While the Maggie Houlihan Dog Park opened its gates January 10th, we didn’t feel right about reviewing it without actually exploring the park ourselves. So, exactly three weeks after its ribbon cutting, Stella pulled me down the paw-printed path behind the skate park (the panicked way you do when you’re late to the party), bounded toward the gates, and exploded with energy upon two acres of puppy heaven. Encinitas dog walkers and owners no longer have to feel as if the daily stroll is another repetitive chore. This city now has its own Doggie Disneyland.
Development of the Encinitas Community Park began in 2012 with a budget just shy of $20 million, and while some tax payers have certainly voiced their fair share of criticism, others are taking to Yelp and Facebook expressing their excitement over what is deemed to be one well-overdue project. The decision to honor the late Maggie Houlihan, Encinitas’ former mayor, was reached via a unanimous city council vote in June of 2014. Houlihan was known for her selfless love and advocacy of animals—perhaps most notably, the Spay Neuter Action Project (SNAP), a non-profit she co-founded which has provided low-cost mobile services to communities throughout San Diego for the last 25 years. To the devastation of her family, friends, and wide-reaching network of peers, Houlihan passed away in 2011 while in office after a battle with cancer. As I embark on my own journey to enrich the lives of animals through SanDPups and volunteer work, I can’t help but be inspired by her story. Walking into the park will forever serve as a beautiful reminder of our duty to serve others—humans and animals alike.
The park has its pros and cons with the former far outweighing the latter. The biggest gripe seems to be the small dog area and its lack of space. Many small dog owners have called it a waste of money and have resolved to bringing their pups into the larger, undeniably more lavish area. This, naturally, can cause problems for the little guys who aren’t used to romping with the Great Danes of the neighborhood. However, given the city’s previous lack of segregated dog parks, it’s more productive to take the optimistic approach in understanding that at least it’s an option. Besides, socializing a chihuahua or shih tzu and training them to interact appropriately with the big dogs isn’t always a bad thing. The other downside you might hear in chatting with park-goers is the park’s drainage (or lack thereof) creating marshy conditions—an inconvenience we experienced firsthand. Still, I expect my dog to get at least somewhat dirty in any public park from water stations to other dogs’ slobber, so a little mud isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Lastly is lack of shade—but just like the other complaints, I feel it’s more nitpicky than anything. San Diego can heat up in the summertime; there’s no question about that. But, when temperatures are high, it’s best to limit your dog’s outdoor activity anyway to prevent overheating. As a rule of thumb in the summer months, always keep your dog hydrated, enforce breaks, be mindful of the sidewalk temps, and pay attention to the warning signs of heat exhaustion. Lack of shade is not a reasonable excuse for neglecting common sense.
As for its positive features, the new dog park is spacious and clean. It’s evident visitors are taking pride in the space as we didn’t come across one abandoned mess in the time we were there. Everyone seemed friendly and careful to watch their dogs. Balls and toys were as abundant as the smiles we saw—even when Stella rudely helped herself to several water bowls that owners brought for their own pups. The separate gated entrance and exit made my girl’s unstoppable force of energy more manageable as I prepared to let her off-leash. Overall, we consider this park a win. It may have taken the place of the smaller park belonging to the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, but it feels just as welcoming and necessary to our dog-friendly community.
Reminder: While some Encinitas dog walkers offer off-leash adventures, SanDPups believes in exercising caution and will only walk dogs on-lead to reduce the risk of accidents and less-than-pleasant encounters with other animals. Your pup’s safety is my priority!