by Evan Sernoffsky

Eugene, Ore– Moments of loss shape the human character, and how we overcome our most stringent emotional hardships often defines who we are. Early last fall, while at the Amazon dog park in South Eugene, Renee Hart took her eight-month-old Havenese named Lola for a walk. After snapping on her leash and getting ready to leave, a Bullmastif came from behind, grabbed Lola by the stomach, and mauled her to death.

Grief speaks volumes about the human experience, and for Renee, losing Lola was almost too much to handle. Something had to be done. “There needs to be some kind of segregation between sizes because even if a small dog tried to do something they’re not going to kill another dog,” says Renee at Amazon Park close to where Lola was killed. “I started researching and found out that they are all over. Many other cities have small dog parks.”

Renee Hart is now working with a group of community members and petitioning the City of Eugene to build a dog park for small dogs. The group recognizes the financial constraints that the city is under and is working alongside Parks and Open Space planners to make their project happen.

“It could be as little as five or ten thousand dollars,” says Lauren Chouinard, a member of Renee’s organization. “If you are going to take a new park and put it in a new place, it could run as much as twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Renee Hart and Lauren Chouinard relax at Amazon Park in South Eugene

Neil Bjorklund, Parks and Open Space planning manager for the City of Eugene, handles new park proposals. “There isn’t funding to build much of anything now…it’s very directly related to the state of the economy.” He goes on to point out that when it comes to changing or building a new public parks things aren’t always simple. “Any proposal that gets made needs to go through a process to vet it with the current users of the park.” While the initial funding for a small dog parks may be nominal, there are costs that are often omitted from initial estimates. Long-term maintenance and drainage costs are closely examined by the city and factored into the cost of any new park project. Something that drives up early estimates in cost considerably.

Austin Shepard, who years ago lost his pup  in a dog attack while camping, points our how simple the project could be. “I think that its definitely a good idea to have a dog park for small dogs because all they really need to do is just put a fence up through a regular dog park.” For now he plays with his three small dogs at home but would visit a small dog park if it were built.

Renee has received a lot of local media attention after the events surrounding Lola’s death. She was interviewed on KVAL News, Eugene’s CBS affiliate, and an article was recently published in the Register-Guard detailing Renee’s efforts to have a dog park for small dogs.

In order to raise awareness for her cause, Renee set up an online petition where more than 700 visitors have signed and left comments. She hopes to transform the emotional support she is receiving into financial support for her project with a website where supporters can pledge money electronically.

Almost all of the large metropolitan areas on the West Coast have dog parks for small dogs, and Eugene hopes to be among them. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all have parks specifically for small dogs, or a separate area fenced off within an existing park.

A Recession Proof Industry

Even though the economy was dealt a crushing blow last year, the pet industry is still thriving. Ellen Warren, senior correspondent for the Chicago Tribune writes, “Instead of investing in a human baby (and his college education), we’re getting started with dogs, cats, birds, fish.” Pets also cost very little compared with the amount of affection they have for their owners—something that is warmly welcomed in times of financial woe.

According to American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) statistics, $2.21 billion was spent on live animal purchases in the United States this year. This does not factor in shelter dogs, or dogs given away for free.

As the number of pet owners continues to rise, the money coming into the city has ebbed to little more than a drip. This means that more dogs are using existing public dog parks with no plans from the City of Eugene to add new ones. Little dogs are encountering more big dogs when they visit the park, and pet owners opt to just stay home.

Aggressive Breeds

Dog parks are places where dogs with a lot of energy get to let it all out. Unfortunately, dogs that need to run the most are often the most aggressive breeds. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans  frequent off leash dog parks because of their high levels of energy.

A Bullmastiff, the breed that killed Lola, can be aggressive and because of their enormous size the results of attacks are devastating.

Cities across the United States have even gone so far as to ban citizens from owning certain breeds of dog. In Denver it is illegal to own Pit Bulls because of the increasing number of attacks on people (the State of Oregon has considered a similar ban). Pit Bulls are frequently seen at off leash dog parks and inspire a feeling of unease among large and small dog owners alike.

With the peer group at the dog park being mostly large breeds, and some very aggressive, small dog owners like Renee, Lauren and Austin feel that dog parks are really just for big dogs.

A Future for Small Dogs

While funding continues to be an obstacle for getting a park for small dogs built, the City of Eugene is very supportive and helping Renee and Lauren with a clear process to get their park built. Neil Bjorklund feels optimistic. “There are options. There are things that we will be able to approve for them to be able to move forward.”

