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No leash means more fun for dogs

Tai, a 4-year-old Lhasa apso, dug a small hole to lie down and rest his head on the sand inside a yellow plastic cylinder that came from a playground.

On the other side of the fence, larger dogs pushed around and chased a large red rubber ball a dog owner had brought.

The park didn't officially open until 11 a.m.

But Marilynn Valiere and her dogs were there at 10.

Valiere, who lives in Holiday Lake Estates, said she has called the Pasco Parks and Recreation Department to ask for a dog park for the past two to three years. "I've said, "progressive Pinellas has dog parks.' "

And now Pasco does, too.

County officials gathered for a grand opening Tuesday morning at Anclote Gulf Dog Park, where an initial 50 or so dogs were followed by a steady stream of others later who got to run around and play leash-free.

Just inside the park's entrance, and across the road from the waterfront park for people, chain-link fences surround two parallel areas for large and small dogs that encompass almost an acre of the nearly 30-acre park.

"It was long anticipated," said county Parks and Recreation director Rick Buckman, who plans to take his two 70-pound mixed-breed dogs there this weekend.

"With all the new homes going up here and the impact fees, they can afford to have a few dog parks," Valiere said.

Such parks are now in the works in Land O'Lakes and Zephyrhills.

The county had budgeted $15,000 for the Anclote Gulf Dog Park, which cost $13,500. Donations from the Pasco Florida Kennel Club and the Holiday Rotary allowed for more amenities.

The park features a hose-down area at the entrance to the leash-free spaces, which have six benches, water spigots and the yellow cylinders filled with sand.

George DePietro of Hudson is among many west Pasco dog owners who previously traveled to Anderson Park in Pinellas County with their pups.

On Tuesday, DePietro kept a close eye on Heidi, his 4-year-old German shepherd, whom he got three months after his wife died. But Heidi got along famously with the other big dogs. "She's happy," DePietro said. "She won't want to leave."

All the dogs mingling at the park around lunchtime on Tuesday were remarkably well behaved. At one point, though, some growling could be heard about the big red ball an owner brought.

Hence, items from home that a dog might be territorial about aren't a good idea.

The park rules, which are posted out front, include leashing the dogs when entering or leaving the areas, and having that leash on hand at all times should a scuffle occur. In that kind of situation, when the dogs' adrenaline is pumping, "You do have to separate and leave them separated," Buckman said.

The leash also is useful to ease dogs who aren't often around other dogs into the environment. "They sort of sniff and meet each other, and then they do dog stuff," said Jeff Pfoutz of New Port Richey.

Dogs at the park must wear their licenses and be up to date on their shots. Owners must clean up after the pooches using bags from receptacles provided by the Pasco Florida Kennel Club.

No additional park personnel will oversee the dog park at Anclote Gulf, so dog owners are asked to be especially vigilant about safety and cleanliness. "We ask participants," Parks and Recreation Department supervisor Mike Gollasch said, to "help us keep it neat and clean and something for them to use."

The park's close proximity to Pinellas prompted the Lhasa apso's owner, Carl Taylor, to ask which county the dog park is in.

"Well, thank goodness for Pasco County," he said. "Too many of us older folks have pets."

The dog park, which is past Anclote River Park, is at 2305 Baillies Bluff Road. It's open daily from dawn till dusk.

Jennifer Stewart can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6231. Her e-mail address is jstewart@sptimes.com.

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