Patrick Foy and his wife used to drive their Dobermans 40 minutes to the closest dog park in Beacon Hill. When that park got damaged in the hurricane, they started taking them to Apalachicola.
Now, Foy has his sights set on something a little closer.
On Sept. 28, he brought his case to the Board of County Commissioners, proposing that a dog park be implemented as part of the restoration of Salinas Park.
"I’m not here to complain today. I’m here to try to find some things out,” he said before the board as they took public comment for the consent agenda outlining park improvements. “I’m a big believer in dog parks, and to cut to the chase, I don’t know if a dog park could be or could not be part of this.”
The grant providing for park restoration would not allow for one to be built there, Foy was told. Still, he thinks a dog park could be a much-needed addition to a growing Gulf County.
“You’re going to see that we promote that we have a dog-friendly beach,” he told the Star. “But what we noticed is it’s not just enough today to have a dog-friendly beach. People want to have dog parks.”
The Gulf County Tourist Development Council advertises the area’s pet-friendly beaches, specifying a few ground rules to keep people safe, including that dogs must be kept on leashes.
Foy has noticed many of the tourists who come to Gulf County take advantage of the community’s dog-friendly attitude since he moved to Indian Pass several years ago. Dog-friendly beaches are part of the reason his family decided to settle in the area, he said. But he still sees a need for an area where dogs can socialize off-leash.
"When dogs are confined, they don’t socialize as well to where people have had negative situations where dogs didn’t get socialized and they might be aggressive towards other dogs,” he explained.
Foy believes the Gulf County community would be receptive to another dog park with a more centralized location, but he understands why county commissioners have reservations. Among issues with finding an appropriate location and funding, the county is already struggling to keep up with regular maintenance of public property due to work crew shortages.
Caroline Ilardi of Apalachicola faced similar issues a decade ago when she first proposed the construction of a dog park in Franklin County.
"The mayor (of Apalachicola) at the time said ‘You know this means we’re going to have a new city park, but we don’t have any funds for it,’” Ilardi said. “So, we said you give us the site for us to use and help us run water in, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
Apalachicola’s dog park is paid for and maintained by its associated 501(c)(3), the Friends of Apalachicola Dog Park, which hosts a Mardi Gras event annually to raise money for park expenses.
Ilardi said the nonprofit also organized for volunteers from the community to perform park maintenance.
It’s a model Foy thinks can be duplicated in Gulf County.
“I think we’re a community where the spirit of volunteerism is extremely strong,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of time before we find people who want to have a Friends of a Dog Park here.”
Members of the Board of County Commissioners approached Foy after the meeting, expressing that they would be willing to discuss putting in a dog park at an alternate location in the future. Foy hopes to continue discussions with community leaders.
“I understand the logistics and the requirements that sometimes grants have,” he said. “If it’s not today with Salinas Park, I really believe we should have a dog park.”