City of Sheridan parks superintendent Steve Gage said. “I don’t know of any other towns in the state that have three dog parks.”
The recent features for canine pets began in 2009 when community members urged the city to establish an off-leash park. The first area was Lions Park on Sheridan Avenue, which was divided into a regular park and fenced-in dog park.
The new park became an instant hit.
“It took off really fast and got really popular and we were seeing the need for possibly a second one and maybe something a little bit larger, because that one was sort of getting beaten down because it had a lot of high traffic,” Gage said.
In response, the city formed Huntington Bowl dog park in 2011. The roughly 3-acre park in the south part of town near Thurmond and Huntington Streets previously housed a city retention pond.
Because of its larger area, Gage said Huntington has become somewhat of an exercise dog park. The city is currently constructing a soft-surface pathway around the perimeter of the park to make walking easier for dogs and owners.
The city oversees lawn and tree maintenance and handles waste facilities, irrigation, fencing, benches and picnic tables. Gage also said construction on two shelters at Lions Park should begin later this year.
“Every year, we’ve seen an increase in those dog parks, every single one of them,” Gage said. “As long as we’ve got that participation from the community, we’re more than happy to do it.”
The most recent site sits on the north side of town. Thorne-Rider dog park is on West 16th Street and was established in 2014. It was previously used as a dumping space for snow.
“The great thing about that one was it was built basically right next to the (Sheridan) pathway,” Gage said. “It really joined in the pathway and was real accessible.”
The popularity of the three parks might lead to a fourth one in the future. Gage said there are no immediate plans to construct another dog park but mentioned the possibility of having an off-leash area on the west side of Sheridan, perhaps near Black Tooth Park.
The parks are open year-round, dawn to dusk seven days per week, with summer being the busiest season. Lions Park is the smallest but most-visited park, along with the most social. The busiest times at Lions Park are usually mid-morning, around noon and about 5 p.m. when people get off work. The park is sometimes packed with 20 or more dogs running around.
“The people that go there, I’m not sure if they’re going there as much for their pets as they are for themselves,” Gage said. “It’s a nice social club for adults. Their pets are just something to talk about (and) bring along.”
Becky and Piper Lieneman would agree. They visit Lions Park almost every day with their two dogs — a Jack Russell terrier puppy and yellow lab mix — and have enjoyed becoming part of a small community where almost everyone recognizes and talks with one another.
“It’s nice because we get to spend time with our friends here that we know,” Piper Lieneman said. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have our close friendships.”
She also said the dog parks provide an excellent, clean exercise area for her pets.
“It would kind of be miserable (without a dog park) because [the dogs] have so much energy, and this is how we burn it off,” Piper Lieneman said.
Piper Lieneman enjoys meeting new dogs and their owners, like Marley Miller and Kaitlyn Raulerson, who have gone to the local dog parks since January when they bought a Red Heeler and German Shepherd mix.
They all thoroughly enjoy the social aspect and probably wouldn’t have met each other if not for the common trait of owning dogs.
“We’ve met so many cool people here,” Miller said.
They said issues sometimes arise from dogs being too aggressive, but owners are good about monitoring their animals. Gage said the city asks dog owners to make sure their pets are vaccinated, wear rabies tags and have IDs on collars.
“We always ask the citizens to show some oversight over their pets while they’re there, and anything that’s aggressive in behavior obviously is not welcome,” Gage said. “It’s pretty minimal for us. We’ve been lucky that way.”
Miller said her dog has learned some habits — mostly good — from other dogs.
“He didn’t bark, growl or run after cars but sometimes he’ll do it because other dogs do it,” Miller said. “But he’s had a lot of good times here and a lot of fun.”
Dog parks are a fairly recent trend in Sheridan, but they met a previously unfilled need for both owners and pets and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.