Recently, Renee has been exploring options to generate funding for her project including an online contest through the Purina dog food website. Whether she decides to enter it does not have much bearing on her attitude for her park. “I’m excited. I think the Eugene has a lot of good energy for creating a safe place for small dogs.”


by Kelly Meyers

Known for its parks, bike paths, and trails, Eugene is an ideal place for people who love the outdoors and even more so, dog lovers. A jog along the Willamette River bike path with their pup on a fresh Saturday morning to Amazon or Alton Baker dog park is how many spend their weekend leisure time.

Although some may not be aware of it, Eugene area offers more than just the dog park factor. There are several local businesses just for keeping your pup happy. You can support local business while treating your dog to some fun fashions and grooming. It’s also another way to get your dog socializing with other dogs and contribute to encouraging better behavior over all.

Fashion may not be priority while on a play date at the park but Eugene is nothing short of resources where you can find fun outfits to suite up your dog. For their fashionable dogs, owners can find full wardrobes at Oh My Dog off Coburg Road or in the 5th Street Public Market at Lexi Dog Boutique. Even if your dog isn’t a fan of wearing clothes, both locations offer a wide variety of accessories for your home that cater to your pooch like beds, and toys.

Another great location for social dog interaction besides the dog park in Eugene, is at Suds Em Yourself. Suds Em Yourself is a fun style self serve bath and dry venue for washing your dog. It’s a great trip to make after leaving the dog park.  If you aren’t a fan self serve, Oh My Dog also offers exceptional grooming services.

All three establishments are family owned and operated. Who knows you may even seen one of the owners with their dog at one of the dog parks.

The current economic recession has collapsed several large financial institutions and has made many markets struggle for the past few years. Despite the fact that many Americans cannot afford many desired luxury items due to the recession, people still invest in items that are more lovable than luxurious. The pet industry has continued to grow despite the current economic slump.

Ellen Warren, the Chicago Tribune senior correspondent wrote an article called For Owners, It’s More Than Puppy Love and stated, “Instead of investing in a human baby (and his college education), we’re getting started with dogs, cats, birds, fish.” According to American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) statistics, $2.21 billion was spent on live animal purchases in the United States this year. This goes to show that Americans are buying pet companions regardless of the economic recession and slump our country is in. The article also states, “the recession might be a blessing for people who make their living from pets. The worse we feel, the more we cherish (and spend on) our animals.” For those who cannot afford children, owning an animal is the next best option. APPA also stated that $18.28 billion has been spent on food for pets, $11.01 billion on supplies/OTC Medicine, $12.79 on Vet Care and $3.45 billion on pet services such as grooming and boarding. The relationship between humans and pet companions is invaluable.

Not only are pet companions for humans, but they also give their owners health benefits. Jeanie Lerche Davis, professional health and medicine write, wrote an article titled 5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health. In the article, she stated, “ Pets help lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety. They boost our immunity… can provide exercise and companionship.” During this stressful time, these health benefits are especially valuable for reviving the nation.

Amongst all of the markets and industries that are struggling, it is surprising the pet purchasing industry is on the rise. Although the times are financially difficult, it does not stop owners continued efforts to provide for their animals.

By: Katharine MacCaskill

by Evan Sernoffsky

Neil Bjorklund, Parks and Open Space planning manager for the City of Eugene, is no stranger to proposals from citizens of Eugene for new projects, and has seen an influx of them in recent months. Few people however, realize what it takes to move forward with a proposed plan, and Bjorklund spends a lot of his time outlining the necessary steps involved in public land allocation.

When any proposal is made to the City of Eugene it must go through a process that requires city managers to vet it with the current users of the park, and to find outside funding for building and maintenance.

Renee Hart and other community members who are proposing an off leash dog park for small dogs introduced their idea to Bjorklund and are hoping it can be approved. “We will be getting back to them with the results of our discussion about their proposal with what we’ve considered and what we recommend” says Bjorklund in an interview at his office. “The big question is how do we fund the construction and how do we fund the maintenance for this park.”

Neil Bjorklund at his office in Eugene

With the economy struggling, the City of Eugene has no money to give to any new public parks projects. “There isn’t funding to build a new dog park, (and) there isn’t funding to build much of anything.” Bjorklund points out, but he tries to remain optimistic. “There are options. There are things that we will be able to approve for them to be able to move forward.”

