Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Water Dogs: Reaching out to Furry Family Members Breeds Enthusiasm and Community

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Water Dogs: Reaching out to Furry Family Members Breeds Enthusiasm and Community

Article excerpt

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Industry analysts project 2008 pet spending will top $43.4 billion, more than double what it was 10 years ago. With annual growth hovering between 5 percent and 10 percent, an American Pet Products Manufacturers Association trend report reveals that "more and more companies traditionally known for human products are going to the dogs." The report cites big-name hair- and skin-care companies, clothing retailers, and even Harley-Davidson as examples.

Sure, it's partly about the money when mainstream markets shift to accommodate, even attract, dog owners. But it's also about building community and loyalty.

As dog inclusion shifts from oddity to norm, it'll be those who don't standing out from those who do.

As the saying goes, "Love me. Love my dog."

Clark County's Dog Daze

In 2005, Marceline Cobb, a recreation specialist with Clark County Parks and Recreation in Nevada, launched a dog event at a waterpark across the road from a popular dog park. "I thought there was a need to do something for the dogs because they're also members of our family," says Cobb. "Since Clark County is about family and promoting family fun, why not involve the four-legged family members, too?"

The seasonal facility closes on Labor Day, so Dog Daze of Summer happens the following Saturday in a pool that goes from zero depth to three-and-a-half feet. Such gradual poolscapes work better for dogs than do traditional lap-style pools.

The first year, Cobb handed out fliers at the nearby dog park, put up posters, and got vendors interested in having booths to promote the free event. She hosted 45 dogs that year.

Word of mouth exploded, and in 2006 Cobb hosted 230 dogs despite implementing a $1 per dog charge. By 2007, the event grew to more than 500 dogs, at $2 each. It got so big, in fact, that Cobb now divides the time into hour-long blocks for small dogs and large ones.

This year, she is raising her weight limit for "small" dogs from 35 pounds to 50 pounds so that the two sessions better balance out the growing attendance. According to Cobb, she now has to do very little to promote the event.

Cobb is considering raising the entry fee to $5 per dog and charging vendors a $60 booth fee, as she's allowing them to sell products for the first time.

After staff ended up chasing dogs that slipped through park gates in the early years, Cobb brought in additional temporary chain-link fencing to beef up her entries and exits. Now, dogs must go through two gates where when one is open the other is closed--to prevent escapes. Everyone comes in through one gate and out another, on opposite sides of the facility, which keeps traffic flowing in only one direction.

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Cobb has held look-a-like contests, water-fetch contests, and shortest- and tallest-dog contests, as well as demonstrations by local dog trainers.

To add value to Dog Daze, Cobb solicits about $1,000 worth of raffle and contest prizes from area businesses, ranging from Burger King and coffee shops to companies that provide pet insurance and pet tags. She even uses the prizes to encourage guests to complete a survey, offering extra raffle tickets to those who do.

She says staff must be willing to do what's necessary, and that means a lot of scooping poop. Cobb recommends being really clear about such expectations, and makes detailed event task lists that staff must sign off on for each item. All told, including those making anywhere from $8 to $16 per hour, Cobb estimates her staff costs for the event at $700, which includes:

8-9 a.m.: Set up

9-10 a.m.: Small dogs

10-10:30 a.m.: Clean-up break

10:30-11:30 a.m.: Big dogs

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Clean-up

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Cobb faced some opposition from her local health department the first year but through collaboration was able to find a solution. …

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