David Siples shepherded his two puppies around the moist grass, as they ran, scratched and sniffed everything in sight.
On a recent cool and breezy autumn afternoon, the Waynedale man brought his two dogs to Pawster Park to let them run, play and socialize with other local canines and their owners.
Quietly tucked off Winchester Road, and cleverly named Pawster Park, the roughly one-acre local dog park offers two sides, one, a large, grassy area with ramps and other objects for canines to play on, and another side with benches and shelters for owners to sit and watch.
“It’s really just an off-leash area for dogs and their owners to socialize,” said Jason Smith, Manager of Athletics and Aquatics for Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation.
Siples, an economics and U.S. History teacher at South Side High School, has been bringing his two dogs, a brother and sister named Scout and Abbey, to the park since they were puppies, he said.
His dogs, who are both a mix of Australian Shepherd and Husky, came to the park almost every day when they were puppies – about 8 years ago – back when they had much more energy, he said. Now, they probably come to the park about five times a week.
“When they were babies,” he said, “we had to find a way to burn all that energy off.”
The park was built about the year 2000, Smith said, after a group of local dog enthusiasts came to the Parks Department, asking them to construct something they and their pups could enjoy together.
The group offered to do their own fund-raising to pay the construction costs, so all the Parks Department did was donate the land needed to create it.
“They got the money, and the rest is history,” Smith said.
Using land that was once two softball diamonds – which, according to Smith were rarely used – the Department crafted a new area for dogs and the owners to enjoy the outdoors.
But, use of the park isn’t free or unregulated.
Users must go to the Parks Department office – located at 7705 E. State Blvd. – to pay the $40 per year fee to become members. They also must provide the department with proof that their dogs have been vaccinated for rabies, distemper and parvo, Smith said.
“This is so we know that the dogs that are in there are vaccinated to the standards we know are safe,” Smith said. “Our first goal is to keep all dogs and owners safe. And they have to have proof that these shots were given by a vet.”
Once all that is done, owners are given a pass key that opens the gate lock to get into the park.
Smith said Waynedale is lucky to have such a convenient place for owners and their puppies. The only other dog park in the Fort Wayne Parks system is Camp Canine, located at Johnny Appleseed Park, 1500 E. Coliseum Blvd.
Other dog parks exist around the city, he said, but none other operated by the city Parks Department. Pawster was, in fact, one of the first dedicated dog parks to be built in the state outside of Indianapolis.
In fact, Smith said, his department still gets calls from around the state from other cities interested in building their own dog parks, asking questions like how much space is needed, how expensive is the annual upkeep, what’s the department’s liability for the park, and other such queries.
“In fact,” he said, “I just got a call today, because they want to build one in South Whitley (county),” he said.
Smith said Pawster really is about just making dogs happy, which, in turn, makes for a happier populace.
“More than anything,” Smith said, “this gives people with dogs the chance to exercise them without a leash. It really makes for a happier dog and thus, a happier family.”
Siples was just happy to have a place to let his two dogs exercise, and perhaps meet other like-minded dog owners.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Scout and Abbey cavorted with about 10 other dogs and their owners, enjoying the cool fall weather and all the amenities the dog park had to offer.
“There’s companionship, camaraderie, meeting other dogs, letting them stretch their legs,” Siples said, “It’s just a nice, open space; a nice community; it’s really a nice facility; a great combination of public and private.”