Renee knows the realities of finding funding for her project, and is taking the initiative to raise money so that her park can be built. “I’m excited. I think the Eugene has a lot of good energy for creating a safe place for small dogs.” she says. She is even planning on entering a contest online, put on by Purina dog food, where the winner gets $500,000 for a dog park to be built on their community. “I think that this (potential) influx of financial support can be extremely beneficial and encouraging.” Renee says.

Renee is now in the process of developing a concept for her submission, and is trying to find help with production. If all goes well, she will have a video submitted by the deadline of June 18th, and can use it to leverage support for her cause whether she wins the contest or not.

What causes a dog to attack? What causes your four-legged friend to become enraged and aggressive? What caused the dog to attack little Lola? Legally, a dog owner is responsible for factors that determine whether a dog will bite or not. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, dogs bite an estimated 4.5 million people every year.

Dog Problem Solutions, a website dedicated to solving issues with your pup, outlines many factors that can contribute to a dog’s aggression. First, most dogs want to be the alpha dog in a pack. Attacking another canine or a human can give the aggressor more power and control in the group. Dogs also have fear and self-defense instincts that cause them to lash out in fury. When they feel threatened, physically or territorially, they may react and fight off any possible threat to what is theirs. And lastly, dogs are aggressive by nature. Instinctively, they fend for food, water, and territory. Challenging these natural instincts will only ignite a natural flame inside them.

Humans also contribute to a canine’s aggression with threatening body language. Dogs are always on the defense. Their primary goal is to survive and anything that is threatening, or is perceived to be threatening, to them or one of their companion’s ability to survive, will cause a dog to become defensive and aggressive. Threatening body language can be a trigger of aggression. Staring directly at a dog can be seen as threatening. Even more threatening – when someone is on the same eye level as a dog, like a child, makes direct eye contact.

It is an owner’s responsibility to make sure that a dog is safe and won’t attack other dogs or humans. The Humane Society’s first step is to keep your dog out of situations where they can harm people. Then, seek medical attention to rule out health reasons for aggression and to use a professional’s advice on how to deal with the dog’s anger. One should never punish his or her dog; often it will make the situations worse.

Dog aggression is preventable. Showing a dog love and genuine affection will cause him to be loyal to people. says exposing your dog to “different people, places, experiences and things, until they are comfortable with them all, are all exceptional ways to develop a dog’s sense of security and confidence.” Giving a dog confidence to obey and follow commands is another contributing factor to taming aggression. Teaching your pal that being good and take direction will give him even more encouragement to listen. Getting him excited to learn and behave at a young age will create a team between you and your dog.

Love at a young age is the first defense against an aggressive pup, but early life is not the only time that a four-legged friend can learn to behave. There is hope for older dogs with aggression issues too. It is a slower and longer process to slow and manage aggression, but it is possible. The primary difference between training older and younger dogs is that older dogs “must receive praise for good behavior and mild discipline for bad behavior,” according to the Dog Owner’s Guide.  The key to training any dog is trust and encouragement.

A dog’s bite is worse than its bark. Curbing his aggression is a way to control his bites and teach him to be social. Knowing his personality and what he is uncomfortable around will make him easier to coach and suppress his aggression. The best thing to do for your dog’s confidence is to love him and to show him affection.

There isn’t much of an argument whether or not the death of small dog Lola at a dog park, is tragic. However, there is a bigger picture beyond this incident and the discussion of separating small and large dogs in dog parks. What are the traits and personalities in different dog breeds that demonstrate aggression, and at worst attacks on other dogs and even dog owners? Dog parks don’t have global etiquette regulations or personality tests, but generally are open freely to all dog types at an owners discretion. This play at your own risk factor implies a benchmark of knowledge of dog breeds and personalities that park goers should be aware of.
Dogster breaks behavior down into 10 simple personality traits and the top 10 ranking of breeds for each trait based on user submitted data. Two personality traits on Dogster’s list stick out above the others as dog breeds that may have problematic behavior in a social setting such as a dog park: most anxious, and least playful. Perhaps knowing your dog isn’t playful is enough to know they don’t belong at a dog park, but is this really the only factor in things that could cause aggression during canine socializing? Lola’s story is evidence that listed personality traits may have little to do with the true etiquette or demeaner a dog displays.

According to the American Kennel Club and Dogster’s rankings the breed that attacked Lola a Mastiff, is usually calm and lazy, not aggressive. This brings us back to the importance of the owners responsibility to know their pets behavior around other dogs on an individual basis and to determine whether or not they belong in a public space where other dogs are at risk. It’s crucial to be aware that directories and websites providing information about dog breeds are referring to the relationships between owner and pet, not between the dog and other breeds.

