As the coronavirus turns the world we know upside down, many are relearning the joy of simple pleasures and finding new ways to practice self-care. Something that does both is being around companion animals.
However, in the summer heat with most social opportunities closed due to the pandemic, people sometimes wonder where to exercise a dog, as well as safely connect with others.
A growing number of residents are discovering the Globe Dog Park, the only space dedicated entirely to dogs in Southern Gila County.
While people are being directed to avoid close contact, part of the joy of dogs is their complete disinterest in social distancing. Fortunately, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the international World Organization for Animal Health report COVID-19 does not appear to be transmittable by animals.
This is great news for Maia Green. She visits the Globe Dog Park daily with her 2-year-old pup, Gnocchi. “It is definitely an outlet to be able to be normal for an hour or two. It keeps me sane. It’s my social hour and it’s a scientific fact that dogs relieve stress.”
Green is right. Research shows tremendous benefits of pet ownership during hard times. Dogs decrease the psychological arousal of fear or stress, decrease loneliness, and create physiological changes that make us feel better.
“It drives me crazy that I can’t work!” says Green. “Being home all the time sucks and there’s been a huge decrease in social contact. My two best friends just had babies and I haven’t even been able to hold them… The dog park allows me to be social without worrying because we’re outside. It’s comfortable and a little bit normal.”
Barbara Speer visits the park daily with her Golden-doodle, Autumn, echoes this report. “When you go to the store, you can’t visit with anybody. You can’t go to church, the movies, or downtown, but you can come up here and socialize. People enjoy watching the dogs run and play. It’s relaxing. You’re not stressed out.”
While Globe constructs a new dog park, the current dog park remains open and people are following CDC recommendations for COVID protection.
They maintain social distancing, keep group gatherings small, wash hands aftervisiting, use pet wipes for dogs who have been touched by other park patrons, and some wear masks even out-of-doors. To combat the health threat of excessive heat, patrons bring ice and a swimming pool for the animals.
Pre-COVID, the new dog park’s construction was going well. City staff put up a fence for the general use area, created a walking path, put in irrigation, planted grass and trees, added a dog watering station, and built shade ramadas.
They also purchased fencing and irrigation supplies to build a smaller special use area. However, the pandemic put a screeching halt to progress.
John Angulo, Public Works Director, explained he normally has a crew of 6-10 staff members who are supplemented with daily labor from 24 inmates out of the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC).
When shut-downs occurred in March, DOC halted inmate labor releases. This big drop in the workforce was made worse with staff changes necessitating workers assigned to parks to be redirected to other essential services, like water, sewer, and roads.
Additionally, there are new responsibilities because of the pandemic. Angulo reports three workers spend hours each day 7 days a week focused entirely on sanitizing bathrooms and play structures around the city.
Because of this shift to essential duties, many projects were put on hold and some parts of the city have suffered, like the pine trees lost at Besh ba Gowah because city crews were not available to water them.
The good news in the midst of the pandemic, per Angulo, is that Besh now has a new water system with a timer and the trees and grass at the new dog park are being given time to establish themselves prior to park opening.
Even with the construction pause, people are impressed with the city’s support of the new dog park and the creativity being putting into park construction.
Holly Long and her pit bull, Bella, visit the park regularly. She states, “I’ve been pleased with all they are adding and putting in the new park.” Green concurs and shared her aspirations for the new space. “I don’t want it to be just a dog park. I want it to be a destination. Even now, we don’t have much advertising, but we get people who are touring the country or from out of the area who find us.”
In the meantime, dogs and people are getting much needed social connection, stress relief, and physical exercise at the existing dog park. Judy Quinn, a park patron with her small dogs, Honey and Bandit, states, “It’s really nice to know we still have an outlet for connection.”
HOW TO FIND THE PARK: The Globe Dog Parks are located in the Noftsger Hill Ballfields Complex and can be reached via Cuprite Street or North Street.
Thea Wilshire works as an author, psychologist, speaker, healthcare consultant, and AirBnB host. Her passions include community development, the creation of public spaces, trying new adventures, and sharing her therapy dog with schools and medical facilities. Find her blog at https://www.acornconsulting.org/blog.