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Gerontological Dog Park Comes of Age

Mature pooches now have their own hangout in San Clemente, across the street from the frenetic playground of the young and restless.

March 18, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

They're older than their big, tough counterparts across the street. They move more slowly and are less inclined to run at full speed, mindful of the aches and pains that come with advanced age. But they still need a place to exercise. And they still like to socialize.

So now, older canines in San Clemente have their own little park, designed with seniors in mind, with cushy grass instead of unforgiving decomposed granite and less ground to cover than the dog park across the street. On the honor system, it is reserved for dogs with a little less wag in their tails.

The senior side of the San Clemente Dog Park opened Wednesday, nearly six months after the larger, main dog park opened at 310 Avenida La Pata.

The entire complex cost the city $275,000. San Clemente Dog Lovers, an organization founded to promote the bark park, plans to sell advertising banners that will hang on the perimeter chain-link fence to finance the park's maintenance.

For the roughly 3,000 licensed dogs in the city, the park is the first bit of city property where they can walk without a leash or worry about a fine.

But for some older dogs, all that untethered running, romping and roughhousing is something to avoid. Small dogs are also allowed to play in the senior park, to avoid being bullied by larger animals.

Each park features a fountain that spills water into a stainless-steel water bowl, and a bench where owners can rest.

Among the new park's fans is Taz, a 15-year-old mixed breed whose hip was broken in 10 places in a car accident about five years ago. She's been to the main dog park, but she stayed to the side, away from the other dogs.

"She can't see very well and she can't hear very well," said owner Bill Thomas, so he and his wife, Diane, decided to keep her out of the park until the one for seniors opened.

She probably won't be any more active there, Bill Thomas said, but she won't have to worry about being knocked over by a rambunctious Rottweiler.

For an hour or so Wednesday afternoon, an 8-year-old chocolate Labrador named Maggie had the senior park to herself as she rolled in the warm grass, an experience denied her in city parks, where even leashed dogs are banned.

When Gregg Lipanovich got a ticket for walking his English Springer Spaniels in Verde Park three years ago, he thought, "This is crazy" and launched the dog park campaign.

"We have thousands of dogs in San Clemente," Lipanovich said, "but no place to walk them."

The San Clemente Dog Lovers are now celebrating the opening of the senior side of the dog park, with broad views of canyons, a golf course and Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base.

In researching other canine corrals, Lipanovich learned of the popularity of separate play yards.

"Dogs are like kids," he said. "They like to roughhouse, but ask an 80-year-old if he likes to roughhouse. He may want to, but it's not the same anymore."

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