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Dog may say lack of park "rough'

I am given to a tendency to daydream about things that will never be.

This comparatively cushy job affords me that opportunity because, for example, I can spend extended periods of time staring out the window. If someone is impertinent enough to ask what I'm doing, I can legitimately claim to be thinking lofty thoughts as I endeavor to form an opinion about some timely and multifaceted issue.

I also can justify, usually with a straight face, sitting at my desk with a television remote in hand, surfing channels in the pursuit of information and insight. That might mean watching CNN Headline News, Hernando County Government Broadcasting or the Weather Channel. It also is just as likely to include ESPN or Comedy Central because, after all, I am expected to stay up-to-date on all sorts of contemporary culture.

But I digress from the point, which is that I have ample time to ponder impossibilities.

One of my recurring favorites is what it would be like to have a conversation with my dog, Chip, an imposing 98-pound chocolate Labrador retriever whose IQ may be closer to his weight than mine.

Sure, Chip and I communicate. In addition to hand signals, he responds to all sorts of verbal commands, from simple one-word instructions such as "come" or "stay," to more complicated directions, like "Stop licking me in the face at 5 a.m.," and "Don't raise your leg on the flowers."

Alas, the dialogue is one-sided. Even though Chip talks to me several times a day, I just don't speak his language. Hence, my fantasy about us conversing.

All pet owners, not just dog lovers, should be able to appreciate the possibility of completely understanding your pet, even if it was only for five minutes. Imagine what you could accomplish:

Me: Stay away from cars.

Chip: Let's go for a ride.

Me: Stay out of the garbage.

Chip: Let's eat table scraps.

Me: Stay off the carpet when you're wet.

Chip: Let's go swimming.

Me: Stay off the bed.

Chip: Let's take a nap.

You get the idea. It would be an opportunity to learn each other's priorities.

Why am I writing about this? Glad you asked.

If you read this page regularly, you're aware some letter writers are lamenting the absence of a public dog park in Hernando County. Still others are decrying the need.

This is not a new debate; it arises from time to time, and the ensuing opinions are plentiful and passionate. The County Commission has talked about it for almost a decade, but never has deemed it a priority.

It's about time they did.

The commission came close back in 1998, when there was a proposal to allow leashed pets in two county parks, Lake Townsen in Istachatta and Hernando Beach Park on Shoal Line Boulevard. The commission rejected that idea 3-2 (Commissioner Nancy Robinson, the only surviving commissioner from that board, voted against it).

Dog parks flourish elsewhere. They succeed because they are properly organized and because the dog owners are responsible, cleaning up after their pets and needing nothing more than peer pressure as motivation. No one wants to be "That Guy" who refuses to pick up after his pet.

Sure, there would have to be some rules, including a ban on dogs that have histories of threatening behavior, and requiring that dogs be licensed and have their shots. But there really isn't much else to maintaining a dog park. And, with proper signage, the liability would be no more than already exists with children playing sports in the parks.

Setting aside areas in one or two existing parks would not be that costly. The apparent expenses would be only fencing, including gates, water fountains, signs and disposable bags for the dogs' waste. A recent estimate for setting up a dog park in neighboring Pasco County was $10,000.

The number of dog owners in the county _ last year, about 5,600 licensed _ dictates the need for a park. When one compares the relatively small investment to the number of taxpayers who would benefit, the cost is minimal. And if money is the primary argument against opening a dog park, the commissioners might consider a small annual fee for park users, or slightly increasing the price of a dog license.

Dogs are pack animals. Like humans, they need to socialize and to establish their place in the pecking order. Dog parks allow that to happen in a collective, nonthreatening environment.

I know I could be barking up the wrong tree, especially when you consider that people around here are quick to condemn subsidizing skateboard parks and swimming pools. But if Chip could talk, it might go like this:

Me: Is a dog park animal welfare?

Chip: No way, man. I'm just looking for a paw-up, not a paw-out."

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