Rally cheers dog park news

Monday late afternoon, from the steps of town hall, Stratford Dog Park President Carissa DeBernardo announced to a crowd of more than 60 people, 25 dogs and three news outlets that just one hour before, Mayor John Harkins had confirmed to the Stratford Dog Park Association (SDPA) that land for a dog park had been located, even if not approved by all involved town bodies.

“We have a dog park!” she said.

The crowd broke out in loud cheers and applause.

The SDPA organized the human-plus-canine rally that evening to demonstrate once again to the Stratford town government the citizens’ desire for a dog park, and to remind the administration of the SDPA’s looming deadline. They were given the piece of news they’d been waiting for.

SDPA vice president Matt DeBernardo said he’d spoken to the mayor earlier in the day. Matt DeBernardo said he felt positive about the agreement, despite the recent loss of land transfer at Ryder’s Landing due to right-of-way impediments with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“The land is by the animal shelter on the Greenway, and I’d guess it’s about two acres,” Matt DeBernardo said. “It should meet our requirements. It’s good location because of the visibility and proximity to the shelter, which should encourage adoptions. It’s a win-win situation.”

Shortly after the rally, the Town Council passed a motion to establish the dog park on land adjacent to the town’s animal control facility at 225 Beacon Point Road. The vote passed 8 to 2, with the stipulation that costs were still unknown and the project was subject to establishment of rules and regulations. (See related story, this edition.)

Urgency from grant deadline
The volunteer-fueled SDPA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It was awarded a $5,000 capital grant from the Petco Foundation last October. The SDPA must provide progress reports and photographic proof that the project is moving forward within six months of the award in order to officially accept the funds. The month of April marks the deadline for the SDPA to return the check.

At the rally, supporters’ reasons for wanting a dog park were as varied as their dogs. Cecilia Torres brought her children and her nieces, along with two dogs, to the rally to show support for the park. The children held signs that read: 3,000 Stratford Dog Owners Want a Park! and Dog Park Now!

“The town needs a place to take the dogs to let them run free,” Torres said. “I brought the kids tonight because you have to show them that you have to fight for the things that you want. As much as I love my children, I also love my dogs and I want a place for them to play as well.”

Stratford resident Melody McDonald, along with her rescued dog, Abby, said socialization is one of the best reasons for dog parks. “They need to run free and to socialize,” McDonald said. “When they are with each other, they teach each other. They only fight because they don’t know how to behave.”

Town councilman Craig Budnick (R-7) agreed. He noted that many people don’t want a dog park because they say owners don’t clean up after their dogs, and because of the barking.

“But look,” he said, gesturing to the group of people chatting and dogs panting and sniffing on the lawn. “Look at how they are together. Non-dog owners need to see this. Since I got here, I’ve probably heard only one bark.”

Councilman shows support
Budnick said he came to the rally because he wanted to show the SDPA that “someone from the town supports their efforts.” Budnick said that, as a dog owner and a Realtor, he wants a dog park in Stratford. He said a dog park is an “enhancement” that gives people another reason to move to a town.
However, as councilman, he found it “disappointing” when he noticed that the SDPA leaders “started to rub the town administration the wrong way.”

“They [the SDPA] started to get impatient,” Budnick said. “It was tough because they did everything right. They couldn’t have been more polite. They got people together. They raised the money and held events. And they learned the hard way how slowly government moves. The bottom line is that it’s tough to get government to move.”

In the part three years, the SDPA has raised nearly $10,000 through fund-raiser events, including an 80s pub crawl, a Bluefish Bark in the Park at Harbor Yard, and a Winter Wine Down at Riverview Bistro in 2013, and in 2012 a Zombie Walk pub crawl, a Dog Park Golf Classic, a Short Beach Zumbathon, a Stratford Beach 5K Run, and a Main Street Festival appearance.

Two non-dog owners, Bill and Lisa Hernandez, have lived in Stratford for 14 years and supported the SDPA from the beginning. At the rally, Lisa Hernandez said they support the value a dog park brings to a town.

“It makes a town a destination to live,” she said. “It’s good for families, good for the town, good for the community.”

Izzy the dog, with owner and Stratford resident Pam Bongo, join the gathering of supporters for the Stratford Dog Park Association, April 14, outside of Town Hall. Elizabeth G. Howard photo.

Izzy the dog, with owner and Stratford resident Pam Bongo, join the gathering of supporters for the Stratford Dog Park Association, April 14, outside of Town Hall. Elizabeth G. Howard photo.

About author
Elizabeth Howard is a Stratford-based journalist, blogger and poet. She writes on the arts, education, music, the environment, green lifestyle, American culture, travel and food. You can find her online at elizabethoward.net

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