San Dimas Dog Park offers a canine playground.

Gary Puckett plays with his companion Riley Riley on “his bench” at the San Dimas Dog Park. Gary has been taking Riley Riley to the park since it was opened, and donates to the park as well. / photo by Steven Bier

Gary Puckett plays with his companion Riley Riley on “his bench” at the San Dimas Dog Park. Gary has been taking Riley Riley to the park since it was opened, and donates to the park as well. / photo by Steven Bier

by Dan Sayles
photography by Steven Bier

While the nearby hills and parks have been places for citizens to get away from the busy cities, their dogs, no matter how big or small, have often been discouraged from tagging along. The acres of citrus groves where dogs could once romp have been replaced by streets and neighborhoods. That’s okay for the occasional walk, but sometimes a dog needs a good stretch of open field in which to run.

Things began looking up for dogs in July 2005 when residents of San Dimas came together and organized the city’s first dog park in Horsethief Canyon Park. The acre-and-a-half section of the park is fenced off and divided in half for owners and their dogs to exercise and socialize. Two sections were created so that smaller dogs can be separated from the bigger, stronger canines. Benches line both sides of the park for everyone to use. The grass is mowed and watered frequently.

Also located throughout the park are water fountains, with one spout for the owners and another for dogs. Park-goers rely on an honor system for picking up after their dogs before leaving the park.

“The community is kept close together with e-mail,” says Carol Smith, one of the organizers who worked with the city to get the park approved. She says that the e-mail listing for the San Dimas Dog Park and its users is estimated at around 1,200 subscribers. Smith walks out of the dog park around midday, after walking around the park with a bucket, picking up leftover tennis balls from forgetful owners before the weekly maintenance on the park takes place. Smith is one of the more than 30 Dog Park Ambassadors, a group of organizers dedicated to maintaining the park.

On a pleasant Tuesday morning, a small group of dog owners are at the park talking with one another and watching their dogs play. Odin, a young German shepherd, sticks his ears straight up.

“He’s only a pup,” says Kat, his owner, who’s nicknamed him Fruit Bat. “We’ve been taking him here since early spring. We brought him here to get used to other dogs.” Odin is given plenty of attention by a black pug named Vader and a sandy white pug named Leia. Odin freezes, suddenly unsure of what to do. Not far away, two shelties walk around curiously. One, called Princess, stays close to her owner, Carol Chaplin, who is sitting on a bench and talking with other dog owners.

“I’ve been coming here since early spring,” says Chaplin, a University of La Verne alumna. As she talks, Charlie, her other sheltie, walks under the bench and lies down. Charlie was a rescue dog from a pet store that had placed him in a 15-gallon aquarium tank. As a result of growing up in such oppressive quarters, Charlie’s tail was bent during his growth. Now, at around 10-and-a-half months old, Charlie’s tail is slowly beginning to grow out properly.

Each section of the park works for the specific type of dog it caters to. Smaller dogs such as pugs, shelties and chihuahuas, are well suited by the small section of the park that has a long rectangular area with trees planted along the side. The section reserved for larger dogs has a narrow area where the dogs and their owners can walk, with a large area nearby where the dogs can run around, making Tom Merril and his Labrador, Diesel, happy.

“He’s a big dog. He can knock you over if he wants to, like a linebacker,” Merril says, as Diesel finishes running around the yard. After a few laps, he collapses and relaxes contently next to Odin, who seems to be more at ease with the chocolate labrador.

The San Dimas Dog Park provides a clean, large area where dogs and their owners can exercise and stretch their legs. Dogs can work on their social habits, which can be a bonus for owners with single animals that do not go out on walks and interact with animals and people very often.

“The dog park is the best thing to happen here,” Carol Chaplin says with a smile.

photo by Steven Bier

photo by Steven Bier