Whole Dog Journal suggests the key to proper dog park etiquette and creating a safe place for dogs to play is dog park culture. Dog park culture is not only the culture of the dog owners with each other but how owners handle their dogs with other dogs. Dog park culture is essentially giving the dog park a community feel where owners know what’s allowed and when someone is stepping out of line of proper etiquette that the dog park culture community stands up and takes the appropriate action to create a solution to the problem.

Along with creating a community, part of the dog park culture includes awareness of what is acceptable dog behavior in a public space around other dogs. Whole Dog Journal provides their list of acceptable dog park behavior that includes the following:

  • dogs should be friendly, without being overbearing, or bullying.
  • dog should be reasonably confident and social.
  • dog should not body-slam, mouth, jump on kids, or mark (leg-lift) humans in the park.
  • dog should be responsive to basic cues – at least “come when called,” “sit,” and “leave it/off,” to prevent him from harassing others.
  • barking should be kept to a reasonable level, both for the comfort of other park users as well as nearby neighbors.
  • dogs should be healthy and non injured with all standard immunizations up to date.

Designating dog parks for smaller and larger dogs has become a debatable issue within many communities. Some find the idea brilliant, and others find it absolutely unfair. Kay Robinson-Johnson, a local member of the Fargo District community in North Dakota, recently expressed her disappointment concerning commissioner Barb Johnson’s proposal in an article published on the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The idea was to build a park in the corner of Island Park, a nearby area in the community of the Fargo District, designated for small dogs. Kay has been taking her large golden retriever Lucy to this park for more than 20 years and was very upset with this idea. In the article Kay states, “What are we suppose to do with our retrievers, labs, shepherds and all larger dogs? … The proposal is unfair because dog park space for only half of our canine friends would be provided.” Although Kay’s argument is valid, the purpose of the proposal is based on canine safety. It is a reality that larger dogs do not play the same way as smaller dogs. Large dogs have the ability to play at any park without the fear of being attacked, whereas small dogs live in that fear every time they enter those dog park gates.

Another aspect to this debate involves the actual owners of dogs. Kay stated, “I also notice that there are dogs everywhere in our park, but the vast majority of them are leashed and led by considerate owners.” Although this may be the case at Island Park it is not in many other parks. Many owners do not respect the parks rules and regulations, which is why dog related occur many times. The issue at hand is that people do not respect the laws and etiquette surrounding dog parks and thus attacks have continued to occur.

The point of the proposal would not be to discriminate against larger dogs but to create a safe environment for small dogs to play in. Separating sizes would only create a better atmosphere for all types and sizes of dogs. It would create safety and save the lives of many small dogs who have gotten attacked in dog parks.

By Katharine MacCaskill

by Evan Sernoffsky

It was early fall 2009, and Renee Hart had just moved to Eugene, Oregon. She decided to take her 8-month-old Havenese named Lola, an adorable black and white fluff ball, to the community dog park. The events that were to follow have inspired more anguish than should be humanly allowed. “As I went to pick her up a Bullmastiff came from behind me, grabbed her by the belly, and mauled her to death,” Renee painfully recalls. “I held her as she died in my arms.”

Renee Hart does not want other small dog owners to experience the grief she has suffered, and is trying to create community support for a public dog park for small dogs only. She hopes that she can get enough support through donations and volunteering to have a park built by this summer.

Since the unfortunate events that led to Lola’s passing, Renee Hart has gained a lot of attention in the Eugene news media. During the past six months, Renee has done an interview with KVAL news, Fox, and most recently the Register-Guard. She has been able to use all the attention from the media to raise community awareness and support for her plan.

Renee realizes the financial constraints that the city of Eugene is under, and is taking a more community based approach to getting a park built. “A lot of people have stepped forth and shown so much support” she says, “it needs to be a community project. I want it for the community not just for me.”

Renee has collected more than six hundred signatures on her online petition and is planning on further expanding her work online. “We are looking for someone to help us design a web site,” she explains. On her future website, Renee plans to set up a PayPal account where donors can privately contribute to a fund that will go toward building a park for small dogs.

For the months ahead Renee has her work cut out for her. She has a new dog that she rescued from a shelter that closely resembles Lola, and hopes that he will have a park where he can socialize with other dogs soon. “They need to be playing this summer. No question about it.”

Renee Hart holds her new puppy at Amazon Park in Eugene.